Journey of Words

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Yes, I’m a writer. I know, I know–I haven’t been writing as much. For awhile, I wasn’t writing at all. I’ve been thinking about ancient history a lot this week. You know, memories down the lane. I’ve been doing some soul-searching, but not in a nostalgic sad kind of way. More in a way that’s helping me come to terms with some of my decisions about the past. And of course, some of this is ending up in my writing, because you know that’s what writers do. For some reason, these thoughts and the books I’ve been reading: The Last Time We Met, Less, The Princess Diarist, heck even Born a Crime, made me think I needed to set my book in Buenos Aires.

And it’s strange. I feel like I’m traveling there again in my mind. I went to Buenos Aires in 1999. I had just turned 20. This was almost 20 years ago (I’m getting old, peeps). Their currency was still tied to the dollar. Everything was super expensive. I had a astrophysicist cabbie who couldn’t get a job because unemployment was through the roof. I walked by a Jewish synagogue frequently that had armed guards, because there’s so much antisemitism in Buenos Aires they were afraid the synagogue would be bombed. I saw a guy on a bike get hit by a car, and then the driver get out and yell at him in Spanish for being in the way, while the pedestrian writhed in pain on the sidewalk by my feet. My friend P’s host family called their Doberman Pincher gay, because he was such a nice dog (I wasn’t appalled by their use of this word as derogatory then, as I surely would be now). He would sit on your lap whenever you came into the apartment, because he thought he was a lap dog. I would watch game shows and Spanish soap operas with English subtitles to learn more Spanish with my “sisters” Sol and Paz (the daughters of my host mother).

I saw a country in love with Evita Peron still. A country suffering but beautiful. The colors of La Boca. The market square. The pigeons. Luna Park and Jamiroquai. The mothers of the disaparecidos protesting in the street, still looking for their loved ones. A country where you could sit in the park and have yerba mate then risk your life at the hands of a cab driver (why do they make lanes anyway)? I saw how much family meant to Argentineans. Young women stayed home until they married. Even my crazy host family had their extended family over once a week. They laughed, drank, ate, and loved. A city that awoke no earlier than 10 and when to bed no earlier than midnight!

I think, now, experiences like these are wasted on the young. How I love to travel. How I wish to go back to Buenos Aires and see how it’s changed. Is there still a little cafe/bar on the corner of Manual Ugarte and Cabildo where I sat and talked to a boy I’d later fall hopelessly (emphasis on the hopeless) in love with until 2 AM? Where I sat with friends and tipped the waiters so big they looked forward to our arrival every evening? Is that place still there? What about the laundromat that would pick up and wash my clothes, fold them, and return them to me? I swore they were shrinking my clothes, but I was really just gaining about 30 pounds on empanadas, alfajores, and full fat milk.

Someone asked me over the weekend what type of books I wrote, and I didn’t know what to say. None. Half-finished books? Books about love and loss and unrequited love and abuse and family and women’s fiction and southern literature and maybe literary fiction. We love to categorize everything, but I feel like I get into my writing the most when I just do it without thinking about what it actually is. When is springs forth from some burning internal question I’m trying to answer.

Writing is a lot like traveling to me. I can go back to Buenos Aires. I can picture myself there. Transporting my characters to worlds I’ve been but also to places I’ve never been. An exercise in empathy. A way to answer unanswerable questions or at least get closer to explaining them to myself. But mostly just cathartic. A journey to a better understanding of the human existence, this universe we call home.

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Home is Where the Pie Is

This week, Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge involved writing about food. He did this as a way to honor Anthony Bourdain. I don’t really know much about Bourdain, but I do know about depression, and I feel like Wendig doing this challenge in his honor can get the word out to more people. If you’re depressed and feel like hurting yourself, please call the Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

So for this week, I wrote about Mila, and food, and the South, and traveling home. And it’s a little longer at 1997 words.

Home Is Where the Pie Is — 1997 words

Mila bit into a juicy piece of fried chicken. She licked her lips, tasting the grease and the salt. The chicken brought her back to humid nights, fireflies in the backyard, and red and white checkered picnic tables.

“Snap out of it.”

“Huh?”

“You were in another world.”

“Literally, I traveled back to my childhood,” Mila said. She set the half-eaten chicken breast down on the avocado cafeteria tray.

She and Clem had been on the road for days. They took the back road winding their way toward their final destination. In Oxford, they stopped at a little café called Bright’s. Mila ordered fried chicken with fried green tomatoes and pineapple cheese casserole with a glass of sweet tea. She ordered this as naturally as if she ate this food every day, and Clem stared at her.

“You ain’t from around here, are you?” the waitress said, stuffing the order pad into the pocket of her apron.

“I grew up down the road a piece,” Mila said.

“Always good to go home,” the waitress said, wandering back toward the kitchen.

Mila had two cups of sweet tea. Clem thought it too sweet and almost spit it out on first sip. He ordered water instead. Mila could feel the indulgence slipping into her bladder and filling it to the brim.

“I’m gonna run to the bathroom.”

“Want me to ask for the check?”

The waitress popped up beside the table, “What about dessert?”

Mila reluctantly sat down and crossed her legs to keep her bladder from exploding.

“What do you have?”

“The usuals: banana puddin’, blackberry cobbler, punkin pie, oh, and we have homemade peach ice cream.”

Homemade peach ice cream. Mila remembered lazy days on the front porch, escaping the 12 o’clock sun and scorching heat of the summer. She remembered her dad’s old brown bucket ice cream machine, the blue box of Morton’s salt, complete with little girl holding an umbrella, and the fresh peaches and cream.

“Can I pour in the salt, Daddy?”

She could all but taste her childhood.

“Homemade peach ice cream,” Mila said, and she rushed to the bathroom.

***

Mila met Clem on a blind date. They went to Meskerem, a favorite of Mila’s, but Clem had not been a huge fan. Mila had started her second job since college, was trying to write a book, and had just finished nursing a broken heart when her friend Ted said, “Hey, I think you should meet this guy Clem I work with. You two would hit it off.”

When she met Clem, she had been surprised, but she rolled with it not letting on. She hadn’t laughed so hard in years, maybe since the first time she’d smoked pot with her high school friends behind the gym. Clem made her cheeks red, her heart flutter, and he provided something she needed direly in her own life: humor. She watched him as he pretended to like the injera with shiro de kibbe. He made faces when he thought she wasn’t looking.

“Maybe Ethiopian food isn’t my cup of tea,” Clem finally admitted, “Next time, want to go to Dave and Buster’s?”

That night, securely outfitted in her grey lounge pants and striped shirt she confided to Ted who had stopped by for a night cap and some gossip.

“I really like him. I just don’t know whether I can date him.”

“Not a good kisser? I dated a guy like that once; let me tell you, it took all I could for me not to toss my cookies right into his mouth whenever he’d pucker up. Girl, you need to drop him like a fly if that’s what’s up.”

“No, I mean, he’s a great kisser.”

Mila thought back to the few hours before, when Clem had been such a gentleman. He opened the door for her. She started to walk in, then turned around, skipped down the step, and she, Mila, had made the first move, planting her lips on his. He tasted vaguely like Ethiopian food, gin and tonic which they had enjoyed at the bar afterwards, and cinnamon gum. When his tongue slid into her mouth, her heart beat fast, and she felt the spark—that elusive spark she had never felt before—and she knew this man who made her laugh so hard was the one for her.

“So what’s the problem?” Ted asked, sighing.

Mila hesitated a moment and then said, “He’s black.”

“And that’s a problem, why?”

“My parents would never approve.”

“Mila, dear, sometimes you just have to let go of your past. Things change”

Oh, how Mila hoped things had changed.

Six months later, Clem had proposed and Mila had accepted. And because of this, she felt they should go meet her family, the prospect scarier than anything Mila had ever faced before.

***

Mila and Clem both had the peach ice cream with real chunks of peach. A little taste of childhood. After they licked their bowls clean, they paid, stood up, and Clem took Mila’s hand as they walked toward the door. Old men in overalls and blue haired ladies stared at them. Mila and Clem walked through the spotlight pretending not to notice.

“We stick out here,” Clem said when they were out the door.

“Clem, we’re not in D.C. anymore,” Mila said, with a laugh, as she gripped his hand a little tighter and gave it a squeeze.

The road trip had been a successful one. They stopped in Memphis on the way down and had barbeque at Central. Clem declared it the best piece of meat he’d ever eaten in his life. They stayed at a hotel called The Royal, which sounded nice, but consisted of a sagging bag, carpet that felt covered in lotion, and mice or some other rodent skittering in the walls all night long. Mila said it was the same old adage: can’t trust a book by its cover. Clem nodded in agreement. Mila hoped her parents felt the same way about Clem. She wasn’t so sure. She’d never mentioned to them Clem’s cover.

Mila’s childhood home sat in a bed of green. Cows chewed up the lawn. Her father had acquired them recently. “You father thinks he’s a farmer in his old age,” her mother had said over the phone.

“A real farm,” Clem said.

“Not really. A hobby,” Mila said.

Mila’s heart raced. She did not know what her mother and father would do or say when she saw Clem. She felt like she had prepared Clem, but she knew she had not prepared her parents. She was just glad her brother, Bobby, had left town. She didn’t need his racist ass making any comments that might hurt Clem’s feelings.

Clem turned down the circular drive. The front porch greeted them warmly and the rockers gently rocked in the wind as if waving hello to old friends. The second step creaked as they walked up it. As a little girl she always tried to make it creak, and as a teenager she always feared the creak as she snuck in from late drunken nights out with friends.

Clem took her hand in his, giving her courage, as their black and white fingers intertwined, and Mila rang the doorbell.

Mila’s mom answered. She wore a rooster-covered apron splattered in some sort of food. She had her reading glasses perched on her nose. She beamed when she saw Mila, averted her eyes to Clem, and then looked back at Mila.

“Mila,” she said wrapping her in her arms. Mila’s mother smelled like her youth: warm baked biscuits, bacon and eggs, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

“And you must be Clem. I’m Rhonda,” her mother said, putting out a hand to him. Clem shook it and beamed back. Then Mila’s mother pulled him into a hug. “No handshakes here, just warm hugs.”

The house smelled like collards and bacon grease.

“I’m making a meat and three tonight,” Rhonda said.

“What’s that?” Clem whispered to Mila.

“A meat and three veggies. It’s a Southern staple. Is Daddy home?” Mila asked.

“He went up to Garrett’s. I plum ran out of flour, and I’m making a cherry pie.”

“I wish you hadn’t cooked so much. We stopped at Bright’s and had a big lunch.”

“I hope you said hi to Howie.”

“I asked the waitress, and he wasn’t there.”

Howie was one of Mila’s numerous cousins. Mila couldn’t go anywhere in the Oxford area without running into someone she was related to. In high school it had been a joke for her to ask boys what their family lineage was, and then ask her mom, “Is third cousin distant enough?” People always said folks in Mississippi like to marry their cousins, but that was just because everyone was related.

Clem and Mila set their stuff down in Mila’s childhood room. Clem pressed his lips to Mila’s, and they hugged and kissed.

“That went well,” he said, still embracing Mila.

“Daddy might be different. I want to nap, you?”

“Sure.”

They lay in the queen size bed staring up at the ceiling. Mila could hear her heart beating in her ears, the way it did sometimes in the eerie silence of a quiet room. She looked over at Clem, and saw he was sound asleep. After awhile, she got up and walked down the stairs in her stocking feet.

The house smelled of pie. When she and Bobby had been little, their mother had taught them how to make the dough. Mila loved to take the fork and make little indents into the flour. She thought of it as artwork. She loved the way the house smelled with a pie baking in the oven, and even loved her momma when she would smack her hand when Mila tried to get into it before dessert.

Mila’s mother and father stood in the kitchen. Her father’s face had brand new wrinkles above the brow and Mila could barely believe how much older he looked.

“Baby,” he said.

“Daddy.”

“Maybe you ought to wake up Clem. Dinner will be ready in about five minutes,” Mila’s mother said.

Mila walked back up the stairs and woke Clem with a kiss.

“Dinner time. My dad’s here.”

Clem rubbed the sleep out of his eyes then followed Mila down the stairs.

Mila’s mother sat facing them and smiled warmly as they walked into the formal dining room. Steam arose from the rosebud platters that held enough veggies and meat to feed the world. Mila slid into her seat, and Clem sat across from her. Her father walked into the room, after washing his hands, and stopped suddenly.

“He’s black.”

The words hung in the air. Mila tensed. She looked at Clem. He burst out laughing, and soon everyone at the table was laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Mila’s dad said. “I just—”

“It’s quite alright,” Clem said, waving him off.

“I’m Paul,” Mila’s dad introduced himself, awkwardly patting Clem on the shoulder before taking his seat at the head of the table.

They passed around the chicken fried steak, collards, green beans with bit of bacon fat, and homemade macaroni and cheese, and everyone began to eat. When dinner was over, they sat with hands on their stomachs. Clem let a notch out of his belt.

“I’m always telling Rhonda that if she keeps cooking like this I won’t have a notch left to let out,” Paul said, winking at Mila’s mother.

“Well, it’s time for pie, so I hope you still have a little room left, Clem,” Rhonda said, walking out of the room.

She returned with plates of homemade cherry pie and one scoop of ice cream on the side for everyone. When Clem bit into his pie his eyes shone in ecstasy. He gobbled it all up in no time flat.

“This is the best pie I’ve ever had in my life,” Clem announced to the table.

Rhonda flushed with pride.

“Welcome to the family, son,” Mila’s mom and dad said in unison.

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New Beginnings

Hello friendly readers! I’ve been off cruising, and I’m now just getting back into the swing of things with my writing. Today, I wrote a flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terribleminds. I also did something CRAZY, and I submitted a Flash Fiction piece to The Master’s Review. Wish me luck!

Today’s challenge is about real estate. To be honest, I started about three pieces before I finally settled on this one. It’s about memories, but with a little twist.



New Beginnings — 997 words

Cabin

Callie hadn’t been up the mountain in years. The path stood out, still worn by feet. Her father had taken her hand one day, walked her down the path to the valley below, and told her how this footpath had been worn by Indians long before white men ever settled in these parts. Callie never knew if that was true, but she liked the idea of an Indian family walking up to their tee-pee in the same place their log cabin stood.

The cabin stood strong like a soldier but worn and weary from battle. The clearing around the cabin had weeds that went all the way up to Callie’s knees. She bent down and fingered some of the clover by the wooden steps, thinking about how she and Maymay used to make clover crowns to braid into their hair.

Callie stood in front of the steps, amazed the cabin didn’t even have a broken window. It had obviously been deserted years ago. How long after she packed up a bag and disappeared into the moonlit night had the rest of them left? She would never know.

Callie walked up the creaking stairs. She turned and looked at the view. The mountain sloped down and huge evergreens towered up. She could barely see the creek running below and smoke from a rooftop at the center of town rose and disappeared into the blue sky.

She sighed and turned back toward the door. As a little girl, there had been a screen on the door. They never had air conditioning and the screen let the cool air in and the left the bugs out. She had sat on this porch with her sister, brothers, and parents and rocked in handmade rocking chairs while Poppa played the guitar and they all sang out of tune.

She felt a shiver as if the ghosts of her childhood had come up the mountain with her. She opened the door, listening to the familiar creak as the wood pushed against the frame. Dust swirled on the inside of the house, and she waved it away. Light began to filter in, and she adjusted her eyes.

Callie was shocked. Inside the house, her momma’s pink chair stood in the corner with an afghan draped over it. She remembered the afghan. Great Aunt Bertie had made it when Will had been born fragile and premature in the dead of winter. The rainbow pattern had been a favorite of Callie’s, and she remembered sitting on her momma’s lap and touching the coarse wool as Momma sang to little Will.

The bookcases lining the wall contained the Bible and all the classics. She took the Bible down and opened the front page. Her family’s history, inscribed in her father’s scrawling cursive stared back at her. Momma’s birth and death date. And Will’s. Her birth date and Maymay’s and her brothers’ names glared back at her. She thought of the days by the fire. The good old days, she thought of them, where they hadn’t had much but they’d had each other.

The fireplace stood empty, covered in ash. Her brothers hated to clean it out. They would sneeze and cough and complain until Poppa smacked their faces. Momma always came to their defense, but Poppa tsked tsked her.

Callie felt the tears before she knew she had started crying. She walked to the back into her momma and poppa’s room. The bed stood in the corner with dust bunnies under the frame. The mattress was long gone, probably buried with Momma. Will had been six that winter. He had been such a sickly child. He started coughing first. Momma thought he just had a cold, but it settled into his chest and he struggled to breathe. Momma became feverish within a day.

Callie remembered making dinner on the stove and begging Poppa to take them down the mountain to the doctor. She could hear their breathing from behind the closed door. Poppa refused.

“We don’t have the money for that. The herbs will work.”

Only this time, the herbs didn’t work.

Standing in the little room, she remembered the sound as Will took one last raspy breath and never let another one out. Four hours later, Momma did the same. Within a day, Poppa went out to the barn to make their coffins. He left them in the bed until they smelled, unable to stomach the idea of burying them.

Callie remembered sitting by their bedside and holding Momma’s hands. She could still remember Momma’s white face, her cold-stone dead eyes staring up at the ceiling. Poppa said people were supposed to look peaceful in death, but Momma looked fearful. Callie had never forgotten that look.

Six months later, Callie, fifteen years old, left the cabin for good. She awoke in the middle of the night lying in the bed she shared with MayMay. When she crept out onto the porch she stared out into the dark, trying to make out the two crosses. She turned once and looked back through the windows into the living room where she had grown up. She thought about Momma reading the Bible stories to her, with a heap of children gathered around, and little Will securely on her lap. She thought about Poppa with a pipe in his mouth and a grin on his face, rocking in the chair telling Momma not to rile the kids up before bedtime. But mostly, she thought of the two cold, soulless bodies who had sucked the joy out of the house. She hadn’t seen Poppa smile since.

Callie poured the gasoline in the living room. She had placed the Bible in her purse—one thing to remember everything by. She looked around before lighting the match. She tossed it into the puddle of gasoline and watched as the flames began to dance. She walked out the door and down the path as smoke began to fill the crystal blue sky.

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The Tree

Here’s another one from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds challenge of the week: write about a tree. I had a hard time with this, because I’m writing about a tree in my current novel. I wanted to share some of that novel, but I’m intent on having it published some day. At first, I thought I’d bypass this challenge, but this idea came to me. I hope you enjoy.

The Tree — 924 words. 

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Running. Feet pounding the ground. Ashton ended up where she always did, in front of the great big oak tree. The branches spread out like giants’ arms against the clear blue backdrop of the Southern sky. She placed her hand on the trunk and felt the warmth of the tree.

When she had been just a girl, her dad had strung a tire swing to the big horizontal branch. She had swung, laughing, and pushing her head back against the wind. She looked up at the green leaves as they danced in the sky. The tree held life. Her life, a memory of her fleeting childhood existence.

When she and Deke married, they took over the land. Then her dad got sick—lung cancer from too many cigs smoked as he herded cows into the dust. He held on for two weeks after the doctor diagnosed him. Ashton’s mom moved to the back room. She let Ashton, Deke, and their clan of little children take over the house. Ashton liked to listen to their bare feet on the wood floors. It reminded her of her childhood where there was always too much noise and clatter in the small farmhouse.

Ashton held her hands up to the tree. She rubbed the silkiness of the green leaves.


“You know, Ashton, this could all be yours one day,” her father had said, one day when he pushed her on the swing.

Ashton had laughed her high-pitched little girl laugh, tossing her blonde curls into the wind, feeling like she could fly away.

Her father stopped the swing. He kneeled down in front of her and took her small, soft hands into his rough, calloused ones. His blue eyes twinkled in the fading light of day. He smelled of Old Spice and cow manure, the smell of Ashton’s childhood.

“I mean it. You’re the one. This is the place.”

A rustle of wind blew through the tree, and it seemed to wave at Ashton. She looked up at the tree and could almost feel it wrapping its life-giving warmth around her. Her dad squeezed her hands, then hugged her. He started pushing the swing again.


“I want to put a tire swing up for the girls,” Ashton said.

“There?” Deke asked, pointing to the tree as they walked toward the wind.

The girls had stayed home with Ashton’s mom. The memorial service had been two weeks ago already. Ashton’s mom had taken to wearing only black and making pies: peach, apple, pecan. There were more pies than they could ever eat. The sting of Ashton’s father’s death still took her breath away. The tree gave her the air she needed to breathe again, to feel again.

“I was thinking about selling off this acreage to the Boyers’,” Deke said.

“Oh,” Ashton said. She looked at the tree, and it seemed to bow its head in sadness.

“We could make some money. Put it in a college fund for the girls. This farm just don’t produce as much as it used to.”

“You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Because that tree is important,” Ashton said, pointing to it. The tree seemed to stand up a little taller, the leaves danced against the bright light of the midday sun.

“Don’t be silly, Ashton.”

After dinner and the girls’ baths, Ashton sat in the living room with her mother while Deke read to the bouncing girls who had wired themselves up, slap-happy before bedtime. Ashton knitted while her mother ate a piece of peach pie a la mode. They conferred and agreed. Ashton kissed the urn on the mantle before heading off to bed.

The next morning, Ashton ran to the tree. Running made her feel so alive. She hugged it and swore it hugged her back.


“I met someone,” she said.

“Who?” her father asked.

She sat on the tire swing, holding the worn ropes, her keds firmly planted in the dip her bare childhood feet had made on the ground.

“His name is Deke Malloy.”

“Irish, is he?” her father had joked.

Ashton, in the full throes of adolescence, rolled her eyes.

“I think I’m in love, Dad.”

Her father smiled, held her hands, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

“I think it’s about time we took down the tire swing,” he said.

“Oh Daddy, I love this old thing.”

They both looked up into the branches of the old oak tree. It had seen so much on this land for the last hundred years, so many people coming and going. Ashton could feel its spirit. The next day, Ashton’s father removed the tire swing. Five years later, Ashton and Deke married.


In the afternoon, they all dressed up. Ashton and her mother wore blue, the color of the sky, and her father’s favorite.

“I guess I didn’t realize how important the tree was to you,” Deke said.

Ashton’s mom held her hand. The little girls followed along, picking daisies they would later make daisy chains with. Ashton could almost see the outline of the tire swing. She looked at the tree, and she thought she saw her dad there waving at her. She smiled, and held up her hand. The tree waved back.

Under the tree’s shade, she and her mom struggled to open the urn.

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” Ashton said.

She poured her father’s ashes into the dip her childhood feet had made. The leaves of the tree waved in the wind, and the ashes swirled a little then settled into dust. Ashton smiled, imagining her daddy standing there, her hand securely in his. She put her arms around her mother’s waist and around Deke’s squeezing them close to her and looking at the wonder of an old oak tree.

“Now about that tire swing…”

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Luck of the Draw

I wrote this in response to this amazingly, powerful article called Ketchup Sandwiches and Other Things Stupid Poor People Eat by Anastasia Basil. Make sure when you read this article, you click on the YouTube of the two people going at it in the grocery store as a man attempts to buy food for his children (who are present) using food stamps. 

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

I remember when I was a kid sitting at the dinner table and refusing to eat my peas (I hated peas—still do).

My dad said, “Lauren, there are starving kids in Ethiopia.”

“Let me go get an envelope,” I said.

If there were starving kids in Ethiopia they could have my peas as far as I was concerned.

Little Lauren

Little Lauren didn’t love peas, but loved big white bonnets and fancy dresses!

My parents made it a point to tell us we were lucky. We were lucky to be born in the United States and to have enough food on our table. Things they didn’t tell us that were also true: we were lucky to be born white and well-off, especially living in the South. My parents always said they weren’t rich, but we had plenty. I didn’t know what it was like to go without. We had name-brand foods, and when we wanted Guess jeans and swatches to fit into our new private school scene, my mom could go out and buy them for us. Privilege.

We were lucky, because we didn’t have to go all the way to Ethiopia to be hungry or poor. One could simply look in West Montgomery to see the generational poor that lived there. Children born of poor parents, being raised poor. Children who were made to feel bad, and still are, for depending on food stamps. Children whose parents worked two jobs just to put food on the table. Children whose parents were addicts. Children whose parents wanted to give them the world, just like my parents did, but couldn’t afford to do so. All of those things, I was lucky enough to be born without.

Some people don’t believe in luck. They believe in predestination. I’m guessing they think God thought they were special and made them the child of someone rich, while the people born into poverty were destined because of some sin? I’m not sure how that works exactly, because I’m Episcopal and don’t believe in predestination. Was I predestined to be the daughter of a doctor? What makes me more special than the child born to a family who can barely scrap it together?

I’ve never understood people who look down on the poor. People who say, “Oh, they should get a job.” I want to ask them, “Have you ever been in their shoes?” Do you know what it’s like to have to choose whether to buy your child new shoes or to eat tonight? Do you know what it’s like to have to tell your kids, “Hey, I’m sorry but we don’t have enough food to have dinner tonight? We don’t have enough money to buy your Type 1 Diabetes medicine. I can’t send you on that field trip, because it costs $20, and I don’t have that.” I don’t know what that’s like, because I was born lucky.

My kids have had much the same experience as I did growing up. I don’t have as much as my parents, but we are well-off. Teach compassion. Have your children volunteer in a food bank. Show them that poor people are people too, with hopes and dreams just like them. Understand that being born poor does not make someone less of a human. It makes them a victim of their circumstance. In this country, being born poor really does dictate whether or not you’ll end up being poor. Talk about the American Dream—it barely exists. Talk about the luck of the draw influencing outcome in life. I basically hit the jackpot. My kids did too. We won the lottery of birth.

So next time you think poor people are scamming the system, maybe you should take a step back and look at where those thoughts are coming from. Because chances are, your bias as someone born lucky is affecting your compassion for those who weren’t born as lucky as you.

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Education Smeducation

Last night was one of those nights where you cringe as a parent. Son Number One had a soccer game at 6:30 which meant we wouldn’t be coming home until 7:30ish. All the kids did their homework before I came home so we had dinner, and then we went to the soccer game.

Son Number Two had to work on a catapult, study for spelling and math, and then study for two other tests. Did I mention he’s in third grade? Before we left for the soccer game, he lamented about school. “I’m just a kid. I have too much homework tonight. And I have to study so much.” He cried, real tears people. And it made me wonder: what the fork are we doing to our kids (thank you Kristen Bell from The Good Place, that’s now my favorite non-cuss word)?

I sympathize with Son Number Two as we wrapped up our catapult and crammed spelling words in and finally sat down to read at 8:30 PM last night. School isn’t fun anymore. It’s standards and tests. And funding. And it’s not about educating the kids anymore. It’s about schools meeting numbers and making test scores. It’s about politics that hurt kids, drive continued segregation in our schools, and take funding away from the schools that need it most. Our children are learning how to take tests. They’re not learning how to think creatively and socialize and get along with peers anymore. Perhaps they get some of that in Maker’s Labs or STEM classes if they go to a school like Son Number Two’s where they’re lucky enough to have it. Heck, my twelve year old art-loving child doesn’t even have an art class at his school. But perhaps the real travesty is there isn’t enough time for play. For kids to be kids. Not only at school, but also at home.

playground-clipart-RTd6ndjT9

Most of our children don’t even have recess, or they go outside for 20 minutes a day tops. Children need a mental break to be able to keep working. When was the last time you sat at your desk for an hour? Even adults need mental breaks. At work, we socialize. We get up and walk around when we need to retrain our brain. These breaks allow us to refocus when we sit down to do our work again. Can’t we give our children the same benefit?

When I was a kid in the 1980’s, we played all the time. I went to Dannelly Elementary. I remember spending time outside on the baseball field playing games, and hanging upside down from the monkey bars for what seemed like hours on the playground. On rainy days playing four-square or jumped rope in the trailer (I’m from the South People–double-wides have a lot of uses). Somehow, teachers knew appropriate development included plenty of play and movement. I’m sure we had homework, but I don’t remember feeling stressed when I was seven years old or nine years old. I remember having plenty of time to come home, ride my bike, play in my backyard, to be a kid.

My education in the ‘80s wasn’t perfect. I don’t think I learned fractions until I was 18. I somehow missed that coming along. I had a huge gap of knowledge, but there didn’t seem to be anyone to point out to my parents that I struggled with math. I also had low self esteem, because I was bullied for having alopecia. These were things I mostly kept to myself as I have never been one to rock the boat. Perhaps, I should have learned long ago that rocking the boat sometimes leads to beneficial change. But, I did develop social skills that benefit me in life.

Look at successful people: most of them have wonderful social skills. If we don’t value play and socializing in our school system, our children will not learn how to work together. They won’t learn the right way to socialize and get along with others.

I’m sad my kids are stressed. I’m sad they’re growing up not loving school. Yes, I think it’s normal for middle-schoolers and even high-schoolers not to like school. But elementary? It should be fun. It shouldn’t make a nine year old cry on a Monday night because he’s stressed out. That’s good for no one. I’m not sure what the solution is, but what’s going on in our system right now is not working. And something has to change.

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Another Time, Another Place?

For a long time I felt like I had been born in the wrong time period. When I was a kid, I had imaginary friends named Jonathan and Thomas. They were my brothers who time-traveled to me from the Civil War era. I knew where our house was: under a large mountain, a log cabin, where I lived with my brothers and my mom while my dad was away fighting. I kid you not.

I played with Jonathan and Thomas next to the blue hydrangea bush in my backyard on scorching hot summer days. I felt like they were real, maybe even ghosts, but probably they were just the result of my already overactive imagination. I loved anything Civil War when I was a kid. I had an obsession with Abraham Lincoln. I used to dream I was married to him, because after all I’d be a better spouse than Mary Todd. Then I told people, I thought I had been Abraham Lincoln in a previous life. I read anything about Lincoln I could get my hands on. My favorite poem, read on the lap of my dad, was O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether or not my writing would sell if I had been born in a different time period. Like, what if I had been a contemporary of Jonathan and Thomas instead of just their sister who lived in the rocking 1980’s future with big hair, jams, and all! Maybe I’d be a famous 1860’s writer, writing about the trials and tribulations of the Civil War. Because right now it’s damn hard to get published.

Here is a list of what it takes to get published in the year 2017:

  • Living in New York – I read once where an agent said New York City is the only place to live if you want to be a serious writer — No thank you.
  • Devoting every dollar you ever make to marketing your book and then some
  • Not having a working wage
  • Somehow acquiring an agent even though you have no writing contacts – it’s all in who you know, people, and I know noone
  • A finished and polished manuscript
  • Your first born child
  • Your tortured soul for all of eternity

No, but seriously, it’s hard to get published. I used to dream I was one of the Bronte sisters. Or Jane Austen. Some of my favorite authors are long dead. Katherine Mansfield—totally awesome. George Eliot—God, if only something like Middlemarch would sell these days. I’m in the wrong field. You know how some people say God is dead, well I think literary fiction is dead. Or at least I have no fucking clue how to market it to an agent and get it sold. Maybe I should start writing young adult vampire books. Or cat books.* There seems to be a great market for those.

Jane_Austen

Jane Austen

So I made a list of pros and cons for living and writing in the 1700s or 1800s.

Pros

  • Not much competition – a lot of people did not know how to read or write. Basic literacy could make you a success!
  • A lot of time – with no electronics there was a lot of spare time if you weren’t birthing babies.
  • There wasn’t technology to aid in procrastinating or distracting you.
  • Love has it all – romance sells, people! Who doesn’t want to hear about someone looking for the love of their life.
  • Epic novels with seemingly no plot, romance thrown in, a little bit about how the fields were doing, and what dresses people were wearing were all the rage.
  • Tragedy was an everyday part of life so people liked to read about it, and we know I love to write about tragedy and darkness!

I would have fit in, people, if it weren’t for the cons…

Cons

  • It’s hard to get published unless you pretend you’re a man – take George Eliot. I mean, I thought she was a man until one of my high school English teachers set me straight.
  • You’re probably going to die young of tuberculosis or some equally horrible disease.**
    • Katherine Mansfield died of tuberculosis on January 9, 1923
    • Jane Austen died of Addison’s disease on July 18, 1817
    • Charlotte and Emily Bronte died of tuberculosis on March 31, 1855 and December 19, 1848 respectivefully.
    • Virginia Woolf committed suicide — authors still do this in amazing abundance, because a large majority of them are tortured souls – do you know that?
    • George Eliot lived to the ripe age of 60 and succumbed to kidney disease.
  • There wasn’t technology to help you research.
  • Word-processing didn’t exist. Talk about hand cramps. And if you had dysgraphia, forget it! You’d never become a published writer.
  • Bad eyes – writing by candle light and reading all those books in the dark. Atrocious. I already have bad eyes, I’d probably be blind by now if I lived back then.
  • Men – they cramped women’s style by not wanting them to do anything but care for the kids that they were continually popping out. Plus they had an advantage by just being born with a penis. Heck, they still have that advantage today, but it’s gotten a little bit better. At least I don’t have to pretend to be a man to get published.

So maybe being born back in the good ole days wouldn’t be so great. I guess I’ll keep trucking along. As long as I have one reader then I qualify as a writer. Because to me, the most important thing is my audience.

Do you think you were born at the wrong time?

*I love young adult books, vampire books, and even books that feature cats as main characters. Cats are awesome, solitary, independent creatures. 

**All information was found on Google & Wikipedia. 

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Memories of Ed

This morning, I put in a Violent Femmes CD on the way to work. The only one I own. It is the self-titled album. I hadn’t listened to this album in years. It reminds me of Ed who I knew from church and then high school. Then he was simply gone.

When I was a kid I went to Holy Comforter, an Episcopal Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s still there. There were a ton of kids and one of those kids was a guy named Ed Pradot. He became my friend as we moved from children to the awkward pre-teen years and started participating in the youth program called EYC (Episcopal Young Churchpeople). We spent time at lock-ins together, playing BINGO in the church cafeteria, and stumbled through our developmental and adolescent years together.

I knew Ed pretty much my whole life. He had fluffy blonde hair, and a huge magnanimous personality. He was a grade below me in school, but that didn’t affect our friendship. One summer, our EYC group went down to Orange Beach for the weekend. Ed and I were in the back of a car with a girl named Deidra, and he put in the Violent Femmes CD. We sang the songs all the way down to Orange Beach (church appropriateness = questionable). That night, we decided we’d stay up all night: Ed, Deidra, and I. And we made it too. Only, we were too tired to go to the beach and slept through all of the next day. I think we made it down to the beach for about thirty minutes before sundown the following night. But we didn’t think the time had been wasted. We were young, and we’d stayed up through the whole night so we could talk, bond, and learn how to grow up and become adults.

Later, when I was in 11th grade, I transferred to the Catholic school in town. Ed went there, and we ended up in some classes together. Then we started carpooling. I picked him up every morning and we talked all the way to school.We often stopped at a Spectrum gas station on the Eastern Boulevard to get candy and junk for our day. We were such good friends, but nothing more. I never had thoughts of him as more than a friend, but I’ll never know whether he wanted more. It wasn’t something we discussed, but it wasn’t something I questioned either.

On one of these morning trips, Ed did not seem himself. I asked him about his history test, and he told me he didn’t have one. He stated he had a science test, but I knew that wasn’t true because we had discussed it the night before on our way home. I had also told him how in Health class we learned that when someone has a seizure you don’t put anything in their mouth. Instead you wait it out, and then sweep out their mouth afterwards to make sure they have a clear airway.

That morning, I had made it to the intersection of McGehee Rd and Troy Hwy and was about to turn onto Eastern Blvd, when he started having a seizure. I thought he was messing with me.

“Oh, c’mon Ed. I know you’re faking it, trying to see what I’m going to do.” I patted him, trying to get him to stop, but he continued seizing. His head hit up against the window of my Supra Celica. I learned at this particular moment in my life that I’m horrible in emergencies. I was at a stop light, and I beeped my horn trying to get people to move. I rolled down my windows and yelled that my friend was having a seizure. No one moved. And finally, after what seemed like an eternity the light changed. Ed was seizing still—I think. I drove like a bat out of hell to the Spectrum station. I left the car running, made sure that Ed was okay, and ran into the store.

Inside, I said, “My friend is having a seizure in the car. Call 911.” Six shocked faces turned to look at me, and six shocked people dropped their morning snacks and ran out to help me. Ed had stopped seizing by then, and the attendant called 911. A nice man straightened him up in the seat and swept his mouth. He was bleeding, because he’d bit his tongue. A nice woman held me, comforted me and told me Ed was going to be alright. I called Ed’s mom, but she didn’t arrive until after the ambulance had already loaded Ed into the back and taken off. The ambulance driver told me where they were taking him, and I relayed the information to his mother.

She said, “He’s never had a seizure before.”

I just shook, barely able to speak. Then I got in my car and drove to school. I attempted to take my Religion test, but Mrs. Toner my religion teacher walked me to the office, called my mom and sent me home. I was so shaken up.

Ed recovered. He told me the last thing he remembered was getting in the car, and then it was a blank, like he didn’t even exist until he woke up in the hospital feeling so tired with his tongue completely bitten through. He didn’t even remember the conversation we had that morning in the car.

Unfortunately, when I went to college Ed and I lost touch. And the summer before I went back for my sophomore year I thought about him. I called his house, but his little brother told me he was staying with his dad that summer. When I asked for the number, the little brother told me he didn’t have it.

A few months later, sitting in my dorm room at American University, I received a call from my childhood friend Hillary. She was sobbing. “Ed got hit by a car, Lauren. He was crossing the road. He’s dead.”

I was shocked. Because he had such a big personality that it didn’t seem possible his life could be snuffed out just like that. And I didn’t get to say goodbye. I wanted to see him that summer before my sophomore year and talk to him, pal around, and just be Lauren and Ed, but it never happened. My parents were in London when I received the call, and so I didn’t have the money to fly home from Washington D.C. to Alabama. I called my brother and sobbed on the phone to him. I felt life was unfair. I’d lost two friends at young ages by this time, and I just didn’t understand how that could happen. It took me a long time to wrap my head around losing Ed. More than anything, I wish I had insisted on getting his phone number from his brother and having one last conversation with him before he left this world.

Today in the car, listening to the Violent Femmes all the memories of Ed popped up making him feel alive again. I could see his kind eyes, his funny, fluffy hair, and the smile he always wore. I remembered all the nights we’d hung out together at EYC. I remember how loving and caring he was, and I’ll always treasure those moments I had with him, even though they were too few.

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Church Days

This weekend, I took my kids to a new church. Same domination: Episcopalian. I’m not very religious, but my kids like church and believe in God, and I decided to try out a church that might have kids. We went on sort of a crazy day, because the church was starting a discussion on gay marriage. But we sat down and had breakfast, I dropped the kids at Sunday school, and we listened as the reverend spoke about Acts and the Jerusalem Council. Then we went to the church service. We enjoyed ourselves, and I think we’ll go back.

I’m not here to get into a religious or political discussion or even to discuss my opinion on gay marriage I’ll put it out there though: I’m for it. Everyone deserves to be with someone they love. Attending this church this weekend made me nostalgic for my own childhood.

My mom dutifully took us to church as kids. A lot of times my sisters were acolytes. I stood in the front with the choir. I earned my gold cross. I wore white dresses and dress-hats that stuck into your head and made you itch, and stockings with white seemingly unbendable shoes. Everything seemed to be white! And I couldn’t wait to get home and strip out of those dress clothes, often in the hallway before I’d even made it upstairs to my room.

We often attended breakfast at church, the smell of bacon beckoning me. I’d eat and my friends would trickle in, and then we’d run in the halls, go see the babies in the nursery, and finally make it to the sanctuary where I usually scribbled on paper and held my mom’s hand. I hated the way the wine tasted, and me and some of my other childhood friends would run after communion to get a sip of water and rinse out our mouths.

I spent nights outside with EYC, getting into trouble. I did lock-ins and trips to the beach. I established friends and memories that will never fade, in the sinking Alabama sun, as I discovered myself, learned about the history of religion, and began to establish my own religious code of ethics.

These are the memories I want for my children. Memories of inclusion. Memories of fun and fellowship.

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