You know how sometimes when you’re approaching the end point everything stretches out and it seems like you’ll never arrive?
I’m there. Please tell me I’m getting close.
One great thing about writing a novel that is waaay too long is that making deletions goes quickly. Highlight. Control X. Boom! Gone.
One casualty of this process was unexpected. I am unable to appreciate the 799-page novel, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois right now. Editing is too much with me. Every other page I was confronted with details that could’ve been cut without hurting the scene or character development. For now, that’s too distracting.
Spoiled by my editor?
Also, my library card expired. What?
It was cold enough to snow today but did not.
Speaking of wonderful writing (wait, who’s?), please click on Raven and Sparrow and read Dana’s recent post.
My good friend Joan gave me Anne Patchett’s essays for Christmas, These Precious Days, and I have to say that Dana’s essay about woodpeckers is of the same caliber.
I smell roasting chicken. Soon it’ll be time for dinner.
Roasted chicken is worth celebrating and so are these two news bits: Marjorie Taylor Greene has been permanently banned from twitter and two of trump’s spawn have been subpoenaed in the New York fraud case.
This post is a prompt response from yesterday. Of five provided images, the one I responded to was of a piebald horse (not unlike the one above). I quote two poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Joyce Kilmer and for your enjoyment include the entirety of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Pied Beauty, at the end.
It helps to know that I am ten years plus into writing a novel in which one of the central characters is Eliza Lucas Pinckney (b. 1722) and that the other three main characters are enslaved Black women.
Rhombuses of Light
The morning light is sectioned
mintons and mullions
through the glass, hitting floor and
wall, bending at baseboard.
She often referred to light
It’s the glow we like
especially when April
breezes seep past sills
and chill. But what about the
bend at the baseboard?
An easy compliance.
“Glory be to God for dappled
things,” said the poet.
Rhombuses of light
are not pied or
dappled, but when created
by a window speak
to the relationship between
solidity and light.
She repeats herself. All
those references to clouds!
It’s time to find and replace.
Thunderclouds with slate
grey bottoms, slants of
rain like an etching against
the horizon. Again, Eliza,
Her friend rode a dappled
grey sixteen hands high. How I had
to look all that up, authority running
to cats and dogs and at a stretch to
the way the interior of a barn
smells and how light catches
dust and particles of hay
drifting below the rafters.
How light and gravity inform
Imagination as authority,
not a popular position
Ripples of clouds above
the marsh, liked ruched
silk. Sunlight on creek
shining like pewter. God
in nature. We get it! Eliza
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Light will slide up the
wall as day goes on.
Sometimes the miraculous has
a predictable element to it.
All those author interviews
and how they make her
shrink. What’s on HER
bedside table? Did she
even read as a child?
The Case of the Hidden Staircase.
But it occurs to her now,
more memory than thought,
that reading Gerard Manley
Hopkins as a teenager
opened a previously
undisclosed chamber in
You can do that with
language? Light can
bend at baseboard
and be celebrated and in
Why does one element
mimicking another thrill
the senses? Light like
water. Sedimentary rock
like ripples of corduroy.
Memory like glass.
As a priest, he told
himself to shut up.
Figures an early hero of
mine would go to such extremes
and for all the wrong
reasons. Virginia Woolf with
rocks in her pockets.
Heroes, heroines, perhaps
best not to have them —
but how else learn how
to write, how not to panic,
how to pick at a scab and
Just once, she’d like the column
to soberly reveal an author
that didn’t read until she
was seventeen or so. Too busy
mucking about in creeks and
negotiating with terror. Why
Music floods the chest.
A good reason for silence,
she thinks, a single window
at a time being enough,
the light passing through
glass from the east,
inching toward the center of the hall.
You mean to tell me
the rhombuses of light float down the wall
and not up as morning progresses?
of observation. What motes?
What barn? Memory like glass.
Eliza’s daughter was about to
turn eleven when he died. Eliza’s
husband. Harriett’s father.
The dates are there for the finding.
July 12, 1758 and August 7, 1758.
What I make of turning
eleven just after the death of
a parent is not what you will
make of the same.
Even Harriett, poor dear,
would have made several
things of a singular devastation.
She had wanted to read
“Pied Beauty” at her father’s
funeral. The altar boy
turned atheist would have
appreciated its point, even
if Longfellow and Poe were
his favored fare.
Her sister overruled the selection.
of bullying that can’t even
be attributed to grief.
“I think that I shall
never see a poem as
lovely as a tree,” he
wrote in my autograph
book — remember those? —
“But with his help, I’ve
made a Dee.”
“He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change.”
Swapping out an altar
in the Catholic Church for the
Kinderhook Creek doesn’t mean
one has no god.
Trout fishing as sacrament.
Harriett was ten about to turn
eleven. I was 24 or 26 and the fact that I can
never remember without adding age-at-death to
one birth year and then subtracting another
birth year speaks to loss.
I’m adding light and shadow to appliqued hawk. Made her head lighter and used white poly for beak to make it pop. A scrap of fabric practically fell out of the basket and felt like a minor show of Providence.
Jude had the idea over on Instagram to darken some of the ripples around the hawk’s head. Since I like the way it adds a sense of motion, I may continue around the body as long as I have that color thread. It’ll look good flowing off the wings.
Had some gross polyester swirled with black in that basket, too. Added to tail and wings for more contrast. Light. Maybe you can see a difference with earlier incarnation, maybe not (below).
It’s nice to have company.
In the meantime, I finally talked to my paid manuscript consultant yesterday. Round three coming up. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, perhaps even shouting off the rooftops: SHE LOVES MY BOOK.
I think people forget how solitary a process writing is.
House names should not be italicized. If I’m gonna talk about the elder Middletons toward the end, they need to be introduced earlier. Still sags here and there — needs tightening. Not so many descriptions of clouds, perhaps. Maybe not so much about Melody’s first owner. Explain what head rights are and how to memorialize land in Author’s Note, which starts like this:
When I began this novel, Trayvon Martin was alive and as I finished the second edit, George Floyd was dead.
The suggestion that I add an epilogue (say in 1758 after Eliza and Charles Pinckney return from a five year stay in England), will take a little more thought. That’s fourteen years after my original end. Lots of years I haven’t thought about all that much.
A six year time frame (1738 to 1744) allowed a laser-like focus. Etiquette in 1720? I don’t care! Rice markets in 1750? Also don’t care. Now I need to care. I’ll start with Eliza’s letters.
A walk with temps in the 40’s was cause for celebration this week. Daffodils shoving aside leaf debris. Snow shrugging off the curbs. It won’t be long now ’til the miracle of hyacinths.
In the meantime I am trying to answer the question (Acey’s): how do you hold your heart? Or maybe just asking it. Softly.
The collage challenge with Paris Collage Collective continues. This week: Shirley Chisholm.
More to come. I want to cut up seed catalogues and wreathe her head with flowers. In the collage above, the headstone of Harriett Jacobs served as reference to the long history of oppression, Jacobs being another Black woman who overcame so much.
What many of you don’t know is that the most recent chapter of sister-drama and crisis lasted for nine years. That’s almost a decade. Nearly a decade of being drained, embattled, hopelessly entangled, desperate, and full of episodic fury and nearly constant resentment.
Mostly kept out of view here.
I can date my getting to know the thread-people here to the very beginning of this nine year chapter because — clear as day — I remember reading an article about Jude while waiting in the ICU (“The Artful Blogger” perhaps?)*
A few doors down, my sister was recovering from emergency abdominal surgery. A hernia and necrotic bowel. Then she went septic. When the doctor called, he gave her a 60/40 chance of dying and then announced in a voice dripping with judgment, “She’s almost 400 pounds, you know,” as if it were somehow my fault.
I honestly couldn’t tell in that moment whether I wanted my sister to live or to die. It might’ve been 60/40, too.
We hadn’t talked in nine years. For good reason.
Because of her size, they couldn’t close her up. The plan was for her to lose 150 pounds before attempting the final sutures and so there would be eight weeks in ICU and then a lengthy rehab. But because of my sister’s aggression, they put her into a medically-induced coma.
(I guess the male nurse got kicked in the balls one time too many).
That meant she had to be ventilated.
And that meant that when the tube finally came out, my sister couldn’t talk. Not even in a whisper. For weeks, she wrote me short notes in a shaky hand. As it turned out, a medically induced re-entry to relationship was a gift. What better way to reconnect with an estranged relative but slowly and with carefully selected words?
Around this time, I started taking Jude’s classes. I had two kids in high school. Often caregiving and exhaustion kept me from participating in the way I would have liked. That created some tensions that were mostly, but not exclusively, internal. Some linger.
Because of this fateful beginning, it was just weird to sign up for Jude’s last round of classes during the demanding and excruciating final weeks of my sister’s life. Talk about distracted. There were dirty diapers to dispose of, commodes to empty, calls to 911 to make (“she’s at 86% on four liters of oxygen”). There were DNR and DNI’s to be signed, regular care and hospice care to be coordinated, a nursing home transition to make, and should the priest come now, no not yet. Now.
Then her awful mess to clean up. And then (gratitude!!), Italy for more than half of April.
So once again, with respect to online participation, life thrust me into this position of “delinquency” (at worst), shadowy participation (at best). It’s a pair of bookends. A bit of a rerun. Not how I want it to be.
Because this burden of care has been on me for most of the time I’ve been participating in fiber circles, I am happy to mark a change. First with a brag and then with a photo.
The brag — I HAVE FINISHED MY NOVEL! I know I mentioned this in a comment a few days ago, but it bears repeating. First draft — done! Already edited 4/5’s, so edit last bit in July. Assemble list of agents in August. Compose query letter. Start submitting in September while also researching self-publishing.
Nine years in the making (there’s that number again). Ta-da! For all of the support I’ve received here: many, many thanks. I haven’t forgotten the tangible kickstarter support that got me to SC for an indigo weekend, for instance.
And to Deb Lacativa, fellow writer in arms, a special thanks — she is the only person to date to have read almost every goddamned word. Caught typos. Made thoughtful remarks. Cast her wild imagination in and around the plot lines. Whew, what a sensibility!
The photo below is to document how gladness can arrive. It was taken last night while another friend and I celebrated R’s birthday. It’s a tradition for us. Since my birthday’s in February, R’s in July, and our third friend’s in October, the tradition keeps us connected all year long.
I hardly recognize myself.
Gladness and a finished draft. Not an accident that they arrive not long after my sister departs.
And since there is ANOTHER birthday to celebrate this evening, I picked all our currants and will make a pie. Usually for my husband’s birthday, we go out, but tonight I’m keeping it easy: pasta topped with the last of the truffle oil from Assisi and basil from the garden.
Ahhh, summer! Ahhh! Relief.
*This was 2009, but November, December, so almost 2010.
Some time ago, I received a challenge on Instagram about my use of images of African Americans. After watching an episode of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s show, “Finding Your Roots”, I had triple exposed photos of a quilt I’m working on (from the “Middle Passage” series) with a TV screen capture of an enslaved woman near a river in Louisiana. The result was haunting and satisfying enough that I wanted to share a few of the variations, and did. Undoubtedly, copyright violations. But were they acts of cultural appropriation?
Through both quilting and photo collages, I have been letting my imagination range in service of writing a piece of historic fiction set in South Carolina in the eighteenth century. As an intensely visual person, working with photos and cloth often comes more readily than writing a historical scene, particularly one with dialogue.
But whether in cloth, photography, or text, when is the use of an African American image or topic by a white artist an act of cultural appropriation? And if it is, how do you tell? Can a white audience/creator ever be the judge? Do the artist/writer’s intentions matter? And if a work offends even one African American, should I defend it?
Initially, I did defend the images. ‘Exploration in service of understanding. American history/my history. Blah, blah.’ But then, after following tags like #whitefragility on twitter and reading articles with titles along the lines of, “why I won’t discuss race with my white friends anymore”, I sent a private apology and deleted them.
But now I’m posting them again. Have I learned nothing? I am not sure about any of this.
[Just to explore the idea that my results would be ‘truer’ using topics closer to my own ancestry, I layered the same quilt image with a TV screen-capture of Irish gangsters from ‘Peaky Blinders’. The results were more compelling, but I don’t think it was the Irish connection that made them so].
I am a firm believer in genetic memory. Just so you know.
In the foreword to her book, “The Logbooks — Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory”, journalist Anne Farrow describes a conversation with a black friend who challenged her choice of topic. Her friend said, “‘When white people take up black stuff, there’s always a reason. There’s always something there.'” My sister refers to that ‘something’ as “hinky”.
So, am I entitled to the topic of slavery? Is there any way to get it right? I like to think I’m self-aware, without major amounts of hinkiness lurking. The only thing I can come up with is this: I don’t want to spend this much time with fictional material closer to my own suffering — and maybe so much so, that I’d rather leap across three centuries and a tricky racial divide. Okay, but is that ‘hinky’?
‘The research I’ve done about slavery has made me a better citizen’ is something I have asserted from time to time. And indeed, if healing the wound of racism requires acknowledging the complexity and horror of our history, then shouldn’t all of us white people be learning a little? And maybe even, a lot? You cannot read about the transatlantic slave trade and the practices of enslavers and be unmoved or unchanged. And, if you follow the news, you cannot learn about this historic stuff and think, “glad that’s over”.
In Ta-Nehisi Coates’s intense and informative article, “The Case for Reparations“, he asserted that the fact that one’s white ancestors were not here during the 250 years of slavery in no way makes us exempt. And why would we be, when we dwell in white privilege? For purposes of white privilege, it doesn’t matter when our grandparents arrived. It only matters that they were white. Even if they were shabby, uneducated, Catholic, Irish. Still white.
Watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War” series for the third time, I hear Shelby Foote‘s words with new ears. He said something like, ‘oh, sure we’ve had other important conflicts in our history like the Revolutionary War, but you cannot understand the American psyche unless you understand the Civil War.’
[Case in point: how can you understand the rise of the Tea Party without understanding the Civil War? And Trump? Clearly, his hat should read (I didn’t think of this): “Make America White Again”. As if it ever was].
Around the time the controversy about the novel ‘The Help’ erupted, I watched a documentary about the making of the film “Nat Turner”. The movie was based on William Styron’s novel, “The Confessions of Nat Turner“. Most of the interviewees harshly criticized Styron and the movie because they diminished a hero in African American history, especially, but not exclusively, by making him lust after a white woman.
Lots to learn and note from the documentary, but since I was busy writing scenes of another slave rebellion (The Stono Uprising, SC, 1739) and wringing my hands about ‘getting it right’, my take away came from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who voiced a contrary view. He said something like, “if others have a different version of Turner, let them write their own novel.”
Pondering all of this, I found an an article on the site “The Root” entitled, “White Writer/Black Characters: Bad Idea?” by Desmond-Harris. After establishing that no writing pleases every audience, she asked, does that mean you should abandon your interest in making black women your protagonists?She continued:
“No way,” says Marita Golden, author of a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction, including Skin Deep: Black Women and White Women Write About Race. “White people, because of the emotional legacy as well as the historical and political legacy of racism, often feel that they do not have access to the black soul and the black spirit,” she told me, “but I think writers have the right to write about anything.” In fact, she said, “I really feel that white people should write about black characters.” …
So here’s a start. Develop relationships that will allow you to become confident that you can begin to speak to that experience, because you know African-American women as individuals. “Usually, white people who write meaningful books with black characters, they do have black people in their lives who they know deeply and respect,” said Golden. To be clear, that’s “as friends, not as research. Serious, meaningful, complete friendships with black people.”
I wonder about jinxing my writing efforts with such a public discussion, but this is where I am. Where I dwell. (I like Saskia claiming the word, ‘dwelling’ — there’s a lot to that word. And it seems like it resonates with ‘remembering’ (Liz) and ‘flourishing’ (Peggy)).
This might be a selfish post dressed up as risk taking, but there’s so little cloth in my hands these days and the business of creating one page after another is so solitary that the urge to connect here with where I dwell wins out over cautionary superstition!
To be clear: I am not looking for permission or rigid definitions. I am curious. What do others think about cultural appropriation, the uses of the imagination, artistic subject matter, genetic memory? What about this business of facing suffering straight on vs. from the side?