Writing in my sleep

The first paragraph came to me in a dream last night. It seemed like the beginning of a new story. I wonder what Charles Oliver wants?


The latch on the wrought-iron gate closed with a clang behind him. Charles Oliver came in uninvited. I was barefoot in the garden picking basil for dinner and had closed my eyes to breathe in the scent just a meditative moment before. His entrance having jolted me, I met his eyes on his way up the brick path to my house.

“Staying for dinner, Mr. Oliver?” I asked, sitting down on the painted wooden steps of my front porch to wipe the dirt from my feet.

“If you’ll have me, I reckon so.”

The stove hadn’t been lit for days or maybe weeks. I had, instead, been grazing on food that could be pulled from the earth and eaten with little more than a wash in my deep porcelain sink. Survival of summer in the Mississippi Delta required ingenuity, especially when the only mechanism for moving the hot air around the old farmhouse was the attic fan and open windows. But I didn’t mind. Food straight from the ground seemed closer to the way God intended it. My little plot of heaven was small enough that I alone could tend it and it returned the favor by providing enough food to feed my body and my soul.

Mr. Oliver sat himself down at my old pine table and traced a finger over the indented words left by children practicing their numbers and letters. Not my children, of course. The one marriage I had ended after only a couple of months when Mr. Jenkins fell under the plough, drunk on corn whiskey. Henry, the old mule, didn’t even look back when he pulled the blades bumpity-bump over Jenkins’s body. No, the children who had studied at this pine table were mostly me and my little sister, Amylee between harvesting and planting seasons when we were allowed to go to school. My older brother, Skaggs (God rest his soul) probably made a few here and there, before he was old enough to work. Mama and Daddy never learned to read and write, so I imagine they only accounted for the X’s that were left in the pine when they re-signed the share-cropping contract with Mr. B each year.

The thirty-five acres my family farmed was now mine, Skaggs having died in Viet Nam and Amylee having moved to Nashville when she got a job teaching history at Vanderbilt. For a few years after Mr. Jenkins died, I kept the land in cotton but after a while, it all got to be too much for one person to handle and I let it go fallow. Except for a few black walnut trees and a dogwood here and there, goldenrod and Joe-pye weeds  have grown tall enough to keep the neighbors out of my business and provide a wild turkey here and there.

That night when Mr. Oliver sat down at my table, I set it with sliced tomatoes and onion, cottage cheese and three cold fried chicken quarters I’d brought home from the church potluck the Sunday before. “Take these home with you, Sister Bess,” the organ player had said as she wrapped the chicken in aluminum foil and stuffed them into the plastic bag I’d brought the bean salad in. “It’ll save you from havin’ to light the stove this week.”  But here it was Tuesday and company had come so it only seemed right to serve the chicken and worry about tomorrow when it came. After one piece of chicken and some sliced tomatoes, Mr. Oliver excused himself from the table, washed his plate.

“I’d like to sit a spell on the porch, if you don’t mind. When it’s time to go, I can see myself off,” he said. “No need to stay up on my account.” 

“Of course. Whatever you need,” I nodded to him, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until I heard the gate close behind him.  But by the time I’d cleaned the kitchen and did my nightly Bible study, Mr. Oliver had let himself out the same way he came in.

How to piss off a grieving mother

In my travels through social networks, I ran across a book called, “Ten Easy Steps to Overcome, Cure and Cope with Grief.”  Far be it from me to disparage someone’s work that I haven’t read – or even work that I have read if it pertains to their own experience, but on this particular day, 380-some-odd days after the death of my son, the title hit me as simultaneously ridiculous and offensive. In fact, every word in the title save for the last three rub me raw and make me wonder whether Wayne Weeks is writing from his own experience.

Since I can’t make it past the title, I’ll take it one word at a time.

Ten Easy Steps –  Really? These ten things (are you sure there aren’t 13? Or 8?)  To suggest that there is a set number of tasks that if you do them correctly and completely will eliminate the moments you lose your breath in the grocery store when you look at the Sunny D? And those times when you hide and watch a kid playing hackeysack in the park a little longer than you should because you’re secretly pretending it’s your kid? Gone. Just follow this recipe.

But wait! There’s more!

The steps are easy. No more bloody knuckles from grating through your feelings of guilt, shame, regret. For just $19.95, you, too, can have all the answers!

Overcome: For me, this word sounds like there is an end-point to grief. No one I have talked to in this journey – and one woman from The Compassionate Friends lost her son in 1981 – has indicated this is true. I have said before that grief changes you on a molecular level. Once you’ve experienced it, it becomes part of the fabric of your being. To overcome it means to rise to meet it and then leave it behind, but I know I never will.

Cure: Do I have a disease? Granted, there are more complicated grief responses that require the attention of a medical/psychological professional. I’ve had some of those and dealt with them accordingly. It’s possible that they will arise again as I continue to peel this onion. But I am not ill. I am human. A mother, who grew another human inside her body, raised him in to a man and then had to let him go. I loved him so much that learning to live without him is painful. I don’t need to be cured.

My apologies to Mr. Weeks, but he would have come closer to convincing me to buy his book if he had stuck with the final three words of his title: Cope with Grief. There is no way out except right through it. It takes how long it takes. It’s not easy. You will never be finished. But you will survive.

~ D


A Southern White Woman’s take on Waco v. Baltimore

There has been some activity on social media about the differences in how the shoot-out coverage in Waco, TX has been different from the how the riots in Baltimore were covered earlier this spring. Observations on why in Texas, motorcycle gang members were sitting, un-cuffed on the curb using their smart phones while police in basic uniform casually strolled through the crowd while coverage of the riots in Baltimore showed police in full riot gear, gas masks and rioters sitting shirtless on the curb with their hands zip-tied behind their backs and others using bottled water to clear pepper spray from their eyes.

Others have brought up the fact that protesters in Baltimore were publicly and immediately labeled as thugs* while the people involved in the Waco shooting are being referred to by their proper club name (Banditos & Cossacks) and the super-cute acronym OMG (as in “ohmygawd, Becky, look at her butt”).

To those who have brought up these issues, I say: I see where you’re coming from. And…

I wonder if we’re examining the issue critically enough. A photograph in public media is subjective to what the photographer thought was relevant to that moment. Words like thug can be buzzwords – someone, somewhere used it and suddenly everyone is using the same word to describe the incident. We are, after all, sheep. Some people are just too sensitive.

I’d like to dive a little deeper (buzzword!) and offer the following on why the coverage of the Baltimore Riots is systematically and inherently racist in ways that we (white folk) don’t even realize.

First, I’d like to offer the definition that I use for racism. It’s based on an academic definition used in multicultural counseling. Others will have different definitions and that’s fine.

Here is my working definition of racism:

Racism is an act that disproportionately damages members of an ethnic or racial group whether intentional or unintentional.

Accepting that definition for the purposes of this post, you can see how the pictures of the Baltimore Riots would damage (though unintentionally) black people by perpetuating them as inherently dangerous people impacting job prospects, the likelihood of interaction with police not to mention the physiological impacts of racism on people of color. Just evaluate positive media images of black people in general media coverage and you’ll see that we haven’t come very far since the early twentieth century portrayed black men in film as minstrels, “happy Negros” or murderers of white men and rapists white women.

But let’s dig even deeper.

In response to the Waco shooting, I’ve heard four separate stories (I heard one story twice) about the history of motorcycle gangs in America this week. If I’ve got the facts right, the very first Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs** (OMGs) started when veterans from World War II came home. The stories I’ve heard suggest that PTSD may have played a role, as well as a need to regain the brotherhood that they had in the service.



How many stories did we hear giving an eighty-year history explaining the Baltimore Riots?Many consider the Ferguson and Baltimore Riots symptoms of the unfinished business of racism. Put in the larger context of racism in the US, might we have viewed the riots differently?

And did anyone – politician, media outlet, anyone. – work so hard to differentiate between the people who were exercising their rights to peaceably assemble from the people who were looting? Or include the military and mental health histories of anyone running with a television.

I’d like to introduce a term that I did not coin, but wish I had. White ‘splaining.  Isn’t this coverage just a patronizing pat on the hand to the American public on why we shouldn’t worry too much about biker gangs? They are just misunderstood, war-damaged fellas just looking for a place to fit in.

Those thugs in Baltimore, though…

* Some suggest that thug is the new n-word. Next time you hear the word, make a mental note of the race of the subject.

** OMGs are thought to constitute about 1% of people in motorcycle culture. 

Back to work!

Right after my son Joshua died, my plan was to become a hermit. To curl up in a ball and shut out the rest of the world forever. When that stopped feeling like the right thing to do, my plan was to keep bees and chickens and make butter and cheese and wear long skirts, Birkenstocks with socks and grow my hair out – a sort of homesteading crazy cat woman if you will. That stopped being any fun, too.

Turns out I can’t even go crazy the right way.

When I have nothing to do, I do nothing. I don’t take advantage of the time to relax or dream or create. I obsess. Ruminate. Fret. And, as it turns out, poverty is not character building. I had forgotten Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that when you are worried about having your basic needs me, you have no energy to be creative.

So, I’m going back to work. I’m going to put that expensive Master’s degree I worked so hard for to good use. For me, there is something to be said for having far more on your plate than you think you can accomplish, so I’m keeping my previous goal of publishing every year. You will hear me whine about not having the time or energy to write. But I’ll write on my lunch break. I’ll wake up at 3 a.m. and write. I’ll pull over on the expressway to capture an idea. And it will be fine. In fact, I’m betting it will be more than fine. Shutting out the world – while quiet and peaceful – shuts out life. And I need input – my ideas are sparked by the things I see and hear and experience each day. This lack of input has my brain sort of atrophying. (Did you know there are 82 episodes of Man Men on Netflix?) When I am once again fully engaged in life, I’m counting on my muse to wake up, shake it off and turn out some amazing stuff.


So what’s up with Wailing Wall? I am in the line editing phase with my publisher which means someone with a passion for finding errant commas has combed through the manuscript. Yes, there are people who love this work and I’m damn glad of it. I’ve gotten the edits back along with a few suggestions for tightening up wording and I’ll be diving in to that next week. More exciting than errant commas is cover design concepts that will be coming my way in the next couple of days. A couple weeks ago, I spent an hour on the phone with a mysterious, artsy woman (at least that’s my fantasy of her) in NYC discussing the book and my vision for it. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for cover art.  I’ll post them here so readers can weigh in on your favorite ideas.

~ D

Categories & Labels

With Wailing Wall coming out later this year, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into categorizing my writing. When I started the crowdfunding campaign to fund the project through Inkshares, I casually said it was memoir. But now, I’m not so sure. Recently, I’ve started to use the broader category of Creative Non-fiction because there are a couple of scenes that are true, but not completely factual. The story of how my parents met, for example. Obviously, I wasn’t there and have no idea what the weather was like, but according to my mom, I was conceived on the Fourth of July, so I  created a scene out of my head about it. Does that count as being creative with my non-fiction?  My marketing team needs to know what shelf it goes on and I’m just.not.sure.

Then, there is my current work in progress. Got Down on my Knees started out as a way to keep my brain busy while Wailing Wall made its way through the publication process, but I’m having great fun with it. The central theme of the story is true, but the characters are totally made up – the exact opposite of what I did with the scene of how my parents met. And, I’m working harder to be true to the characters than to my own experience than in Wailing Wall. Does that mean it’s fiction?

I’ve always hated labels. No one label ever seems to fit my life exactly right. Why can’t I just mark “D – All of the above” (it worked on the SAT!)?  Alas, making enough money on book sales to keep writing full-time needs to happy, so I suppose I should play along.

Here’s what I know: I will always write about Southern life and the sticky parts that come with that – race, poverty, gender, addiction. My protagonist will probably always be a woman. And the women I write about will probably always come out more fully human in the end. That doesn’t mean they’ll always win the prize, get the girl/guy or move to Tuscany. It means they’ll cry when they feel sad. They’ll laugh when they feel joy. They’ll be more fully present in their lives and in the lives of the people around them.

I’ll leave the categorizations up to the professionals.


Stranger Danger

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that he had gotten cussed out for smiling and waving at a little girl in a grocery store.  I commented on his status that I was sorry that men sometimes were looked at as dangerous without reason. “I’m sorry,” I said, “that this is the world we live in.”

Something happened this weekend that has me digging deeper into that thought. There was an incident and one of the possible explanations for the incident was that a man was sexually violating a young woman (under age slightly). Within 10 minutes, I was ready to tie him to the bed and burn his house down. There were four other women involved in the conversation, and we all agreed. The only logical explanation was that he was a perpetrator.

It occurred to me this morning three of the five women discussing the incident had been sexually violated by someone they trusted and the other two were closely tied to women who had been. And I wonder whether the angry mother in the grocery store had been as well.

For someone with PTSD, the response to danger is immediate and intense. Sometimes flashbacks occur. There’s no convincing us that the danger we perceive isn’t real. And that’s what happened to me when I thought a young woman wasn’t safe. Fight and flight all at once.

And, so, I sort of retract my apology to the man who was cussed out in a grocery store because I think men are the only ones who can fix this problem. Men must no longer tolerate that sexual violence against women is okay. They’ve got to call one another on it when it happens. When we, as women, call it out, we’re being sensitive and whiney. Men, you have to step up to the plate.

When a friend posts a picture of his gun and ammo on Facebook with a caption of, “Let’s go hunting women.” It’s not funny. Tell them it’s not.

When a beer company puts a slogan on its beer that says, “Consuming this product may remove “no” from your vocabulary,” men have to object. Loudly.

When you’re in a bar and your friends are commenting about a woman’s suggestive dress, you have to remind them that even if she were naked, that is not consent to be jeered at, followed or touched.

That commenting on a woman’s body at all and using derogatory terms that refer to her sexuality is contributing to the culture that implies women’s bodies are public domain.
When that stops, we can start to talk about unfairness toward men.