Thursday, May 27, 2010

Call for Names



This little graffiti artist needs a name!

You can help!

Read my post over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, and leave a comment there, please.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop: June 18-20

Readers, forgive me, it's been almost a week since my last post! (a record, I think) It was awesome being at the beach with my family in a beach house with no wi-fi, actually. So, I'll post a few photos at the end of this post and you'll see why I wasn't tempted to head into Seaside to the coffee shop to get on my computer more than once last week!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm gearing up for the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop in Oxford, Mississippi, June 18-20. There are still a few spots left, so if you're a beginner or even an emerging writer, join us for a weekend of manuscript critiques, craft talks, catfish, beer, wine and fun! Info and registration forms are here.

For posts about the past two summer workshops check these out:

"The Writer's Cross: Transcending the Existential Shorthand," from 2009.

"Learning to See and Write Sunsets,"
from 2008.

What's so great that I'm going for my 4th workshop? (I didn't have a blog in June of 2007, so there's no post about the first one I attended.) The faculty is awesome, including our workshop director, Neal Walsh, (right) who teaches in the MFA program at LSU; Scott Morris, formerly in the MFA program at Ole Miss and now living in California, both published authors) and this year, Neil White is added to the faculty!

It's a small group (usually 10-16 participants) so everyone gets lots of personal attention. And friendships are formed that last for years.

So, I'm going to close for now and post some beach photos... and watch a new episode of "Saving Grace," which starts in 25 minutes, so here I go!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Three Degrees in One Decade!

We're at Seagrove Beach this week, with no internet at our beach house (a blessing, really) so this will be quick. Just wanted to celebrate our daughter, Beth's, graduation from the University of Tennessee's Master of Architecture program last Friday. We're so proud of her. Her dad and I, and her fiance, Kevin, attended the hooding ceremony, which was for the graduate and undergraduate schools of architecture, and the interior design students.

Lovely building (Alumni Memorial) with this awesome organ and pipes high up on one of the side walls. (Organ played during the processional and recessional.) really good speeches by students and faculty. Never a dull moment, really.

We're also celebrating Beth and Kevin's engagement! We love Kevin, and are thrilled to have him join the clan!

Brought to mind Beth's two previous graduations... in December of 2005, when she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering at UT...

And back in 2001, when she graduated from Central High School.

Yep, we're proud parents, and having a great time celebrating with her this week at Seagrove Beach, Florida, with her fiance, Kevin (a great cook, by the way! we're grilling out here....)

... and her two best friends from UT, Katie and Kiel.

Tomorrow our son, Jason, and his wife, See and our granddaughter, Grace, arrive for a few days.
I'm pretty much in heaven here:-) Watch for a more serious blog post next week.

Meanwhile, I've got my toes in the water, my .....

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Faith, Energized by Love

When my mind isn’t completely absorbed with menial tasks or secular creative pursuits, when I stop, not often enough, to think about spiritual things, when I find the courage to be alone with my thoughts, to be honest about my doubts and fears, this nagging voice from somewhere deep inside often whispers and sometimes shouts: do you really love God?

Which pre-supposes that I really believe in God, as I say that I do. But does my life reflect this belief? It certainly doesn’t affirm a love for God, and only rarely a fear. St. Anthony the Great said, “I no longer fear God; I love Him.” I’m no saint. But I knew someone who loved God, and today she is on my heart.

This morning I was reading the Psalms with my morning prayers, nearing the end of the 40 days of prayer following the death of Esther Elliott Longa. Reading the Psalms always helps me with my doubts about God. In the back of my copy of The Psalter According to the Seventy, I have written the names and dates of loved ones who have died, and I often read back over those names and remember each of them when I’m reading the Psalter and praying for a newly departed friend. I also have a few copies of memorial brochures from funerals, including one for my dear friend and “unofficial yia-yia, Urania Alissandratos, I remember writing the text for that brochure, and including the following quote:

“He who loves God both believes truly and performs the works of faith reverently. But he who only believes and does not love lacks even the faith he thinks he has; for he believes merely with a certain superficiality of intellect and is not energized by the full force of love’s glory. The chief part of virtue, then, is faith, energized by love.”
—Saint Diadochos of Photiki

And then I wrote the words, “Urania loved God.”

How do we know she loved God? Everyone who knew her saw His love in her life, in her vitality, even as she lived with cancer into her 80s. And not only in her faithfulness to the Church and its services, to the Orthodox aesthetic traditions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but also in her everyday actions. She would say the Jesus Prayer as she went in for a medical procedure. She spoke of God as though He were right there with her at all times, which He was, which He is.

This reminded me of Father John Troy’s homily on May 8, the patronal feast day of our parish, and his name saint, John the Theologian and Evangelist. Father John talked about a trip he took to Russia a number of years ago, and especially to the monastery where Saint Seraphim of Sarov had lived. He said the nuns there spoke of “Father Seraphim” in the present tense—as though he was still there with them—and he was. He is. Shortage of food? Just ask Father Seraphim. Personal problems? Just talk with Father Seraphim.

And then Father John made the comparison to our own patron, the Holy Apostle John, and what our relationship with him should be like. Do we live our lives as though he were here with us? In times of suffering, of need, of crises, do we turn—as naturally as the nuns at Diveyevo Convent did with Saint Seraphim—to Saint John for help? To the one who leaned on Jesus’ breast? The one known as “the beloved”? The one whose best advice was always, “Little children, love one another”?

If we believe the truths of the Church about eternal life (and really, why are we going through the motions if we don’t?) and the communion of the saints, why don’t we have a vibrant relationship with the saints for whom we name our churches, our children, ourselves. How often during the day, the week, the year, our entire life, do we actually talk with our patron saints? Our guardian angels? Oh, there are set prayers to each of these that pious Christians might pray with their daily prayers (and I do this very haphazardly, I confess) but in the midst of a battle with depression, a temptation to eat or drink too much, a sadness over a friend or family member’s misfortune, physical pain or illness, how often do I say, “Holy Mother Mary (of Egypt, my patron), help me” or “help my friend” or “help my marriage” or “Holy Saint John help our Church” or “give wisdom to our pastor, your spiritual son and namesake”? And in times of relative peace and happiness, how often do we say, “thank you for being with us, for this beautiful day, for my safe travels (which I actually thought to say yesterday, returning from a road trip), for my children’s good health, for the repair of the broken computer, for the recovery of the lost item”?

All this to say that if we are going to take our religion seriously (and if not, why bother?) it seems we must pursue these relationships with the most important people in our spiritual world—the saints. And of course the natural “next step” would be to have that ongoing conversation and relationship with the Mother of God. And with God, Himself.

As I enter into the writing of a novel—and one which includes much about the life of my patron saint—I hope I will not attempt this work without continually asking for her help. And I hope that in the process I will get to know her better, so that some day, when I meet her in Heaven, she will not seem like a stranger to me, but a friend and companion from my everyday life on earth. And also so that my writing will be true, and possibly even beautiful.

Holy Mother Mary, help me to love God as you do. Help me in my work, in my writing, in my marriage, in my family relationships, in my friendships, in my struggle with food and drink and all things earthly that weigh me down. You know I do not have faith. I do not love God. Sometimes I don’t even believe in Him. Help my unbelief, and beseech God to give me faith, energized by love.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Guilt-Free Mother's Day?

Southern women are born with it. We feel responsible for everyone. For everything. Maybe all women feel this way to an extent, especially mothers, daughters, wives.

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. My 82-year-old mother has Alzheimer’s and is confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home 200 miles away. The home is having a Mother’s Day Tea Sunday afternoon. But I was planning on visiting Mom on Tuesday. It just fits better with my schedule. And she won’t really know what Mother’s Day is anyway. And there will be refreshments and lots of children at the nursing home on Sunday to brighten her day, so really it’s better than I’m going on Tuesday when things are quieter and she’ll appreciate my visit more. I’ve mailed her a card and bought her a new blouse, which I’ll take to her on Tuesday, along with some cookies from McAllister’s Deli. So why do I still feel guilty for not visiting her ON Mother’s Day? Why have I felt, my entire life, that nothing I do is enough?

And now the city of Nashville is flooded (as well as parts of Memphis) and people are suffering immeasurably and what am I doing about it? Okay, we’ve contributed some money, but I’m not out there volunteering my time to help. Instead, I’m here, comfortable in my dry, air-conditioned home, writing, cooking steaks out (last night) and even going for a massage this afternoon. But what, really, are arthritis and fibromyalgia compared to the loss of homes, cars, and even lives? (By the way, this tragedy has been unjustly ignored by the media. Here’s a good video that shows more of the story.)

Next Friday we’re going to Knoxville for our daughter’s graduation (Master’s of Architecture) at UT, and then we’re taking family and friends to Seagrove Beach, Florida, to celebrate for a week. My mind is concerned with the safety of the interstate at we travel around Nashville en route to Knoxville, and about the quality of the water at the beach following the oil spill. Will there still be an abundance of fresh seafood? And again, I feel guilty for even having these concerns in light of the tragic impact of the flooding and the oil spill on the lives of so many. We’re looking forward to having our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter fly over from Denver to join us, as well as our future son-in-law and our daughter’s two best friends from college. It will be a special, important time for our family. And yet, I keep thinking about how the money could have been spent to help the flood victims. I remind myself that Jesus said, “the poor you always have with you, but me you do not always have.” A difficult passage.

I remember back in September of 1998, when my 20-year-old Goddaughter, Mary Allison, was killed by a drunk driver, one week before one of her dear friends was to be married. Mindy, the bride-to-be, (and a sweet Southern woman) talked about how guilty she felt, celebrating her wedding day while everyone was grieving Mary Allison’s death. But isn’t life like that? Won’t there always be tragedy and joy, juxtaposed against each other throughout our lives?

How are you spending Mother’s Day weekend? Are you volunteering your time to help the flood victims, like these friends of Kathy Rhodes, my writer-friend in Franklin? Are you sacrificing money you’d like to have spent on pleasure, or choosing to celebrate your children’s graduations, weddings, births, and other joyous milestones of life this weekend?

Are you visiting your mother, or sending her a card or taking time to call her on the phone? May we all find peace in knowing that we are doing what we can, and no, it’s never “enough,” but it is what it is. And life goes on. So, Happy (Guilt-Free?) Mother's Day to all mothers, and congratulations to the graduates and brides and grooms, like Caitlyn and Brandon Maas (in the photo) who are honeymooning in Savannah! Many Years!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Triple Threat: Times Square, Memphis, Gulf Coast

Rarely is my family impacted so directly by diverse world events the way it is today:

Flooding in Tennessee
: We left Memphis on Friday, and Saturday tornadoes, winds and rain threatened the state and our city, with resulting flooding, loss of life and homes. Thankfully our home in midtown is safe, as are most of our friends' homes. I almost felt guilty arriving in New York City to beautiful, sunny weather. Safe and sound here, right? And then...

: Last night as we were walking to dinner with another couple, we walked just a couple of blocks past the spot where the car bomb had just been discovered on Times Square. We didn't know what was happening as we enjoyed dinner at Nougatine in one of Donald Trump's buildings, on Central Park. We assumed the crowds we saw, and even the flashing blue lights, were just business (and entertainment) as usual. Back in our hotel room around 10:30 we saw the news and drew breaths of relief and said prayers of thanksgiving that the bomb didn't completely detonate and we were safe. We were also thankful that we weren't staying in a hotel on Times Square this year, since the guests were evacuated for 10 hours while we slept comfortably in our room a few blocks away. But I wonder how far-reaching the damage from that bomb would have reached? In the meanwhile, I had been looking forward to our beach vacation (in 13 days) when the next event happened:

: Yes, we've had a beach house rented for months at Seagrove Beach, where we plan to celebrate our daughter's graduation (Master's) from the UT College of Architecture. We've been excited to have our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter fly down from Denver for the event, as well as our future son-in-law, and Beth's two best friends from college. And now we wonder how the oil leak will impact our vacation. Will the water be icky? Will there still be fresh seafood available? And then I feel almost selfish even having these thoughts, since the tragedy will impact the lives of fishermen, shrimpers, and the hospitality industry (and beyond) all over the coast. We don't plan to cancel our plans, not only because the refund is non-refundable, but because we want to support the hospitality industry there. We're just hoping for some clear water and fresh fish, and mainly a great time together with our family.

So, today, I've spent the morning in my hotel room, reading, watching the news, and posting on Facebook... slower to get back "out there" after these events. I had a great afternoon Friday... riding a rental bike through Central Park for two hours (yes!)... and yesterday, I took the subway to Washington Square and enjoyed walking, brunching, and shopping in the Village and Soho before catching the subway back to our hotel around 5 p.m. Today I'm wanting to stay closer to the hotel, where my husband is speaking at the 25th Annual Scientific Meetings of the American Society of Hypertension. But it's hard to be here and not get "out there." Hmmm... maybe I'll go for a walk up Madison Avenue and check out the latest fashions. Or just find a sidewalk cafe where I can read and write and watch the people. Whatever I do, I'll be thinking about and praying for friends and family impacted by the floods in Tennessee and the oil leak in the gulf... and the near miss of the car bomb a few blocks away here in New York City.