My favorite time to live is in the night. This could be because I work during the day and night seems to be the only time I snatch to imagine, to think, to write. But dangerously--even while driving, my mind will wander off to the unintentional. I question the unknown, then attempt to imagine an answer:
What does a black man do, what does he look like when he grieves? Why would a daughter protect an abusive mother?
Here is--what I hope--a treat for my family and friends: my blog viewers. It feels great to allow others to see what I have spoken about for so many years--well--since 2001. These are two small excerpts from chapters in my novel Bottom Rail. Shawna, this is an old surprise for you, only small portions of what you read a while back. There is still much editing to be done, but thanks so much to you, again, for your feedback. The “wcs”—the question marks—the “you can find a better way to express this” and the accolade-stars in the margins next to certain lines you found beautiful.
Two more beautiful pictures photographed by Andreea. The first is a picture of her grandmother's hands. She picks wild blueberries that grow in a Romanian forest--certain soil and sun exposure. They grow in the same area for many generations and are the most popular fruit in the mountain region where her grandmother lives. Many people walk for miles and miles to get to them, but only the locals know where to go for immediate access. Many of my non-native American students are quick to tell me that American foods: cilantro, onion, pears, tomato, pineapple, papaya, and guava do not have the same taste as their native fruits and vegs. Andreea assured me that blueberries are "10 times better than the ones you have here; they are darker and the flavour is much more intense. Most people use them because they are very healthy and as medicine for different things." She says everyone takes them if they can find them and locals take extra to sell to a center in the village where people send them to other countries.
The two churches across the way from each other paints a highly unusual scene---the epitome of what juxtaposition means. Or, as Andreea titles the picture: parallelism. One is Catholic, the other is Orthodox (from left to right). The Orthodox church is called the Catedrala Reintregirii. The churches are in Alba Iulia, Transylvania -- Ardeal, Romania. The pictures were taken from Andreea's childhood bedroom. Her parents continue to live in the house. At times, during our conversations, I can feel her nostalgia for home. She's one of my favorite photographers. What a view!
When Gera told me that one of his clients wanted a new set of cabinets for the---entire---kitchen, I fell silent. And again, we were off to HD for more scratch, plain, flat boards and boards and boards of virgin wood. I could only picture cabinets pre-built, ready-made, like packaged seasoned meat, or salad. Easy. Just open, just install. But no, the couple really wanted to have the cabinets custom made! Handles (handmade from stainless steel bars, cut and sized), hinges, drawers, draw rollers (I don’t really know what they are called). Door edges were later designed with a special bit as these were the trial pics. It took him one month, not including installation, staining... The husband is a tile expert so he did the countertops. This project was extreme, and oh so challenging (for me to observe of course).
....and I complain about having to choose adjectives carefully....
So this semester is so busy. Today, I tutored students writing essays on The Old Man and the Sea: What lit elements contribute to theme? The Storm: How does the element--setting build the theme? A&P Why does Sammy quit his job? A Rose for Emily—“I don’t get this story”—nearly every student whines… How to write a classification essay: Nurses: LVNs, RNs, and N. Practitioners They are classified by their salaries, education, and duties. Campers: partyers, family vacationers, nature lovers. Parallelism is important. One student came in with an assignment to write a descriptive essay. She picked “attitude”---I suggested she pick something tangible and go for sensory details. Save the attitude essay for definition. It’s done. Subjects must agree with verbs Pronoun reference---be specific Pronoun antecedent agreement Assignment: Pick 3 items that represent your past, present and future? Best essay from a student: High heels. When she was five she remembers a girl who was poor, but who always wore nice high heels shoes and hung out at the university—she called her the “university girl”. Skittles because they represent the USA where unlike her native country there are many different cultures and colors. And a candle, because she wants to burn bright in her future and have people around her. Random capitalization is just wrong Best characters to analyze: Emily, Martha Hale, Mrs. Wright, Olaf and Mrs. Mallard My last student for the day spent the entire session venting about the semi-colon
Honestly, I think I am just experiencing post-draft fatigue.
Throughout this week my enemy---ragweed---has beaten me down.
Ragweed: Comes during the heat and humidity of Texas weather. We’ve had some long, warm rains that fought back my airborne nemesis, but this week, I’m the loser. Ragweed blooms in September and thrives in rural areas, especially like mine. Never mind we are often greeted with the fresh smells of horse dung, wake up to the lusty crows of roosters, who at times, crow in the evening and well into the night. Non-stop. The cows are friendly, the goats and kids are random. But anyway, ragweed---its the pollen seedlets that blow around in the air or cling stagnantly to the damp still.
Yesterday, I peered out the glass door at Gera as he pulled the lawnmower to the edge of the yard. He frowned at me and said, “Vente paca, mami, pero no puedes, verdad? Lo siento!” I have had to retreat and avoid breathing the usual sticky, hot air I love so much. I'm fond of sweat! But now, I'm in. My eyes are puffy, they shed tears and the linings swell. My nose is stuffy at times, then clear, then stuffy again, then water-like drips suddenly run out. I scratch my throat, causing a stir because the sound is alien and loud like pig grunts. I’ve tutored at least 13 students today, 10 of them, ESL; I think they were all afraid to get close to me.
Finally, I am sending out drafts of my novel Bottom Rail, which has grown in the shadows. I’ve been writing this book since 2001. It started out as a short story in Max Byrd’s class and has fanned out to 293 pages----a long haul and a trying experience. The truth about my writing is that it is very slow and I have always tried to mirror the sound of my words in passages to Thelonious Monk’s cacophony and dissonant movement---every element that makes up the South is dissonant, and perfectly unexpected.
I don’t anticipate any immediate takers, but I do hope to raise some brows and spark some interested wagoners! Wish me luck!
I have another dear friend who is no doubt a writer. Her debut novel: Turpentine hit the shelves this month. I have my copy, however, in an attempt to order more as family Christmas gifts--an extra surprise--this was the prompt: Only 4 left in stock--order soon (more on the way). I have known Spring for some time and witnessed her tenacity and drive towards becoming a published writer. I am just elated at her success!
Dead roses cling to their beauty, Like stretch marks from a baby Reminding its mother that Should it depart this life before She does, those marks of labor, Those marks of birth Remain to memorialize The aesthetic of death: Being a woman Wrinkled in withered beauty.
Daddy Billy: his colors, his water, his craft. These are yet two more works from my grandfather’s rebellious women series. The redhead is phenomenal. It’s as if she taunts a lover or gentleman caller—maybe that’s an understatement. Her green jewelry is intense—to me—as well as the rosy cheeks which are highly suitable. For a long while, I stared at the corn-colored blond. Smoking has its attractions. Her face seems to give a carefree expression: “You want it or not? It doesn’t matter to me.” And the last of the three is an amazon beauty. The bracelet, the dark lipstick and ready-to-please smile says it all. If you look closely, her eyelashes bat-bat-bat. They each have such charming extras that give them a burst of personality, sexuality and rebellion. I’m not sure why my grandfather signed some and not others. My mother probably has some knowledge.
There are many reasons why I have my guy. Little did I know when we met a few years ago that he was gifted. Well, okay, we say his work is not Rockler quality or can even be compared to The New Yankee--BUT!--Gera knows how to tame some wood. This project took about three weeks. He bought the wood as scratch large planks and boards, custom cut and shaped them to fit a stair case. Looks easy but it was challenging work. I can say this because I helped coat the bases and stains: the elementary stuff. When he doesn't have a project planned which is rare, he chimes, "I need to move the manos."
History is majestic and so necessary, like breathing or a soft persistent pulse. It occurred to me when I was 12 years old to tell my own. There is nothing more peculiar than having someone else tell it for you. Sometimes, people will wear your history across their chests and over their shoulders as if you are their one act of grace or charity or gesture toward the good of humankind. Everyone must tell their own history. But if life blows out before you get the chance, choose someone who will do it truthfully, loyally and faithfully. I learned to archive from my step-mother, Jill.
In reading the latest on Edwidge Danticat’s memoir she was and is still listed in my Letter of Intent as a “training point”. The Farming of Bones has remained with me from the time I first read it---2003. It is one of the most beautiful stories ever told---one that I will ever read in my lifetime. I plan to read her latest memoir Brother, I'm Dying before September is finished. I welcome thoughts, opinions and/or discussion about it.
So I ditched the ruffles and ribbons, permed my nappy hair straight and was defiant enough to sit outside in a lawn chair and feed my daughter "table" food. I made my mother a grandmother when she was barely three days into 32. I could never imagine such a responsibility. She, however, adored this reality and welcomed it like a new diamond. My mother has always been a strange woman!
So in February 2006, I was accepted into a graduate school program for a MFA, in creative fiction--my only avenue--as writing poetry is mere therapy regarding death and the dead. Yep, I saved the letter because I am still so proud of myself. I have always been curious as to which of my pieces secured the deal: one of my two short stories OR the excerpt from my book titled Bottom Rail. Shawna was generous enough with her time to critique the novel excerpt long before I submitted it with grad school apps. It came back to me with a lot of "wcs" and some question marks. Thanks Shawna. Overall, I have still waited to feel regret in turning down this great offer. What did I choose instead...could there be anything to keep me from it...yes, homeownership and ... love. Love can be mobile, but unless you live in a trailer or mobile home, moving an entire house is impossible, I suppose. It just wasn't feasible. Sounds a little spazzy, right? It should.
Dear Renee Osborne:
Having just read the writing samples of all our MFA applicants, I couldn't wait to tell you how impressed I am by your writing and how enthusiastic I feel about having you as a student.
You will shortly be receiving our formal offer of acceptance, but I also wanted to let you know immediately that your writing sample puts you in the small top bracket of serious contenders for the Dickey Fellowship in Fiction. (The award will be decided by further committee meetings and votes.)
Our MFA program offers a mixture of rigorous mentoring and fun, with lively dynamics in class, a student-run literary magazine, regular venues for poetry and fiction readings by students in pub and bistro settings, and visits and advice from major writers and from my own New York literary agent.
We have a very beautiful campus at the University of South Carolina, with a core of graceful antebellum buildings and spreading live-oaks around a central park (the "horseshoe") in a city with the usual advantages of a vibrant university town: restaurants, night clubs, theater, concerts. And in addition, we are only a two-hour drive in one direction to the fabulous city of Charleston and the beautiful Carolina coast, and a two-hour drive to the mountains in the other direction.
I'm excited by your writing. I hope you'll be excited about coming here. Sincerely, Janette Turner Hospital Director of MFA Fiction
Janette Turner Hospital Carolina Distinguished Professor Department of English University of South Carolina Columbia SC 29208 Ph: (803) 777 4203 Fax: (803) 777 9064 email: email@example.com website: www.janetteturnerhospital.com
Dear Ms. Osborne,
A letter from me will be arriving in the mail soon offering admission to our MFA program and Graduate Assistantships for three years of study in the Department of English.
First, let me congratulate you on getting the attention of such keen readers as Janette Hospital and Elise Blackwell. They do not give praise unless they absolutely mean it. I do hope that you come to South Carolina. We have a fine and growing MFA program, and I am sure that you will have fruitful interactions with the rest of the English department and the university at large.
We are offering a Graduate Instructional Assistantship to you for your first year of study that involves limited teaching or tutorial service and pays $6,000 for the academic year. Given adequate academic progress, we will offer Graduate Teaching Assistantships to you for your second and third years in the MFA program; they will pay at least $12,000 each academic year. Also, during each of your three years of study you will receive 1) the in-state tuition rate (next year in-state tuition will be $385 per credit hour) and, more importantly, 2) asubstantial abatement of your actual tuition costs figured at that rate. Indeed, we will be able to pay all or nearly all of your tuition on up to 18 credit hours for the first year (18 hours is the normal course load for the first year; 15 and 12 hours are the normal loads for the second and third years). We have every intention of covering all or nearly all of your tuition for your second and third years as well.
Please contact me if you have any questions about finances or other things having to do with the English department in general.
With best wishes.
Andrew Shifflett Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature Department of English 1620 College Street University of South Carolina Columbia, SC 29208 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 803-777-5063
and finally...i hit send
I apologize for taking so much time accepting your offer as graduate student at U. South Carolina. At this time I must decline due to important, personal reasons: I purchased a home at the end of last year, not anticipating acceptance to any graduate program, and I am in a committed relationship. I do want to inform you however that your university was my top choice and was the most attractive----geared towards my goal and vision as a writer. I hope the student who takes my spot does the program well and sets it nicely on the best writing program plateau. If you have any questions for me, please do not hesitate to contact me. Should I have less commitments in the future and the freedom to relocate, I will apply again.
Thank you for consideration and the best offer I will ever receive.
Evy'an Renee Osborne
Love as abstract of the word it is has proven to be fine, homeownership is ok, even as we build and repair stuff---we protect our little haven of privacy. However, I continue to await the moment of regret, but so far, it has felt simple, just as simple as cutting those dreads.
When I gave birth to my daughter, I knew she would not be blond like I was. She was plump, curvy, and the cutest brown ball you’d ever see. Here, she sits next to my brother, Preston, on an annual family vacation in Monterey, California. My brother is a character in his own right. Today, he has tattoos honoring nearly every death our family has experienced; some tats are of course--just because. But these two were challenged early on in their lives together. At John Holt Elementary school, they were asked all the time “if he is your uncle and she is your niece why are you different colors?” My father has 3 sets of children; Preston is the baby. Then there are my two beautiful, HOT sisters! Lea and Jessi. My father's side of my family is wonderfully complex--not as clear cut as my mom's. My father was a very proud, family man. And a very busy man he was!! --James 1946-2003
My mother struggled annually to keep the last of her two children, my brother, in school. Granted, he really wasn't a troublesome child or even mischievous. But when it came to his preference for the school book and the classroom or the other, he opted for a sketch pad and graphite. I imagine if he were alive today, he would have created scenes for movies like Predator or 300 or Underworld. His imagination was beyond his time. These were done around 1985, 1986 during the last phases of his lifetime, 16. And then 17. He was so humble about his work and severely unaware of his talent or what it feels like to create art for endorsement. What a freedom that must have been. --Eric 1968-1985
I consider myself very fortunate to have had a musical childhood, nothing fantastic ever happened and to this day, I have never been to Disneyland. I wobbled between and around the knees of my great great grandmother, my great grandmother, my grandmother (my favorite because she always had a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other and blues in the background), and my mother.
I was even blond as a child: the milkman’s baby. My mother was told to sit me out in the sun to brown’un me up, but the rebel she is, my mother refused, bucking up to the entire neighborhood’s hen den, “My baby ain’t no damn piece of meat! You must be a fool!” She was only 17, but fierce.
To this day watermelon is my favorite fruit. The yellow ones, the orange ones, the red ones, doesn’t matter to me as long as they are sweet and full of juices. Here, my face is all melon as my cousin looks on. We were on our way to Crockett, Texas to see my great great grandmother. At rest stops, we unloaded baskets and tin coolers of food, lots of food: summer sausage, crackers and cheese, catfish, sandwiches, potato salad, fried chicken, fresh homemade breads, pecan pies, banana pudding with vanilla wafers, roast beef, green beans, and of course homemade teacakes. We swam in tanned colored lakes, not beaches. And we marveled over the height and pungent smell of pines aligning the country roads. We craw fished in creeks and played jacks or marbles. My grandmothers dressed me in ribbons and ruffles, even to go to the grocery store or for short visits. We caught light bugs in jars and sometimes bees…lit on honeysuckle. And still today, when you drive through Texas there are incredible explosions and explosions of wisteria. This time was a savoring moment for me and a fine foreshadow for the rest of my life. I was very privileged.
And though my grandmother is my favorite grand, I cannot cease writing about my great grandmother; that's her to my right. I was always in her armpit.
there she is again and again and again her hickory chin reaches like Africa with eyes so onyx she has passed them down from her own Creek mama ---back
she has reached as far as great-great-grand at least two and there she still whispers on stories those ones where the beauty in her finger tips once skinned squirrel and greased pans with sweet lard and preserved apple butter and created peach brandy and the anodyne in ---salve
here she is now over and over and over she sits serenely on the cracked wood-sturdy of her own back porch her forearms lay gently over the curves and crevices of a modern tobacco-colored rocker it too like the porch is secretedly cracked in the best places
puddin, hand mama a few of them figs-- just put 'em on a napkin and hand'em heh
she has never been venomous toward the common culture she has never cussed ghosts when they-- for attention or warning or for trying to remember how to smell-- interrupt her gardening or warm baths and even now she wears the greatest intimacy of hurts well underneath her shoulder blades and behind her knees she protects each of them like precious old-real water and even for me her first and last great-grand it is too soon to ask how-so ---or why
she plants me again with those same onyx eyes I saw when I was born she is nearly a century old now and selfishly witty on death
every time it come lookin for me I'm outside doing something.
she makes a joke about Epampnonia, his britches and steppin on pies
we laugh so deep the moment becomes reticent and thick
then just about as slow as she enjoys a good swipe to her lap a new pinch of sweet fig she moves through her own back door
I could not resist posting one for Spring. She said sometimes she just wants to build something. We have learned owning a home has its peak, especially when "building something". Our tiny hallway was not as fun to modify, at least not for me--and most of the time--I am in the way more so than a help. ...and this was all after we knocked out a wall or two! But Gera gets the itch often and off he goes! Hmmmm, see any resemblance...? We now 'arch' through the hallway and I must say, my guy's got skills!
It's May 2012 and nothing has changed since November.11. I am all smiles at my relationship and myself. My honey and I continue to amaze each other on a daily basis. We're still ever so 'in' with each other. I completed my MA in literature last May and I'm teaching four college English courses to really smart students. I am hopeful to enter a doctorate program soon. This way, I can run out.All is scary good.
upon hearing your voice life again expands like moon crest like pomegranates swell to the sun and you are patient because god calls
when he came for you this morning you were bent into the flower bed singing black hymns so he left you alone until this third afternoon but even then he found you elbow deep in jewel weed with a mouthful of figs from a nearby tree again he waited because each time seemed to him an inconvenience and a wrong moment
and it was your persistent humming that drove him up and back until he could get his timing perfect he waited another day or so until
your gardening tools rest into porch corners your paring knife shines deeply into a drawer your hair comb lies slanted in a shoebox your wedding band hides in the mattress your fishing rod stays stolen
the sound of your voice desires to sing or hum but this time is perfect he has covered you like lavender-colored silence but he has also added streaks of olive green and pink because this is what the other soul-folk has told him to do and he has become tired in the process and therefore begins to rush sonances of your body he finds you the least complex when you are not outdoors digging in that garden, humming hymns and thriving and for a moment he questions his own timing its perfection and everything goes accordingly until he finds you have buried fruit peels and wandering jew petals underneath your back this does not anger him but it tilts his agility to deliver you and in his own questioning and presence of smells that he cannot privilege all this over powers his choice all this reels his otherwise perfection into letting you go
when i see you sitting in the plush squares of limitless St. Augustine your eyes are lit like crystal warmed soil releases from each of your hands
how did i get to this point this point of knowing you for you are nearly a century old