Oh, lawsy

Turns out your first year of teaching middle school ELA is a lot of work. Um, a lot. I can’t really emphasize that enough. And I loved it so dang much, I can’t wait to do it all over again this fall. (Not to get ahead of myself, here. School ended last week, and I’m ready to fully embrace my summer vacation.)

I was about to blame the upkeep (or lack thereof) of this blog on work, but…wait…it’s been TWO YEARS since I updated this thing? Mercy. (Hey, I was able to keep my Instagram account pretty lively, at least – you can always check in over there to follow my exciting and wholesome lifestyle.)

WELL, GUESS WHAT.

I’m going to at LEAST update this website with this here blog entry. Hello! Let’s see, what can I talk about…well, the coming months will be filled with trapeze-teaching and performing, gardening, swimming, dog-walking, tea-drinking, reading, writing, lesson planning (eventually), looking at my lovely family’s faces and holding conversations, and…querying literary agents again. Yikes. That last one might take me awhile, but I’m determined. It’s taken literal years of work and revisions, but I’ve finished my MG novel and I’m ready to shepherd this thing into the world as best I can. That’s kind of scary to type out loud, but there it is.

In the meantime, here’s a photo encapsulating how I’m just living my best life. That’s a metal straw, because I’m not about to be choking some poor seagull in the neck with my plastic garbage. Also, please note that while the “Passionfruit” flavor of La Croix pictured here is kind of gross, it’s what I had at the time. (At least it wasn’t Coconut.)

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Waking up

It’s been a minute.

My writing brain has been in hibernation. Not turned off, just sleeping, and we know that the sleeping brain is still working, even if it’s in disjointed images.

I’ve been happily hurtling through the fall rhythm of teaching at three different places, performing in Canopy’s fall repertory show, and preparing my trapeze students to perform in their own winter shows. Time has blurred as it does.

The world’s tragedies never stop; they just fade in and out of clarity in our own personal focus, our individual realms of loss and mourning. A friend of mine died recently. I don’t know how much I’ll ever write about that. Writing has always helped me sort out personal pain, but Laura wasn’t just my own friend; she was beloved by a large community. This grief was both private and enormously shared, and my friends have held each other close as we traveled through it, and still do.

And here we are, the holidays packed away. I can’t help feeling a creeping grimness tugging at the edges. It doesn’t help that the nation is on the brink of plunging into political dark ages, and the natural world outside is stark, gray.

I’ve never minded the darkness of winter. I’ve embraced it in the way I embraced Richard Scarry illustrations as a child. I want to be cozy. I want to burrow under a blanket with a book while it snows outside, even though it never snows here. (The image below is of the endpapers from the Scarry-illustrated “A Story a Day, 365 Stories and Rhymes.” I’d stare at it endlessly as a child, memorizing every perfect detail. It makes me happy even now.)

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The inclination is there, but it doesn’t feel safe now to hibernate too much.

So I’ll light some fires and make some tea. I’ll knit and read and try to find my writing brain again, wake her up. I’ll find comfort and strength with my loved ones, and we’ll band together to face the oncoming dark.

 

 

I reckon y’all fixin to tump over that bucket – bless your hearts

If I have to be sick in bed this weekend, I at least get this entertainment! Robert and I were talking about Southern expressions (my novel takes place in the rural South) the other night and I realized that, despite living in Georgia my whole life, I haven’t heard half of the things he was saying. Is it because my dad was from the north? Or because I live in a college town? I told Robert that I’m from Georgia, I should know these things, and he said: “Sweetheart, if a cat had kittens in the oven, I wouldn’t call ‘em biscuits.”

I asked my FB friends for the most southern expressions they could think of and was blessed with a long list. Here’s a sample, in no particular order – with many thanks to my friends Haley, Rebecca, Abbie, Sarah, Jo, Jamie, Leila, Tiffanie, Wynn, Amy, Clare, Claire, Teri, Lizzie, Lisa, Rebecca, Yvonne, Jenny, Jennie, Janet, Susan, Annaka, Wendy, Grace, Caitlin, JoAnna, Ashley, Shelby, Robby, Jill, Melissa, Carrie, Tara, Diana, Heather, Pamela, Shane, Pascale, Renna, Hazel, Chris, Rhiannon, Kim, Denise, April, Courtney, Jessie, Katherine, Aunt Marietta, Julie, Camille, Traci, Mary Beth, Macon, Victoria, and Allison (plus anyone I inadvertently left off this list!).

If you can think of more, let me know.

SOUTHERN VERNACULAR: A SHORT PRIMER 

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Y’all=you all

Fixin’ to = going to do something

Bless your heart = you’re an idiot

Tumped= knocked over, usually used with bucket/wheelbarrow/cup of liquid

Like to have or Like to (“You moving your arms so much you liked to tump the bucket”)

Might could/Used to could/Might should

Comin’ up a cloud=about to storm

Frog strangler=heavy storm

Hit a lick at a snake =to have been productive (ie “You so lazy, you haven’t hit a lick at a snake all day”)

Reckon

Roll on over so I can hug on you

“Might as well, can’t dance and it’s too wet to plow” (though this phrase might be particular to a certain relative)

Puttin’ up a stink/pitch a fit =acting unhappy

Put on the dog = act pretentiously to impress someone

Get in the bed

Mash the button = press a button

Cut the grass

Carry/tote someone = drive them someplace

Cut on/off the light

Hateful/ugly = Acting mean (“Don’t be ugly”)

Buggy=shopping cart

Poke = bag (ie: “Put my groceries in a poke in the buggy”)

I Suwannee = I swear

Y’ont to?/Yowntu = you want to?

Eat on it = we made a big turkey and will eat on it a few days

Cattywumpus/higgledy piggeldy = crooked, messed up

Laws-a-mercy/Lawsy

Don’t know shit from Shinola (a shoe polish product)

Slicker-n-eel shit = a phrase my husband heard the writer Terry Kay say when describing something slippery, ie: Someone is slicker-n-eel shit. (My friend Mazie has also heard “That road is slicker than owl shit.”)

How’s come/Why’s come?

Rode hard and put up wet = looking rough

How’s your mama (daddy, etc)-n-em?

Ugly as homemade sin

Headin’ to town=going shopping

Coke=every soda

Do what now?

Hug your neck

Ornery cuss

Gonna get a whoopin’ – gonna get spanked

Go get me a switch – get me a tree branch that I will use to spank you (!)

Take some exercise= to exercise

Land o’ Goshen = oh my

Play-purty (Play-pretty) = toys OR to act nicely

Rurnt=ruined

Hotter than a two dollar pistol

Colder than a well digger’s shovel

Home trainin’ =the way you were raised

You lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas

Stove up=messed up, often used when referring to bodily injury (“He worked so hard he’s stove up today”)

Worn slap out =exhausted

Slap in the middle = right in the middle

Over yonder = over there

Directly=right now (“I’ll do that directly”)

Fell out = fainted

Plum=totally (“Plum tuckered out”)

Bubba/Sister/Sissy=siblings

Aint = aunt

Come to Jesus = serious talking-to or intervention (“We have to have a Come to Jesus moment”)

Jake leg = moving funny (“You got the jake leg”)

“When I get ahold of you your tail won’t hold shucks!” = Spanked so hard you wouldnt be able to use corn husks as toilet paper

Describing things by landmarks that are no longer there, ie: “Turn left yonder where the gas station was afore it burnt down…” (Sometimes followed by, “Y’all ain’t from round here, are ya?”)

And here are but a few gems from those supplied by writer/editor Rebecca McCarthy:

Gimme sugar, sug (pronounced Shug). Let me lay eyes on you. Sorry, real sorry and sorry sumbitch. You spread that mess from heaven to breakfast. She’s so short she could walk under a duck with a high hat on. He’s so short, when he passes gas, he blows sand in his shoes. Take up some ice. Lay out the table. Case knives. Cash money. Lord, Rebecca, I’m losing my religion over you. I’m on my last nerve. You don’t know split beans from coffee. You don’t know big wood from brush. You don’t know if it’s 2 o’clock or Sunday. Hey, can you carry me to church on Sunday? I’m a gonna need help toting this cake. Even a cat can look at a king. Even a blind hog finds an acorn.

Well, butter me down and call me a biscuit.

 

Father’s Day

My dad was a writer. He was also a college psychology professor, a devoted member of his church, a friend to many priests and nuns, a husband, a father.

He was in his mid-50s when I was born. (I was the last of four children – a late in life surprise.) He remembered living through the Great Depression. He served in World War 2 in the navy.

He took me sailing in a boat he called the Sea Star. He taught me how to rig.

He let me have a taste of beer from his can on a camping trip. I thought it was awful.

He was as old as my friends’ grandfathers but often more involved in home life than many of my friends’ dads, thanks to a lifetime of helping his mother care for a disabled brother. He had no hangups about domesticity.

He taught me the games he played as a kid – cans connected by string; sitting on a stool with a paper clip on a string, fishing for paper fish laid out on the floor; making up radio shows with a tape deck. He passed down his love of the ocean to me. And storytelling.

My dad did something else: he made me feel like my stories mattered. Before I could write, I’d tell him stories that he wrote down for me, planting the seed that I had a voice worth listening to. (Most of my stories were re-hashes of the stories he told me, which, truthfully, stole quite a bit from Lewis and Tolkien – but no matter.) When I could write, he’d delight in the stapled-together books I’d produce, complete with “author’s bio” on the back cover. When I could type, he allowed me to spend countless hours writing never-finished short stories and plays on his precious word processor in his home office, before he even had a computer.

My father died on his 89th birthday in 2013. As it so often happens, a physical fall and spine fracture triggered the mental switch, pushing him faster into dementia, then Alzheimer’s. He spent his last few months in a nursing home in the same town where I live, which meant I was fortunate to spend many days there with him. Partly to process my grief, partly because it’s what I do, I kept a journal in my bag on every visit.

Sometimes I’d write down observations. Sometimes I’d write down our conversations to preserve moments of lucidity – and occasionally, stunning clarity. Sometimes I’d write down a question and show it to him to see if he could still read it and answer. Sometimes, he could. I fell back on my journalism training. When so much failed to make sense, I could always understand how to interview people. So I interviewed my father.

I’m not often able to actually read the journal.

While I was living and writing those experiences, flashes of a story began arriving—about a young girl who spends a lot of time at a nursing home—and I began to write it, though it took years to finally understand what the book was about. Even now that it’s done, I still keep realizing new meanings in it, and they are often the values that my dad emphasized so often: selfless love and sacrifice.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was such a good dad.

 

Why, hello old friend.

It’s been quite some time since I posted here, but in my defense, stuff was happening.

BOOK NEWS

My YA fantasy has been done for awhile. It had to hibernate while I rested my eyes and brain, but then I revised it a multitude of times and kicked it out the front door into the world. It’s been received with the usual mix of interest and rejection from agents, but I’m feeling optimistic and will most certainly share any exciting news, should it transpire.

AERIAL NEWS

Oh, my. The spring show remains one of my all-time favorites, I think. It’s easy to say that after each show (“That was the best one yet!”), but truly. I was so proud to be a part of the vision of our co-directors, Chris and Melissa – that epic, 13-minute opening number with 20 performers and 25 apparatuses! And I learned a new apparatus which quickly claimed my heart: flying on Spanish web!

You can see a lot of gorgeous photos taken by Shannah Cahoe Montgomery of Zoomworks in the gallery here, but below are a few favorites featuring yours truly (all photos by Shannah, unless otherwise noted!)…

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(That’s me in the upper left, front.)

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My delightful partner, Lauren, spinning me!

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Photo by Mark Caron

I’m also a bit proud of performing in an apparatus that we constructed just for the show – something that I thought of as my “rope forest” after being inspired by some modern art. I am deeply appreciative of my friends who helped me figure out how to rig it and then how to move in it! The whole thing was a learning experience, start to finish. I also learned that yes, I can do an upside down toe climb while in a miniature back plank.

Canopy True Colors 2016

Canopy True Colors 2016

Canopy True Colors Rep 2016

Canopy True Colors 2016

I seriously broke my toe some weeks ago – I’ll spare you the gory details, but no toe should ever look like that –  and am forever grateful for my doctor pal who set it and my PT pal who is making sure I get that toe back in rope-climbing condition soon. I’m exercising my patience, and learning new ways to move on the bar while wearing a shoe. I’m posting progress on that front, in fits and starts, on my Instagram.

And now begins many weeks of summer trapeze camp, in which I teach while my kiddo attends. Week one is already in the books, and I was VERY proud of my son for performing in front of his fellow campers. I made the following picture collage for him and he was 100% unimpressed or remotely interested. Oh well. Still proud!

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GARDEN NEWS

Growing on purpose: okra, glass gem corn, and a multitude of flowers, all saved from seeds I collected in the fall! I also purchased some pumpkin seeds and planted our first ever pumpkin patch – fingers crossed for the fall!

I collected the glass gem corn seeds from some of last year’s tiny crop, which looked like this:

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Growing on accident in the compost, and thus way more hearty and thriving than anything I plant myself: potatoes and some kind of gourd.

Also, now that my toe is less swollen, it fits inside a boot – so I’m going to build a patio! Robert will surely help (right?), but I have to admit that this is really my thing. I get so much enjoyment out of the physical labor of my amateur landscape work, and don’t mind the quiet time in the yard. R made some excellent noodle soup while I was working today, so it’s an even exchange in my mind.

See? Foot in boot. Breaking ground.

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ANIMAL NEWS

They remain adorable. That is all.

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Here’s how it works.

You get an idea. You are sure it’s the best thing ever—everything else you’ve worked on, even the manuscript you are currently querying, pales in comparison. Those poor agents who are reading your crummy words—they deserve to read this astonishing story that will eclipse everything you’ve created thus far. You know, the story that you haven’t even written yet. Oh, but it’s there. It just has to get born, you know?

 

You start writing it. It’s coming along pretty well although you worry you aren’t inserting enough sensorial detail in it. What is the weather doing?!? you ask yourself in anguish. You stumble over dialogue. You realize you don’t quite have the plot figured out. But these characters! Oh, how you already love and know and cherish them.

 

But you have to find the time! Where is the time? You work the day job, you work the night job, you work the third freelance job. You try to be a mom and a partner and a friend. You fall asleep after dinner on the futon with the dog and wake up with a headache. You realize you really don’t know what’s going to happen next, but this dialogue is so good that maybe it will just get you there. Maybe your character will say something and the lightbulb will go off in your head, and you think, “Hey! That’s my plot! Thanks, imaginary person!”

 

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Me & aforementioned dog, pre-nap

 

And then you think: come on. Say something. Anything! And you think: Oh yeah, I’m supposed to write what you say. Think! Think! THINK!

 

You drink some coffee and start writing and then it’s really coming along well. Alright, you’re getting somewhere now! You look at the clock and realize you have 5 minutes to get out of your pajamas and into your work clothes and out the door.

 

You go to work, you go to the grocery store, you pick up your kid from school, and there’s always the quiet whisper of those imaginary people…”Don’t forget us.” “Where are we going next?” “Would I really say that?”

 

You start to panic. Your idea is SO good and SO unique and SO special and this is the one that’s going to get published. It really, really is. But what if someone beats you to it? What if you just figure out the plot and the writing is coming strong and swift and some other idiot writer’s idiot bestselling book hits the idiot shelves and it’s almost the same plot AS YOUR OWN IDIOT BOOK, oh help, oh no. Write faster! Hurry up! WRITE GOOD NOW.

 

You wonder why you are doing this to yourself. You ponder the excruciating reality that perhaps you aren’t as good as you think. You tell yourself: “Might as well keep going. Who’s it hurting?” Upon the latest rejection, you answer: “Me, you dolt. It’s hurting ME.”

 

Wondering why you keep writing doesn’t stop you from writing, because truly, that’s what you have to do. There’s really no other explanation.

 

Time passes, and you keep going. You remember why you keep writing every time you solve the plot puzzle, or write the dialogue that makes you proud, or hug your encouraging friends at the writers’ group.
 

You keep going.
 

And you write a blog post about it.

Air Noir

Someday soon, I promise, I’m going to write about something different – maybe about current writing projects, or how it’s almost time to collect okra seeds for next year’s harvest, or what life is like with a new dog (yes, we have a new dog, and it’s the first time I’ve EVER lived with a dog, and I will definitely have to write about that soon). But we’re about two weeks away from the next rep show – the biannual, professional show Canopy Studio puts on – and that’s pretty much dominating my mind right now. I’ve been learning some of the most challenging sequences I’ve ever tried in a group piece, and right now my duet partner Allison and I are in that salty-sweet spot of just about having all of our choreography together, a place (at least for me) consisting equally of stress and exhilaration. It’s nice having a partner. You can take turns being the cheerleader while the other person says, “How are we going to do this?” until, at last, you can both look at each other with complete relief and say, “Hey, we have a piece!”

So more trapeze. Sort of. Maybe more about the people with whom I trapeze, actually.

“The Set Up” (#thesetup2015 on Instagram!) is a twisty-turny film noir-inspired story. Our fearless leader Melissa has an encyclopedic knowledge of this era of film history, and she and Julie collaborated on an original script that has all the things you’d want to see in a glorious B&W movie of seedy underbellies – except up in the air, on trapeze and lyra and straps and fabrics and more. We have corrupt city officials, mobsters, grifters, femme fatales, double agents, even a feisty team of elementary school-aged gangsters! (Our advanced boys’ class. They are adorable.) The story itself follows a briefcase of dirty money through a bonkers story of murder (or is it?) and revenge (or is it?) and…you get the point. Lots of grit but also lots of fun.

Including, in no particular order:

• Late night and early morning rehearsals. You could walk into the studio at 9 pm on a weekday or 7 am on a weekend and know you’d see other folks there working. We all make this work around other jobs! We survive thanks to Ann and Mel’s coffee runs and Debbie’s magnificent homemade snacks.

• New callouses, even after 15 years. Pinkie fingers and in between toes – I didn’t see those coming, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. And new rope burns are par for the course, especially when Allison and I somehow managed to make the core of our duet be climbing ropes, up and down, over and over.  A lot. Observe.

A post shared by MJ Hammes (@the_prim_reaper) on

• A company’s worth of slinky black costumes for our opening number, made with alarming efficiency and professionalism by  Rabun. I think she might be a magician.

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(No sleeves? “Welcome to the gun show,” says Rabun.)

• Ann’s baby Luna quietly rocking in her bouncy seat, looking up at her mama becoming part of a human mobile on a swinging metal cube.

(That’s Ann’s turquoise butt. Holding the weight of 2 other people while in a plange. No big deal.)

• Rehearsing mid-piece late Sunday night as the lights go out, and knowing it’s OK— it’s just Hilary in the light booth and Melissa driving the lift around the stage, changing out lights, steering around us (and the acro balancing act practicing on the floor).

• Long conversations about whether to fling ourselves backwards in a terrifying manner on the dun dun dun DUN or the dun dun DUN dun, dissecting those music cues. (I think I have them. I still have two weeks, right?)

• Picking my jaw up from the floor after taking serendipitous moments to observe those working around me. And thinking, for the millionth time, how am I so lucky to be here? (Watch these videos and see what I mean.)

(My heart was hammering the first time I learned that move above!)

At Canopy, we all do trapeze for a multitude of reasons— promoting physical and mental health; enjoying a community of beloved friends; helping kids and adults be strong and healthy; showing the power of movement and art for people with disabilities; and of course the pure joy of it all. It’s unadulterated play, something probably undervalued in society at large. But we love it. It’s fun. Play for play’s sake.

But there’s another reason that I’ve heard spoken out loud a lot lately, often by Melissa, but also adopted by all of us as we get through this last burst of rehearsals:

“Let’s make good art.”

Yes, let’s.

You can get tickets here.

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