My Latest Leap from the Cliff

I haven’t mentioned this to many people but I was invited to apply for a seat on the Mississippi Audubon Board. I have no real idea what the board does, no real clue as to what board members are expected to do/contribute, but, what the heck! I do know some of the Audubon Center folks and a board member or two! You’ve got it: I applied. And was accepted. Got the call last week that they want me to come onto the board to represent the south central part of the state.


View of the Davis Home at Holly Spring Audubon Center

Now, sitting on boards is not new to me (local Audubon Chapter, local Shelter, DREAM of Hattiesburg, and more) but it is my first statewide board. Of course, I feel wholly unprepared and inadequate — nothing new there – I always feel inadequate! But I have a Ph.D.! Surely I can research issues, study, talk to people in the area and get their take so I can represent them? And heaven knows I have lots of opinions on how things “ought to be done.” I can do this job. And why not? I didn’t have enough to do anyway! This, Jerry, is what people who finish their dissertations do with their newfound free time – everything!


Katrina+4: The day before


On August 28, 2009 (Katrina + 4 years – 1 day), I drove to work. I’m driving a different route these days since the campus has closed some roads to 2-way traffic. So I drove past a small lake on the campus and noticed a beautiful great blue heron standing in the lake trying to look like a snag — and doing a darn fine job, too. I thought about what that setting looked like 4 years ago: wooded, dark, very glen-like but not that many birds; and I gave thanks for the devastation that left a place like that for the Great Blue Herons right next to Hardy Street’s bumpered traffic and too-busy-to-notice eyes. And I cried a little for what was lost in Katrina and gave thanks for what has come and will still come from it.

And, today, 4 years ago, our house was under fallen trees (see photo for view from my back door), we were cut off from the world, and had a blissful few hours of having no idea what had happened in New Orleans and on the gulf coast: the end of innocence. Happy anniversary.

“getting old”

Yesterday, my beautiful husband told me, “I know I’m getting old. When I met her [speaking about a beautiful girl with a stacked up chest that we saw on campus] the first thing I thought about was that she was going to have back problems when she was my age.”

When I stopped laughing, I kissed him.

Happy Wednesday.

WINGS Portrait-Whidbey IS

I’m attending a writing group now, mainly because I like the people in it and because The Writer simply wouldn’t agree to go if I didn’t go, too. So, the first Monday evening of each month, we get together with some other folks we know in the Pine Belt (Beth Taylor, Valerie Wells, etc.) and we talk about … well, sometimes we talk about writing, but mostly we just talk about life, our kids, how work is going (yes, of the group, only two are full-time writers), how long and hot summer is, how we long for cooler weather and whatever else we can think of.

Now, what does this have to do with writing? My background is in group training, group therapy, group dynamics, social change, etc. I understand groups and why groups come together and what groups can do. But this? This is friends having dinner. I like it, but I want to understand how this is supposed to promote The Writer’s writing/publishing/notoreity.

My understanding about “workshop-ing” is that someone writes, takes it to the group, they read it and critique. Hopefully, they are kind as well as critical and have the writer’s best interests at heart. It seems to work for many. I’ve heard Ronnie and other writers talk about workshop-ing pieces as if it’s a firing squad, an awful experience that they don’t ever want to have to repeat. How’s that productive? If you’re in a roomful of people whose only interest is themselves and their piece, if there is no sense of group cohesiveness, no desire to truly help another writer . . . of course, it’s kill or be killed. Competition rules and all else is out the window.

So, once again**, I guess I’ve talked myself into more of an understanding of why this group “works” for The Writer, and apparently others who come. This is a group where “we” (and I use that term loosely, as I do not claim to be a writer) share ideas for publication, for how to get work, for how to grow in the areas in which we are working, to survive this disease called writing. It is a place to commiserate about lack of opportunity, lack of money, lack of motivation, problems with spouses, problems with editors, etc. It’s not a “bitch session” so much as a support group. No one is bringing things to read or “workshop.” No money is changing hands, no secret handshakes, no password-protected websites. These are just folks who understand what The Writer is doing, what he is going through, what he is trying to do. And, because they understand, and he understands, I guess I’ll just keep listening.

**Hey, I never claimed this was anything more than an online “Journal!” I’m just hoping for insights from those of you who are reading it!

A Day on My Own

I’ve posted before that one of the things I most miss in having a full-time writer in the house is that he’s always IN THE HOUSE! That means I seldom get time alone in my house, time alone to think, time alone to putter, time alone. It’s a real luxury for me, and I miss it.

So, last Saturday (July 18), our local Audubon group held their xth annual Butterfly Count in the Delta National Forest above Vicksburg. The Writer got up and sneaked out of the house in the wee hours of Saturday morning to drive north with Larry & friends. They butterflied all day (see pictures), saw some other interesting wildlife (canebrake rattlesnake, bobcat kitten, all kinds of birds), and ate fried catfish on the drive home late in the evening. Even the weather cooperated with the trip this year: sunny, bright, breezy, only in the low 90s — heck, that’s a cold spell for us!


Puddles of butterflies in Delta National Forest


Pearl Crescent

Red-spot Purple

Red Spotted Purple

So what did I do with my day? Well, I didn’t talk to anyone. I spent the morning in my dressing gown, sipping coffee, petting pets, watching HGTV and the Tour de France….chilling out. The phone didn’t ring. I had no crises that I needed to run to the computer for. There were no family crises of which I was aware and needed to tend. It was just my day. I’d do a chore, then sit and reflect. I’d check email, then retire to watch the Tour. I read. I walked around our yard. I listened to the birds. I vegged out. It was sublime!

Now, would I want every day to be that way? No thanks. I like my life. I like activity. I like friends. I like meeting and visiting with people. I like being connected, feeling part of something with more substance than just me. But having all that just makes some solitude all the more precious, all the more enjoyable. And it makes me that much more grateful for both.

I feel so blessed that The Writer finally GETS this, but it wasn’t without a struggle. He wanted to include me in all the things he does with friends because he loves me and because I am his friend, too. He hated leaving me “behind” when he went off to have fun, and he didn’t get that being left (in this instance) was my fun. But, like the plots in his stories, we worked through it. Now, he is happy to go off with his buds to bird or butterfly or explore and leave me home because he knows that I need just that. And, he is glad that I am glad to see him come home and that I am calmer, more genial after a day on my own.

And this is not so very different from what The Writer’s own mother used to do. AFter a crazy day with 30 kids in a room at school, Faye used to come home, go into her bedroom and close the door. For 30 minutes each afternoon, no one disturbed her under threat of something worse than death. She read the paper, took a nap, prayed, read her Sunday School lesson,or looked at catalogs. Who knows? The point is, she did nothing for 30 minutes: no crises, no talking, no telephones, no bills, no house or kids (barring real emergencies, of course), and she came out of her room refreshed and ready to go for another few hours with kids, house, husband, life. As I’ve said time and again, she is my model.

So, my advice to all of you: if you’re feeling pulled apart in a thousand directions, try some alone time salve. Make a time, even an hour, when there are no demands on you, and that means you’ll have to set aside all the usual stuff that demands your time and energy. OMG, is cleaning the house really all THAT important? Forget it. Do the thing that most calms, most soothes you. It make take doing this a few times before you begin to see the difference it makes to you. But it WILL make a difference, a positive difference if you’re true to what you need.

Hey, maybe you want to go count butterflies with my husband?

Living with a working writer (read that “full-time, no-regular-job” writer) means many things. One of them is that he is happy. Happier, perhaps, than I have ever known him in our more than 25 years together. And he is productive, at least in his writing, his REAL work. It is, in many ways, exactly what I always dreamed for him, for me, and for us. There is a lot of laughter in our house these days; sometimes we laugh to avoid crying, it’s true, but–hey, that’s what laughter is for, too!

It also means we are struggling to live on my income – and failing miserably. We got too used to a lifestyle we liked a lot when I had a job with a good paycheck and he was working a job-job, too. Cutting back is hard, and we don’t do it well.

So, when something like the crisis in higher education (where I work) happens – today our Dean called a general faculty meeting and told the College that programs would be cut, faculty would be terminated, she was offering up a pay cut for herself, and would cut at least one position in the Dean’s office staff – I get a little nervous. Okay, I get panicky as hell!

I have 18 years + in the state retirement system. I’m 50-something years old. I can do a lot of things but I don’t know how well those skills will transfer to another venue. I’m afraid. I can’t imagine a job where I’d be happier than where I’ve been for the past 3 years.

So, I came home and we talked. Just knowing that The Writer “gets” how I am and how this impacts me takes a load off. We go into the yard and pot plants. Ahhhhhhh………the tension begins to melt. My mind begins to Black Warrior 06unfreeze and I can begin to resume thinking about things besides padlocks on my house doors. Then he shows me a “found picture” of our now 2-1/2 year old when he was just a wee pup and my heart melts . . . okay, now I can breathe again…..

After all, I have a mom (in-law) who won’t let our pets go hungry. Believe me, the bank does NOT want our house, but if they do, we have two paid-for cars that we can live in. And, I’m not laid off yet! Budget cuts won’t take effect for another year and, honestly, can they really live without ME?! And, we did prepare for lean times . . . BEFORE he quit his regular job for the life of a working writer. Okay, I’m calmer, I’m settling…..this is just our life. I can do this….I’ve been doing this for two years. I can do this….I can do this….

Hey, life is actually pretty good! Now, how can I afford NOT to buy that iPhone?!

The Family Plan

A week ago, my BFF Ruthie drove up from Miami. On Friday, I finished up my first-half-summer class and we drove in the afternoon with other friends towards Chattanooga. Purpose: to celebrate the upcoming 70th birthday of our friend Nancy Hayya Burton. Nancy & Jim were the people who got me through my father’s death, who supported me more like brother and sister than my own brother (I’ve learned it’s often easier to find that support with folks who have no history with you!). So going to celebrate a birthday and have a general family reunion was a thing I really looked forward to.

Big Family Photo June 2009

Big Family Photo June 2009

And, it was just as wonderful as I thought it would be. Many were camping at the Chattanooga Flight park, so we spent time there, watching the hang-gliders, watching Hayya take her first hang-glide in celebration of being (almost) 70, watching Jim take his first trip, watching Christina’s kids fly. Singing, dancing, chanting, drumming, swimming, and sweating. Great weekend! Of course, there was great food, lots of barbecue, birding, and general nature appreciation. Very great weekend.

We even planned some future trips along the way: another “family reunion;” a trek across the entirety of Lookout Mountain for a writing project (Yes, there’s always writing! We’re always thinking about writing and writing projects, the next book, or the next podcast, or the next illustrated book. After all, I live with a writer!); Thanksgiving in Florida with the Vilberg clan.

And in the quiet moments, I thought about my own journeys, past, present, future. Thinking about the things that brought me to that moment, those friends, those memories, and wondering about the future. About being on the cusp of change, about living there and what it says about me that I like that edge. About the intense gratitude I feel for my family, whether blood kin, marriage kin, or family of choice. I’ve made such good choices (generally speaking — there were a few duds!) in who I’m related to and am so blessed with family.

So, yes, I’m high on the family plan. And I’m just trying to hold onto that loving feeling!