I’m posting from Gulfport, Mississippi, where I’m visiting my precious Goddaughter, Katherine, and her family. They moved here from Memphis this summer, which is a return to her hometown for Katherine and a new adventure for Hardy and the kids. I can already see the benefits of the small town and closeness to the ocean, bayous, and just beauty of the outdoors. (It’s also a new adventure for Katherine, as she continues nursing school at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulfport branch.) The Thameses’ house is only a few blocks from the beach, and the tree-lined streets wind through cute little neighborhoods where kids are safe to ride their bikes and play with their friends ‘til their folks call them in for supper.
A brief aside: Hardy teaches at Gulfport High and sponsors the Key Club. He invited me to do a storytelling/writing workshop with his Key Club kids Wednesday afternoon. As their community service, they are going to produce an oral history project about Hurricane Katrina. They’ll be interviewing each other, family members and people out in the community, uncovering and giving voice to important stories.
It was fun to do a few writing exercises with these sharp high school seniors, and to listen to them read their three-minute paragraphs aloud. We discussed the writer’s intincts, like remembering, desiring and fearing, and the part they play in the work. Then we went over the basic elements of story, like plot, character, point of view, etc. I think they’ve got some great stories to tell and I can’t wait to read them.
All three of Hardy and Katherine’s kids attend the same elementary school. When we went to pick them up yesterday afternoon, Benji and a bunch of his friends had walked to the cute little park next door to the school to play football while waiting for their moms, who all pulled up and got out of their cars to visit with each other while the boys worked off some of their school day energy.
Those same pre-adolescent boys had been decked out in football pads and jerseys the night before for their 5th and 6th grade jamboree. Benji is Number 84.
Hardy’s mom and stepdad came over from Ocean Springs for the game, and Katherine reconnected with old friends from her childhood as we watched from the stands.
As the sun began to set and the stadium lights came on, I couldn’t help but enjoy the Gulf Coast’s very own “Wednesday Night Lights.” Later at a nearby Mexican restaurant, more childhood friends approached our table to speak to Katherine, as did Simon’s teacher’s aid. (He’s in kindergarden.) If it takes a village, they’ve got one here, and I like the way it looks and feels. (For more photos, check out my photo album, “Gulfport and Visit with Thameses” on Facebook.)
Mary has a new kitten, “Snickers,” that the Thameses are fostering and plan to adopt from the Human Society. She is so tiny and precious, but we had to take her to the vet yesterday because she had a sore behind her right ear that seemed to be getting worse. Turns out it’s a parasite called a “Wolf Worm.”
They kept her overnight to give her a little anesthesia while they removed it, because Wolf Worms have little spikes and pulling them out feels kinda like pulling a fish hook out. Hopefully she’s coming home today, with a coarse of antibiotics working on the germs left behind.
The Wolf Worm and its spikes got me to thinking about the spiritual and emotional parasites that dig into our hearts and minds. Like acedia. I haven’t read much more in the book (see beginning of review in an earlier post, here) but even the next few pages offer a lot to think about.
In Chapter IV, “Psyche, Soul and Muse,” Norris explores Aldous Huxley’s “Accidie,” in which he “traces, in a brisk tour de force, ‘the progress of acedia’ through the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Considered a demon or a vice by early Christian monks, acedia in the Renaissance was thought of as a physical ailment…. By the early eighteenth century, ‘accidie was still, if not a sin, at least a disease.’ But, Huxley adds, ‘a change was at hand.’ What the poet Matthew Green termed ‘the sin of worldly sorrow in 1837 was becoming ‘a literary virtue, a spiritual mode…. Then came the nineteenth-century and romanticism; and with them the triumph of the meridian demon. Accidie in its most complicated and deadly form, a mixture of boredom, sorrow, and despair, was now an inspiration to the greatest poets and novelists, and it has remained so to this day.’”
I found this to be a bit contradictory to Norris’ words in the previous chapter, about acedia’s negative effect on the writer:
“Acedia is a danger to anyone’s whose work requires great concentration and discipline yet is considered by many to be of little practical value. The world does not care if I write another word, and if I am to care, I have to summon all my interior motivation and strength. But the demon of acedia is adept at striking when those resources are at a low ebb…. Acedia’s genius is to seize us precisely where our hope lies, to tear away at the heart of who we are, and mock that which sustains us.”
I have been in a war with inner voices who are mocking my work as a writer for some time now. Those negative voices have been boring their way into my subconscious just like a Wolf Worm, sending their spikes in deeper and deeper. As I continue to draft new chapters of my third effort at writing a book, I find myself bored with my own stories, and wondering why on earth anyone else would want to read them. Writing group buddies are a big help here, as they read and critique my work in progress and encourage me that I do have something worth saying and that I’m improving in my efforts to craft the words. But I can’t help but wonder if I’m going to have to endure painful “surgery” to remove the Wolf Worm’s spikes. Unlike the tiny little kitten, “Snickers,” I can’t be anesthetized for the procedure. It’s probably going to hurt. Maybe it will involve giving up some things I “want” in order to stay the course and get the book written. Maybe it will involve facing some painful things in my past without always turning to my favorite comforters—food, alcohol, busy-ness. Maybe I’m going to begin to learn to be still and just endure the natural human emotions that we are often so quick to try to fix: sadness, boredom, regret, anxiety.
As I continue reading Norris’ book, I’m adding a different story to the mix. I’m about a hundred pages in to Augusten Burroughs’ memoir, Dry, which chronicles his struggle with alcohol. When he checks into rehab because of the threat of losing his job in advertising, Burroughs comes face to face with his demons, and with something people without addictive struggles might find strange—his fear of sobriety:
“Sober. So that’s what I’m here to become. And suddenly, this word fills me with a brand of sadness I haven’t felt since childhood. The kind of sadness you feel at the end of summer. When the fireflies are gone, the ponds have dried up and the plans are wilted, weary from being so green. It’s no longer really summer but the air is still too warm and heavy to be fall. It’s the season between the seasons. It’s the feeling of something dying.”
That’s exactly how I feel today. Not just because it’s the week after Labor Day on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the kids are playing football but it’s still hot and muggy. But also because I can identify with Burroughs’ words about it being the “season between the seasons” and the “feeling of something dying.” I remember having this same feeling about fifteen years ago when I let go of a demon I was fighting and turned to God for help. I was sitting on a pew at church talking with my Father Confessor and telling him that I felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff and I was supposed to jump across a great chasm to the other side, leaving behind the harmful but comfortable world of my demon, and trying to trust that something on the other side would feel as good as this demon had made me feel. He held my hand and helped me make the leap, which was, of course, only the first step. But sometimes the first step is the hardest. Especially when dealing with something as insidious as a Wolf Worm.
Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my last post about Acedia. I hope to hear from you again and from others who are kind and supportive enough to keep reading. Please leave a comment, whether or not you’ve read either of these books. It was one of your comments several weeks ago that sent me to the bookstore to purchase Norris’ book. It’s such a blessing to have fellow pilgrims on this journey.
I probably won't post again from the coast, as our weekend will be full of activities, like maybe the "Second Saturday" art walk in Bay St. Louis tomorrow, or the annual Biloxi Seafood Festival. The kids are going to a fishing rodeo in the morning with their grandparents, and the rest of the day is up for grabs. Every minute is a joy with the Thames family... like last night, when Hardy was playing his ukelele and all three kids got up and started dancing on the furniture and singing every word of "Eye of the Tiger." Yep.
So... I'll hit the road for Memphis on Sunday, stopping in Jackson to visit Mom at her nursing home. Have a great weekend, everyone!