Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I've long had a complicated relationship with where I come from.

Northeast Texas is somehow laid back and uptight at the same time. It's steeped in--and sometimes paralyzed by--its own tradition and history. The small towns that dot the landscape are utterly charming to me, but also stifling and depressing. It's where some of my best memories were made, but I have no desire to return there in any kind of permanent way. I can so solidly identify with so much of the culture of northeast Texas but, at the same time, I am sometimes shocked and bewildered by it.

Maybe it's because I'm now in my forties, but for some reason it has become important to me that The Geej understand where her parents come from. That is part of the reason that I wanted her to accompany me to the annual reunion of my dad's side of the family this past weekend. 

When he was alive, my dad was fairly disconnected to his Kilgore-based, very Southern and staunchly religious Pentecostal relations. We would head to my dad's much older sister's house for the obligatory Christmas visit and sometimes see my uncles and cousins there as well, but we were definitely not what I would call a close-knit bunch. They didn't even know how to treat me when my dad died, and I didn't know them well enough to lean on for support.

I headed to the family reunion the summer following my dad's passing because, I don't know, I needed to feel connected or something. It was awkward, but not altogether unpleasant. I was introduced as "James's daughter" so people could place me, and I was offered lots of condolences by those who had known him. They were all happy to see me and called me by my first AND middle names--something unique to this group and oh-so-Southern. Much like my connection to northeast Texas itself, my connection to this group of people felt simultaneously familiar and strange.

Sunday's family reunion attendance was my first since then. It had been eight years. Everyone was so happy to see me and especially to meet The Geej. There were around 50 people in attendance, and about 2/3 of them were in their late 60s or older. Much older. The Pentecostal women with their enormous buns and shapeless dresses all look just alike. They scurried around getting the tables set and the covered dishes overflowing with bad-for-you home cookin' all laid out. The drink choices were Dr. Pepper, sweet tea and water. We stood in a circle and held hands as my dad's eldest brother, my Uncle Roy, offered a blessing before the meal. We ate and chatted and everyone asked The Geej how old she was and commented on her beauty. After lunch, some folks gathered around the piano and sang patriotic songs and hymns together.

I was saddened by how frail my aunts and uncles have become, and thought to myself that this would most likely be the last time I would see some of them alive. However, the drawl of their accents and the sincerity of their love and warmth will always be a part of me and I hope that, in some small way, The Geej felt a connection to it as well.
The Geej and my Aunt Mary Lois

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Let's Talk About Dads

When I made up my mind to adopt The Geej, I was single and absolutely 100% believed I would remain that way. It wasn't that I'd "given up," per se. It was more like I'd come to terms with the fact that by entering this new and very intense relationship with my child, the liklihood of me having time or mental energy to focus on developing a relationship with a man was very, very slim. I'd been married, and that whole fiasco had made me gun-shy, to say the least. And really? Once I'd figured out that I didn't NEED a man in my life in order to a) live and b) become a mother, I felt powerful in a whole new way--a way that created a view of my future as a single mom that pretty much just stayed single. Besides, I'd never really bought in to that whole "girls need a father figure" thing because, quite frankly, the father figures in my life had either been absent and ghost-like at worst, or frustrating and maddeningly confusing at best. They hadn't been the strong men who you'd want your daughter to model her relationships after, and my mother had pretty much served as the primary role model in my life when it came to a parental figure.

So there are not words to describe how suprised and thankful I am to have a man like BH in my life. He is the father figure in The Geej's life who I would absolutely want her to model her future relationships upon. He is calm, understanding, patient, funny, loves nature, smart, dependable, loving and just a good, good person. Now that he is my partner in raising this headstrong, girly girl, I have no concept of how I would ever be able to do it without him. He helps me, not only in practical ways, but also in helping me see things through his wise eyes. He talks me through my daily parenting frustrations. And The Geej? She is absolutely crazy about him. She calls him by his first name when she's talking to him, but when she's talking ABOUT him, he is "my dad" or "Daddy."

So here's to BH: For not only putting up with me and all of my craziness, but for also coming in to my daughter's life and becoming her daddy.

I love you and am so thankful for you.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

10 Sexxxy Things

1. In middle school, I received a perm at the J.C. Penney salon in the Longview Mall that not only left me with a huge, blonde Annie-type afro, it also gave me chemical burns on the back of my neck that prohibited me from wearing collars and/or sleeping on my back for at least a week.

2. I slept with Neosporin and a Band-Aid on my face last night. Why? Because the big, huge zit I have on my right cheek wouldn't stop bleeding.

3. Shopping in big box retailers--especially book stores--induces an immediate and (ahem) imperative need to visit the restroom.

4. I've been using the same hairbrush since 1990.

5. I've never had anything waxed. Ever.

6. I am, hands-down, the most unattractive crier you've ever seen.

7. I can no longer drink even a couple of beers without severe digestive consequences.

8. There is this one hair that grows IN THE MIDDLE of my forehead, seemingly overnight. Luckily, it is blonde. But it is still unsettling to find it suddenly, 2.5" long and just THERE.

9. I have had both impetigo AND shingles before. (Luckily, not simultaneously.)

10. I wear a nightguard, drool and snore when I sleep at night.

Yep. Go ahead and feel free to insert the Pine Curtain Refugee into all of your sexytime fantasies.

You're welcome.

Monday, June 06, 2011

I'm not sure what this is going to accomplish.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write.”--Virgina Woolf

This is a very well-known quote from a very famous writer. The reason I'm starting with this is because I am one big fat ball of frustration at the moment and can relate to this quote like nobody's business.

Let me start off with the good stuff:

I submitted my writtng assignment for the workshop I'm attending in Portland next month. I hesitated calling it a "manuscript" because it's just a few representative pages of what will eventually be the book (they limited us to 20 pages). But still, it felt good to send it off and sigh a bit because I'm not supposed to work on (at least that part of) it between now and the workshop. Also, some of my classmates have uploaded their  manuscripts on our Basecamp project page, so I'm downloading those and reading them as I have the time.

Very cool.

In the meantime, I'm getting very excited for the trip itself. I've booked my flights, and arranged it so that I have time to spend with some dear friends who live there and their daughter, who I've never met. This trip will get me out of this godforsaken heat and drought (it's been MISERABLE in Austin...record breaking..."hottest spring on record") for a few days. Also, I've got tickets to see Gillian Welch while I'm there. Love her, never seen her live. But the most exciting part for me is that I get to focus on writing and writing alone from July 10 to July 17. Not what laundry needs to get done or what groceries need to be purchased or work or family or anything else. Just writing. How fucking AWESOME is that, y'all?!

Which leads me to this:

Even if I manage to find the time and mental energy required to sit down and write during any given day, I do not have a place to write. BH works from home for the most part, and he has to make due with a small desk crammed in the corner of our bedroom. His work stuff is in our bedroom, our dining room, our bookshelves and even our garage. It's not his fault: He needs this stuff to do his job and the nature of his work and the agency he works for means that he doesn't have an office building to go to each day. And the size and layout of our house does not allow him to have a space he can dedicate specifically to work. In fact, the poor guy can spend the bulk of one entire day in the confines of our bedroom sleeping/working unless he makes a concerted effort to get out of the house. He is definitely hard-wired differently than me because, if that were my situation, I would go insane and/or start drinking by noon every day.

Whenever I work from home (which is infrequent, but does happen), I set up at the dining room or kitchen table. It's not comfortable and definitely not conducive to focused thought. Plus, I always feel like I'm getting in his way or disturbing him, which kind of blows.

When I was eyeball-deep in writing my submission for the workshop, I would have to make arrangements with (the very supportive and understanding) BH so that I could stay at work late and utilize my workspace to write. And let me tell you, it's not very inspiring to sit at the same desk you've been sitting at all day and suddenly try to switch in to "creative mode" and write. Sometimes my fingers would, literally, quit working, as if to say, "Fuck this. You've been typing all day. We're done." I would get so frustrated with my endless string of typos, I'd just have to close up shop. Other times, I'd be on a roll and kicking much ass, but then the office's A/C would cut off around 6pm, and I'd soon grow so hot and uncomfortable that I couldn't think. And so, yes, I'd just have to close up shop and head home.

"Why not go to a coffee shop?" you might be asking in your mind. Well first off, I don't drink coffee, and second, those places are not good for me when I need to focus. Too many distractions.

And as if to add fuel to the fire of my frustrations, I frequently torture myself by going to Open Houses on the weekends--exploring homes for sale in parts of town I'd like to live but have no means to do so. Almost without fail, the houses I tour have a study. Usually nothing fancy: just a room with a window and a door. But a place where (were it OUR house) BH and I could contain our work and creative lives and separate ourselves from the distractions of home and family.

Usually, after I have seen one of these houses that's larger than ours, with more storage than ours, with a better layout than ours (including a study), and a kitchen that can accommodate more than one person cooking at a time, I go home and get depressed. I pout over the fact that I'm a hard-working, well-paid 42 year old woman who should, at the very fucking least, have a "room of my own" in which to seek the solitude I so desperately crave and the creative space I so badly want. I imagine that, if I just had a room, I would be able to carve out and committ to the time required to do some real writing. That I could become one of those people who writes daily. But the reality is that I am hardly better off than the generic woman Ms. Woolf describes in her 82 year old essay, and this makes me very, very sad.

So will I appreciate the time I get to spend at this writing workshop in July? More than you will ever know. It will be worth every dime I've saved in order to pay my way and I will soak up each moment like a sponge. And when I return home after living in a dorm room on an idylic college campus for over a week and spending my days and nights focused on the craft of writing, then what?

I have no idea.