Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cleaning Out the Stream

It was warm today, the first day in a month I've been able to wear shorts. Florida wuss that I am.

So I used the late morning to clean out the stream. This mainly consists of picking up fallen limbs and pulling jewel weed. But it also involves rearranging the rocks in the stream bed to increase the water flow.

The ultimate end of doing that is to send a faster flow over the waterfall. It's not a big waterfall as you can see from the brief snippet. It only falls a couple of feet. But look at that wonderful boulder in the background. It's fifty feet tall.

Anyway, every year I return to the stream to see how the rocks have rearranged themselves in my absence. Over the years I've given up trying to totally redirect the stream into one single path downhill. It wants to go into a lot of little branches under roots or disappear completely underground, and no matter what I do to coax it into the main streambed (all in the interests of increasing the drama of the waterfall), during the winter the stream decides where it truly wants to go.

So I make my small changes each spring, knowing they will be undone over the winter. So be it. In Robert Frost's words this is my "temporary stay against confusion." A small, albeit transitory attempt to impose my own will on something that ultimately refuses to be ordered and reined in.

I'm okay with that. I don't think I do any permanent damage to the stream by "fixing it" each spring. It amuses me and it's a good workout, and for a time the results are visually pleasing. But I know who's boss. And it's not me.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Last Politics for A While--I Promise

No Rush. What's the hurry?

Here's what I mean. From two years ago. Oh, that Scalia. He's been listening to Rush as well.

That's the environmental side of things from my point of view. Then there's this from Ken, which I include as fair and balanced equal time. Some very good arguments and reminders.

Pass this On to Rush

Well, the White House is coming clean.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why Summer in the Mountains?

Here's one reason.

And it was only a cat 1. We made it through Andrew with the walls shaking and floors sinking and all the avocado trees and mangoes and the Indian rosewood coming down. An acre and a half of shade gone overnight. Our neighbor's second story was blown away. All around us was devastation that took more than a year to fix. A month without power. Six years without shade. We've paid our dues in south Florida summers.

And then there's this:

It's Here

It's heeeeeeere.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More About Writing

I wrote this short piece for the Edgar Awards Program this year, 2008. The question each of the writers was asked was: "Why do you write this stuff?" Here's my answer:

Why Do I Write This Stuff?

For over fifty years I’ve been in school. As a student, a graduate student, and for the last 35 years as a professor, teaching literature and writing to college students, and to grad students in an MFA program. I have a Masters Degree and Ph.D. in literature which means I spent a few fairly intense years trying to learn how to footnote.
The credentials of a certified snob. I’m not a cop or an ex-cop. I’m not a fishing guide or an ex-fishing guide. I’m not a journalist. And I’m certainly not an ex-trial lawyer. I’ve had no other job (except for the host of colorful summer ones) since I was a paperboy. Books are my business.
Last semester I taught a course in First Novels to a bunch of MFA students who desperately want to write and publish their own. I started with The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which one of my brightest students had the temerity to call “nap inducing.” We also studied To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sun Also Rises, then moved on to more modern fare like The Lovely Bones, Fight Club, and Bright Lights, Big City. We ended the semester by looking at two mystery novels published by two former MFA students. Both of those students, now authors, came to class and shared their experiences, both the creative struggles they went through while writing their first novel, and their subsequent education in the world of publishing. It was quite an amazing arc for fourteen weeks. From Joyce to Gagliano.
After the semester ended, my bright grad student sent me a note to thank me for making her read Joyce. What she’d called “nap inducing” earlier in the semester she now considered “a great gift” I had given her. She also really dug the mystery novels. Which was kind of the point. Great stories, great characters, great writing. High culture, low culture, who the hell cares?
I hadn’t read Portrait of the Artist in many years when I assigned it. I found it a bit “nap inducing” myself, but by the time I finished it, I remembered why I loved it. I first read it when I was fifteen at the urging of a teacher who saw some weird urges in me—let’s call them inchoate creative desires. I probably understood one-tenth of what I read at the time, though I remember being awed by the salaciousness of certain passages. It wasn’t long after that when I read my first Ross MacDonald novel. I liked it even better than Joyce, and understood a lot more of it. Then came Hemingway, Fowles, and Lawrence Durrell and John D. MacDonald and Hammett and Chandler. Oh, and Dickens too then Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton and on and on.
I was a voracious and indiscriminate reader and felt no compelling reason to draw distinctions between Pearl Buck and Sinclair Lewis or Agatha Christie and Jane Austen.
Maybe if I’d gone to grad school at any other time in American history, I would have been bullied into taking a more snobbish position on literary values. But in the Sixties when I was working my way through academe, the doors of perception were opening. Popular culture was gaining status. Sci-fi suddenly had integrity. More than one important literary critic admitted in print to a sinful predilection for mystery novels. High road, low road, it all seemed so passé. Still does, only more so.
Though the pressure wasn’t as intense as it might have been, I do remember some pretty vicious arguments with fellow doctoral candidates. One guy kept going on about Huck Finn. He claimed Twain had created a culturally complex story with layers of irony and vast symbolic resonance. I argued that any ten year old could read Huck and understand it perfectly well. Over the years, I’ve taught the novel a few times and I now believe we were both right. Twain is as simple as pie, but complicated as hell.
Same with Frost. For years I specialized in Robert Frost. I could scan his poems in my sleep, which means I could tell you where he varied from iambic pentameter and why. He was a masterful writer, one who hid his technique so skillfully that anyone, and I mean anyone, could read his best work and understand it the first time through. Yet those very same poems would reward intense scrutiny and study. I have found little gems of literary virtuosity hidden within the measured cadences of his most transparent and accessible work.
Teachers of literature get off on stuff like that. The little tricks, the pirouettes of language, the mot juste. It’s one of the cool things about teaching lit. You can examine the brushstrokes, the subtleties and nuances of language, the image patterns, the devilish ambiguities, or you can skip that entirely and still have a rewarding time. You can simply frolic with the story and the characters and the pulse of whatever rousing good yarn is before you.
Twenty years ago I wrote Elmore Leonard a fan letter. I’d taught LaBrava in one of my classes and wanted to let him know that not only was it a super enjoyable read, but it “stood up to literary inspection.” My students found, for instance, patterns of black and white imagery running through the novel. Amazingly, he wrote back. He thanked me for my kind words, then went on to say that he didn’t think he’d do very well in my class since he had no idea what an image pattern was. Oh, that Dutch.
Great writers like Leonard or Frost or Twain reward the careful reader as richly as the reader who doesn’t give a damn about any of that fancy crap. The best writers always do that. They have it both ways—one foot on the high road, one in the gutter. It’s pretty simple really. That’s why I write this stuff. I want to learn how to do that.

Something About Writing

I wrote this short essay about writing a while back for the Mystery Writer's Association newsletter. Thought some of you might find it interesting:

“Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal.” So said T.S. Eliot. He wasn’t encouraging plagiarism, but was distilling into a sentence a general approach that all writers use whether they are conscious of it or not, to develop their craft.
In all the centuries before there were coast-to-coast creative writing programs, ordinary folks had been learning to write poems, novels, plays, and stories quite well. Though I’ve been teaching in a university writing program for thirty-five years and am absolutely certain that the service we provide to aspiring writers is of an overall benefit to many, I am equally certain that attending an academic institution to learn to write a novel is not necessary, nor is it necessary to read how-to books on plot or character or the use of setting. Everything a writer needs to learn her craft is sitting on her own bookshelf at this moment, just waiting to be plundered.
This may sound like heresy. A writer, and writing teacher, making the case for stealing the work of others…well, yes, heretical it may be, but it’s also the truth, and it also works. I learned this the hard way, starting my own apprenticeship as a writer with four failed novels. I spent about ten years trying without success to write a serious literary novel.
After reading many biographies of great writers, and from talking to writer friends of mine, I estimate that the average apprenticeship for any writer, from the day that she makes writing a central, dominant part of her workday, to the point at which she is actually publishing and getting paid for what she writes is roughly ten years—about how long it took me. Some manage to cover this ground more quickly, some take longer. Some write four novels that fail, some write two or three, some write and rewrite the same one until they learn their craft. But ten years is a ballpark estimate. Which suggests to me that you sure as hell better love the daily process of writing if you’re going to sustain your enthusiasm through that long trek. (And it wouldn’t hurt to have a day job, too.)
After failing four times, I reached the conclusion that even though I had a Ph.D. in literature and had published short stories and poems in literary journals for years, I was simply not smart enough to write a novel. But stubbornly, I still wanted to do it. So I hit upon the simplest strategy I could think of. I sat down and dissected a book that I dearly loved, a popular novel (that will go unnamed), one that while not exactly of high literary status, had been a reaonable commercial success and was close to the kind of novel that I thought maybe, just maybe, I could write.
I dissected and dissected, outlined, made notes. Chapter by chapter, page by page. Scene by scene. I scrawled observations in the margins of the novel. I even typed out verbatim whole pages of it, dialog, setting, action, all of it. I was determined to absorb this book on some cellular level, digest its rhythms, its pace, its narrative techniques and so on until I could mimic it in my sleep.
Then with the book open beside me at my computer, I wrote my first chapter. Same number of characters, same number of words, same amount of dialog, same quantity of action, a dash of setting, some quick character descriptions. I didn’t steal the words, the idea, the plot, or anything beyond the most elementary aspects of the book’s architecture.
When I’d finished the first ten pages, which was very close to the length of my model’s first chapter, I turned to the second chapter and repeated the process. I consulted my model every step along the way. Every paragraph, every page. I tried very hard to avoid using even a single word from the original, or to duplicate anything in it beyond the structural elements.
Then something surprising happened. By chapter seven I found myself not paying nearly as much attention to the novel that lay open on my desk. Because the the novel unfolding on my computer screen was taking possession of me. I think of this process now as being like the booster rocket that pushes the heavy payload off the ground and propels beyond the pull of gravity, then when it’s served its purpose it drops away and the space capsule (your own novel) continues on its own course, and finds its own orbit.
This finished novel became Under Cover of Daylight and it was published by W.W. Norton in 1987. It was reviewed favorably, sold more copies than most first novels do, and it started a career in novel writing that I’m still engaged in twenty years later.
About a dozen years ago when I decided to try to teach a novel writing course in the MFA program at Florida International University where I work, I decided to use this same approach. The course was titled, “Writing Your First Novel.” Rather than rely on one of the many fine fiction writing text books that are out there (Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction being the best of the lot), I had each student spend a couple of weeks deciding on a particular novel they would use as their model.
That’s the first issue we discussed, and it’s a crucial step in this process. For some beginning writers there’s no doubt in their mind when it comes to selecting a model. They know and love a particular book with such passion that it stands apart from all other books they’ve read in its influence over them. For other beginning writers choosing a model for their own work can get confusing. They like so many books, admire the abilities and styles and skills of so many different writers that picking one out of that huge assortment is a daunting task. But it must be done to follow this method.
Of course, we are all influenced by many of the books we’ve read. We admire certain writers for certain aspects of their craft, and other writers for completely different skills. For instance, I think of John D. MacDonald, the creator of Travis McGee, as an incredibly good writer of action scenes. When two men are fighting, his descriptions of the physicality of the events is nearly without parallel. Ross MacDonald is great with faces and expressions and eyes. James Lee Burke is fantastic with weather, and Elmore Leonard is the master of dialog. Sue Grafton has a voice, wry but tough, that I dearly love. And on and on.
But when it comes to choosing a model for your first novel, you MUST, focus on only one. More than that confuses the issue. The novel you choose should be one that will sustain your long term interest. (That sometimes won’t become clear until you’ve tried out this method for a month or so.) It should have been commercially successful (though not necessarily a blockbuster). It should have been written within the last fifty years or so. (Times and fashions change so radically, and it can be dangerous to choose a book that was popular in some bygone era but that seems silly in our current one.) And the book you choose should fall in your comfort zone. (You don’t want to pick a Tom Clancy novel as your model if you have no patience for research, or don’t already possess a vast storehouse of information about some area of expertise.)
Hemingway had Sherwood Anderson’s stories open on his desk when he struggled to write his own first stories. He was convinced he could write at least as well as Anderson. He stole a great deal from Sherwood Anderson and were it not for using Anderson as his model, many of the stories in In Our Time (Hemingway’s first collection of short stories) could not have been written. Great writers steal. Which means they don’t simply take someone else’s work and slap a fresh coat of paint on it. They take someone else’s work and digest it fully, absorb it into their own chemistry and what was once Sherwood Anderson is transformed into something all new, totally fresh, with only the faintest echoes of the original.
Several students in that long ago class went on to publish novels. All of them are still publishing novels today, even in a very competitive marketplace. I’m not trying to take any credit for their success. They learned to write their novels the old-fashioned way, the way writers have always learned to write. They didn’t study literary theory. They didn’t analyze Aristotle’s Poetics to learn to plot their novels. They sat down with a pre-existing version of the thing they wanted to do, and studied it till they knew it inside and out and could use that model to support them through the long and difficult stages of composition, until they were ultimately able to give birth to their own creation.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Run on the Mountain

This is one of the prettier places we run--about twice a week.

Fair and Balanced

Sad, outrageous, contemptible.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Olde Miama

You need to check this out for a blast from the distant past.

Where are the snows of yesteryear?

CSI Tediosity

I realize I'm in some kind of major minority here, but I simply can't watch more than about 45 seconds of CSI or CSI Miami. It's not the actors. Oh, yeah, it's true, I don't care for the red-headed dude in the Miami show. Never have been a fan of his. His major acting skills seems to be taking his sunglasses off and putting them back on.

What I really don't like is the tediosity (which seems a better word than tediousness) of the science or pseudo-science. Gadgets, hocus pocus, rabbit out of the hat nonsense. It's storytelling that places an unnatural emphasis on the gadgetry rather than on human affairs that sends my bore-ometer clicking.

I feel the same way about films where something blows up every three minutes. The human dimension is quickly lost in all that wreckage and in all those fireballs.

And while I'm taking on genres, add police procedurals to the list. I know there are good ones (like Michael Connelly, or even John Sanford's Lucas Davenport series, which I do like). But by and large I find them deadly dull. I'd rather watch Law and Order--spend a while with the cops, then a while with the lawyers. At least there's some variety. But police procedures all seem to plod with great tediosity from one bureaucratic step to the next.

Everyone plays by the book at least to some extent. Now when Elmore Leonard writes about cops he tries to do his research and get it all right (at least his researcher Gregg Sutter gets it right). But Dutch never gets bogged down in all the procedural muck and mire. While so many cops, ex-cops and crime reporters turned novelists seem to be more fascinated by the mechanics of police departments than with the more human elements. Tediosity.

James Lee Burke is one of the good ones. Even though Dave R. is a cop and follows procedure (more or less, usually less) it is never at the expense of creating a rich place and a rich cast of characters. In other words, his stories are not ABOUT procedure, while so many other cop novels seem hopelessly bogged down in the realism of the way it works in a police department or with the FBI or with the state police or with the bomb team, or with the hostage negotiators. When a writer's research becomes more important than the people within the story, then the novel turns into veiled non-fiction.

A little cop realism goes a long way.

Personally, I'd rather get the people right than the procedure. Writing about crime is one thing, but writing about evil is quite another.

Info Snacking and Attention Spans

Thanks Ken for this Info-Snacking link.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sometimes It Happens

I don't remember seeing this at the time. But sometimes it happens that a writer/reader/critic exactly nails all the things I worked so hard to achieve. Here's one of those times.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Little Politics

In this political season, an urgent plea to take this one very seriously.

For Science's Sake

As anyone who has played the game knows, tennis can be dangerous. I've had this happen twice in fifty years. I remember both times very vividly.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Carolina Spring

It's been beautiful in western Carolina this spring. The dogwoods are justing finishing their blooming season and the azaleas are waning too, but a new crop of rhododendrons is just starting to flare up along our driveway.

I understand it's 95 degrees and smoky in Miami.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday Morning Rituals

I took the camera along today on our early morning rituals, and this is the result.

I was up at 4:30, which is pretty normal for me. About the time my university students are going to bed. I wrote for an hour or so, then Evelyn and I headed out for a run on the Greenway Trail in Boone. It's the only flat running I do all week. The rest of the week we run at Moses Cone park where the trails are fairly steep, maybe a thousand foot change in two to three miles. We usually go up for the first half, down for the second. Those endorphins are really kicking in on the last twenty minutes or so.

It was in the lower 40's here today, a cloudy start to what is turning out to be a beautiful day. The hardest part of this run on the Greenway Trail is that it's all on asphalt. The pounding is pretty hard on the joints after six days of running on nice soft pine needle paths.

But the trail is pretty. You'll see the path meanders beside the Wautaga River. There are three bridges to cross, and nice meadows. That early in the morning (about 6:30) there were only a couple of other joggers. And it was cold for this Florida boy.

After the Saturday runs we usually go to the farmer's market where you can find some great locally grown produce and baked goods. Featured in the hello-blog section below are a couple of the wonderful women we've gotten to know over the last few years. The first sell goat cheese that's absolutely wonderful, and the second makes whole wheat bagels (cinnamon and raisen are my favorite) that makes our Saturday morning breakfast the best of the week. We also buy fresh eggs and great strawberries and salad greens.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Buddha Dog

Our dogs undergo an amazing transformation in the summer. Up here in the cool and quiet mountains, all three cavaliers seem calmer and more engaged in the Zen of the moment.

Stella has a special fondness for one of the boulders on our property. She warms herself on the rock and gazes around the area with a leonine regalness. She becomes a Buddha dog. Unflappable, observant, totally into the moment.

This boulder was also a favorite for another of our dogs,Sophie, the great dane.

She used to lie down on the exact same spot where Stella now takes her place. A throne of rock. These days Sophie is roaming the meadows of the next world, but we feel her presence whenever Stella takes that position and gazes around the landscape.

Here she is:

Here's Maggie and Carrie indoors, also striking a peaceful pose:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Without Her

This is the first Mother's Day since my mother's death. Clearly, I'm not the only one experiencing this.
Here's my mother at 86, a few weeks before she passed away. Stealing the show as she always did. Sorry, but for some peculiar reason, the movie's on its side.

Here's some of what I said at her funeral last August:

My mother had perfect pitch. She could hit a C flat or a D minor without any assistance from a tuning fork or piano key. It was a gift she was proud of, and one she used to great effect throughout her life.
During the war, she sang in the Women’s Army Corps, traveling to small towns in New England as part of an ensemble of musicians and performers who helped recruit other young women to serve in the WACs. In this small group of singers everyone was typecast. Mother’s role was probably determined by her wholesome good-looks. Apparently she wasn’t considered exotic enough to perform the sultry torch songs or to wail the blues. Her role, as she described it, was to be “the girl next door.” And sing the mainstream songs of that era. Show tunes, religious and patriotic hymns.
She got a taste of show business in those two years, and though she eventually turned to a quieter, domestic life back here in Hopkinsville, that entertainer’s spirit never really left her. As I paged through old photographs of her this week, I was struck by how many of them were taken as she was performing.
Over the years she sang in this sanctuary probably more than any other single place. I remember her belting out solos, her voice resonating in this big room. It made me feel special to have a mother who was a performer, though I know I also squirmed in my pew, worried that she’d mess up somehow. She never did.
In those photographs I looked at this week, there were pictures of her singing at events at the Village where she and Dad lived in their later years. There were pictures of her singing on cruise ships in front of small bands of men in shiny tuxedos. She sang at her fiftieth high school reunion. She wore sunglasses as she sang from the stage of a drive-in church in Daytona Beach. I heard her sing there one night at a Christmas service, sitting in the car with the little scratchy radio from the drive-in movie hanging on the driver’s window, and my father and I singing along to Mother’s beautiful voice. Even through that shabby speaker her voice soared above the others.
In those photos from the picture albums, I was struck by the fact that Mother’s mouth was almost always wide open. If she wasn’t singing she was hooting with laughter. More than likely she was joining in the laughter she herself had provoked. She was a joker, a story-teller, a funny woman who enjoyed entertaining others with humorous anecdotes. It was another way of exercising that perfect pitch. Another way of fulfilling one of her favorite roles, which was to be the life of the party.
I remember one night at Christmas, I was six, John was eight. The three of us were parked downtown on Christmas eve. We were waiting for Dad. He was on the second floor of the Holland building in the studios of the radio station pretending to be Santa Claus. As we sat there in in the cold car, listening to him on the radio ho-ho-hoing, the last minute Christmas shoppers were hurrying along the sidewalk. Mother had something to say about every single one of them. Whether they were strangers or old friends, she would make some observation about their clothes, or their stride, or the size of their ears, a hat they were wearing. Something funny, not catty exactly, but accurate and incisive, and very observant. She had a quick mind, a funny, oddball sense of humor. I don’t know why I remember this moment apart from all the others. Maybe it was because the three of us were trapped together in an unusual circumstance, and Mother fell naturally into the role of entertainer. Dad was on the radio being Santa Claus, and during the commericials Mother was in the front seat being witty and observant.
Her perfect pitch extended to parenting moments as well. She could outsmart my brother and me with ease, skewer us with language. We never won an argument. Not once. And when we came to her for advice, for wise counsel or emotional support, we usually got more than we bargained for. There was a moment I remember vividly. I was thirteen or fourteen, a budding adolescent, full of insecurities, and just starting to notice girls. I interrupted her in the middle of housework and asked a simple question:
“Am I okay looking?” It was an important question to me, a crucial one in my psychological evolution. A lot was on the line. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. She paused for a very long time as though she was noticing me for the first time. It’s pauses like those which make psychotherapists wealthy.
That pause was not what I was looking for. I wanted some immediate reassurance, some automatic response. Yes, of course, you’re a very handsome young man. Something like that. But what I got was a pause, a long theatrical pause.
Then she said, “There’s more to life than looks.”
It was pitch perfect lines like those that Mother could deliver again and again. Little coded puzzles that I would carry back to my bedroom to try to unravel. “What did she mean?” For years when I blamed Mother for all my woes, I’d circle back to moments like this and use them as evidence against her. She was trying to undermine my confidence. She was cutting me down.
It took a while, but finally when I came to peace with her, forgave her for all the slights I thought she’d done to me, I saw the gift of that remark and so many others. “There’s more to life to looks.” Of course she was right. It was something she knew, a piece of wisdom she wanted to share. But more than that it was language that was dense with meaning. She was saying one thing and meaning something else. It was ironic. As I came gradually to understand, it was also the language of poetry and literature. All those hours that I spent trying to decode her meanings shaped me, gave me an appreciation for the subtlties and possibilties of language. Maybe it was not the perfect thing to say to a vulnerable adolescent, but it was one of Mother’s gifts—putting that delicious ironic spin on things.
It’s impossible to talk about Mother’s life without mentioning my father. The two of them were interconnected for most of their lives. When they were kids, ten, eleven years old, they lived less than a block apart and would sneak out of their bedrooms at night so they could meet up and talk. A courtship and relationship that lasted over 65 years. I remember a particular night when I was six or seven, living in a house on 20th Street adjacent to the houses where dad and mother snuck out of their bedrooms. The phone rang one night and I answered it and a man asked to speak to Noble.
I told him there was no one there by that name and hung up. When dad asked me who was on the phone, I told him it was someone asking for Noble. Dad was upset. It might have been a potential buyer looking for a house he had listed. That hang-up could have cost our family money. It took a minute or two for Dad to figure out my mistake. Somehow I’d come to believe that my mother and father shared a common name. I’d heard it a hundred times. It’s the way people always referred to them Anneandnoble.
Though I’d gotten it wrong back then, in an accidental way I’d gotten it right. Those two were intertwined. He was the quiet, reserved one, she was outgoing and demonstrative. He was her lifetime audience, she was his lifetime star.
One Thanksgiving Mother and Dad came to visit Evelyn and me in Miami. We had big dogs then, a great dane and a lab. And Mother and Dad made a fuss over them. They both loved dogs. It was Evelyn’s first Thanksgiving with my parents and she’d gone to a lot of work preparing the turkey and the rest of the feast. The turkey was cooling off in the kitchen and we were finishing hors d’ouvers out on the sunny patio. Mother excused herself and went into the house and came back in just a minute. She stood in the doorway and said, “Is the dog supposed to have the turkey?”
Our great dane had helped herself to the turkey that was on the counter, pulling off a leg and was devouring it in the middle of the kitchen.
“Is the dog supposed to have the turkey?” In that question there was the suggestion that maybe we did things differently in Miami, at our house. Maybe, just maybe, the dog was supposed to have the turkey. Saying one thing and meaning something else. Another of her pitch perfect moments.
One last anecdote and I’ll stop. Back in June this year, around her birthday, most of our family assembled over in Owesnsboro to have a reunion. There was also a mystery conference going on, and I was one of the guest speakers. As Mother and I walked into an event where I was going to talk, she asked me, “Do you ever get nervous at these things? That’s a big audience in there?”
I assured her that I didn’t get nervous. I did these events all the time.
She paused a second then she said, “Have you ever been booed off the stage?”
Now my younger self might have bristled at the remark. She was trying to instill fear in me, trip me up. Undermine my confidence—more work for my therapist. But after all these years, I was finally onto her. She wore that harmless, ironic smile as she spoke the words. On some level she was asking me a real question—entertainer to entertainer. Has the worst ever happened to you?
I said no, I’d never been booed off the stage.
And Mother said, “Well, today could be the day.”
It seems only fair to let Mother have the last word. She usually got it in real life. And since she’s still the life of the party, even this party, I know she’d want to entertain you.
Last month I recorded her at that family reunion. We were having a dinner party get-together one night, and in the place where we were gathered, there was a baby grand piano in one corner of the room. It didn’t take much coaxing to get Mother to sit down. This was around her birthday, her eighty-sixth birthday. Her fingers were crabbed up with arthritis, her vocal chords a bit out of shape, but she pulled herself up to that keyboard, and with a flourish, the girl next door sang a little bit of the blues. Entertaining us all for one last time.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Fog and Deer

Went running in the fog this morning. Second run of the summer in the mountains. Two days, two sets of deer. Mid-fifties. Five miles up and down the pine needle paths. Glorious start to the summer of '08.