In Memoriam


Bertie Love, Requiescat in Pace

This morning, my loving, tenacious, passionate grandmother passed away in the rest home. I recently wrote about her in a blog titled, “On the Shoulders of Giants”. Grief prevents me from writing much now, so I will borrow the poignant words of Frederick Buechner:

“How they do live on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them.  Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is not longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.  The people we loved.  The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us – and through them we come to understand ourselves – in new ways too.  Who knows what ‘the communion of saints’ means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us. They have their own business to get on with now, I assume – ‘increasing in knowledge and love of Thee,’ says the Book of Common Prayer, and moving ‘from strength to strength,’ which sounds like business enough for anybody – and one imagines all of us on this shore fading for them as they journey ahead toward whatever new shore may await them; but it is as if they carry something of us on their way as we assuredly carry something of them on ours. That is perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be but of seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now”

The Sacred Journey, pages 21-22 (emphasis added)





Why I Write and Why You Should Too

I wasn’t supposed to be a writer.  I was supposed to be a singer.

Since my childhood, people have complimented my singing voice.  My father is a prodigious bass, his notes resonating power and clinging to the bottom of the measures.  I grew up watching him sing in church and when I had reached appropriate age, I began singing in the youth choir. Church ladies oogled over me.  “My, that child has such a pretty voice,” they would remark. I earned the position of Mama Bear in the first grade presentation of The Three Bears because the music teacher enjoyed my stirring rendition of “I’m cooking in the kitchen, I’m cooking in the kitchen, I’m cooking in the kitchen for Father Bear…for Baby Bear.”

In middle and high school, I joined the choir and quickly discovered my lofty falsetto and a seat in the soprano section.  As my adolescence progressed, I achieved spots in District and State choirs. I competed in singing competitions warbling Italian arias.  I studied with a renowned vocal coach.

Singing was always my identity.

But it was not to be. Instead of packing my dreams in a suitcase and heading to Nashville, I went to college instead. Initially, I attempted to study Elementary Education. However, I changed my mind and minored in Music. I soon realized that dissecting notes robbed me of the mysterious joy of music. I was forced to take singing lessons which were difficult to juggle with classwork. I eventually changed to Sociology.  That lasted for a semester, until a classmate complained that all of the professors in the department “drove crappy cars.” My nineteen-year-old brain with its *adept* reasoning skills hoisted the red flag of impending poverty and I switched majors again.

It just so happened that an upperclassmen who usually gave me a lift home for breaks was an English major; she was particularly interested in journalism.  When I confided in her about my “major” dilemma, she responded that she took English courses because she “looked in the catalog and was genuinely interested in the classes.”  Hmmm.  Seems simple enough. I grew up reading, since I was an only child.  I crept alongside Nancy Drew when she checked out that creepy woodshed, with just a simple flashlight and her courage.  I also read plenty of Archie comics, chuckling at how Jughead always loved those burgers (but yet somehow was still skinny as a rail) and hoping Archie would pick Betty because I thought Veronica was too high-maintenance.  As a teenager, I loved My Antonia and The Scarlet Letter.  For me, reading was as natural as breathing.  Out of options and nearly out of time, I eventually considered an English major a safe bet.

The following semester was my sophomore year and also the point in which one officially declares a major.  I gulped, prayed, and signed up for two upper-level English courses. I launched into the English abyss with renewed hope and enthusiasm.  One class, an American Literature course, required us to read selections of A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  Douglass, like myself, had not grown up in affluence but he knew what I knew, that education would provide me with a world of opportunity.  Education does not simply equip you with a piece of paper, but rather an altered state of mind, a sharpened consciousness of the world, a fresh understanding of the patterns buried beneath our existence. The professor prompted us to write about how Douglass escaped slavery.  I wrote up a short piece on how education freed Douglass from both physical and intellectual captivity. The next week, the professor stood in front of our class, mainly composed of lethargic sophomores, and read a piece.  After a couple of sentences, the work sounded vaguely familiar.  Oh crap, I thought, she’s reading my paper!   For the first time in two years of college academics, I felt validated.  I experienced the great ecstasy that I am where I should be, where God wanted me. Finally.

I now had the means to tell my story.

I wish I could tell you that I warmed quickly to writing, but I didn’t.  I continued to pursue music.  After two albums and two different auditions with record executives which did not produce any options, I came to the painful conclusion that it was not going to happen for me. At that point, I was a graduate student in English (Yeah, I know – I’m not great at acknowledging the obvious). By then, I had matured mentally and emotionally, and both aspects were blossoming in my sparse and feeble attempts at writing. But I continued doing it clandestinely – scribbling song lyrics or reflections on life in various notebooks. I never considered it anything other than a means to an end.  I didn’t see it as an experience that fundamentally changes you.  Documenting life has a charming quality about it, but unfortunately, the portrait was splintered and fragmented. I had only written when I was upset.  What a shame that I had overshadowed such fond memories with recordings of the darker moments. I had a good life, and absolutely nothing to complain about. With this observation, I attempted to write with more frequency.  However, I didn’t always do it; it still remained more of an anesthetic than a chronicle.

Last year, when I finished an eight-month writing marathon to complete my dissertation, I finished and breathed a sigh of relief…then a sigh of boredom.  I felt this nagging vacancy in myself.  I didn’t have to write anymore, if I didn’t want to, but I did want to. No, I HAD to. Other people said they liked my writing. My dissertation editor admitted that it was hard to edit, because she enjoyed reading it so much. My committee liked my draft. So now what?

So I start a blog last May.  I write about my loving husband, my dogs, my love of C.S. Lewis, the importance of good leadership, insightful books. And people started reading that.  I was completely astonished. I was back in sophomore English again with God granting me the reassurance that I am home.

The knot was firmly tied when I met poet and head Muse Kelly Belmonte.  I’ll admit I was a little ambivalent about this writing business, until I began a correspondence with her. She challenged me to write (and not just when I’m angry), she introduced me to a multitude of other talented writers, poets, and Muses, and she consistently encouraged me. She has a rare and wonderful gift of bringing out the best in people.  That was it.  I was smitten.  Smitten with words.  Infatuated with sounds.  Allured by alliteration. Crippled and awed by the power of verses and life-altering passages. I wanted to stretch vocabulary and imagery to its limits and create. I think I’m ready now. After all of this time, I’m finally ready to get serious about writing.

Writing is a strong thread that runs through the tapestry of my life. I enjoy it, I wrestle with it, I hate it, I love it.  It pushes me and sometimes I push back, because I am stubborn. But in the end, it always wins. My excuse for everything in life is, “I would but I have to write”; I’ve personified it into a tyrannical slavemaster. But it’s absence is far more hazardous. If I don’t write, I’m like an addict detoxing; I am angry, upset, and chronically discontent with the world.  I seriously go into a funk. It’s an easy diagnosis, quickly cured by writing for a few minutes in my journal or prepping to write a blog (or reading great writing). Writing is like therapy. It may hurt sometimes, but it ultimately heals. I call my office/library “The Womb” because it is where I create. Do I sometimes experience labor pains?  Do I groan in my expectancy?  Yes, but I know the product is something I’ll be proud of.  And spilling out your guts is very cathartic. That’s a nice conclusion.  To read and enjoy and reciprocate by creating yourself.

That is why, dear friends, it is important to share your story.  You never know when a truth you utter will resonate with someone else.  I have often thought, What if C.S. Lewis had decided not to write? What if he had decided to just be a quiet don and keep his faith private, for convenience?  It would have forever changed the direction of so many lives, lives altered by reading Lewis’s work.  He spoke up and the world profited.  How many are waiting to hear your story?  How many chains will you loose with your words?  How many spirits will your sentences lift for someone else (or even yourself)?

The world is waiting…

HUMOROUS: Why I Want to be a Hip-Hop Dancer

The Bible tells us that David danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant, but the authors unfortunately do not provide us with further specifics.  Did he do the Jelly Roll?  The Electric Slide?  The Window Washer?  Did he cry out, in the midst of his rejoicing, Oh Lord, wilt thou teach me how to Dougie??

I love to dance.  The problem is I can’t. I am a consummate book worm.  I have two left feet.  I lack that precious skill called “swagger.”  So I gave up the dream of wearing those cool parachute pants and moving gracefully across a stage behind a rap star. At some point, we all have give up the dreams we know are not ours. If a man can do nothing but create stick figures, Thomas-Kincade style landscapes and majestic portraits are out of the question.

However, not all dreams crash and burn so easily.  I secretly get to indulge my fantasy through the gift of virtual reality (which can, ironically, have realistic implications).  It all started when I noticed that I needed to lose some weight…

Back during graduate school (Master’s), I noticed I was developing a “little belly” from the late night eating binges and added stress. My pants were getting tighter but I ignored it and continued eating the package of Oreos and Soft Batch cookies. AND, I can’t forget about those awesome crème-filled cupcakes with swirls on top.  A ravenous appetite is one of the unforeseen side effects of graduate school.   And with tackling a mile-long reading list and an arduous thesis to write, who has time for exercise? Hey, Heart of Darkness isn’t going to read itself.  My metabolism had slowed to a crawl, like a creeping-through-the-desert-with-no-water-and-the-sun-beating-on-your-back crawl. Finally, in 2009, I had a bit of a wake-up call.  At 53, my father had quadruple bypass surgery.  Then I discovered that heart disease was rampant in both branches of my family.  In essence, I was a genetic bulls-eye.  I decided that year that I would begin a fitness regimen, reclaim my old body, and hopefully prevent (or at least postpone) any future heart issues. Besides, in my supreme negligence, the “little belly” had grown unchecked and eventually expanded to my hips.  I was nearly 40 pounds heavier. My husband’s co-worker even asked if I was pregnant.  I quickly and shamefully reassured her that I wasn’t. Instead of dropping the topic, she fumbled headlong into an inconvenient (and somewhat embarrassing) argument.  “Oh sure she is,” the girl sternly replied, unaware of the impropriety of such comments.  The fact that I had to convince someone else that I was NOT pregnant was enough to challenge my previous apathy and fuel determination for real change.

Because I had no money to join a gym (I already said I was a graduate student, right?), I purchased the Nintendo Wii and lost 23 pounds.  I was in shape, feeling better, eating better.  Then 2011 happened. My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer all while I was reading and later writing for my dissertation.  Everything went out the window.  I ate all the unhealthy crap again, out of stress and depression. By the end of that year, I had gained all but one pound back.

Then I saw a commercial for Zumba.  I had heard great things about the program.  Basically, women dance and incinerate calories. Health magazine claimed that women could potentially lose 1100 calories in an hour. Best of all, you didn’t have to know how to dance. Sign me up.

Many friends encouraged me to attend a local class, but there was no way I was going in front of God and everyone (some of them equipped with camera phones and accounts for YouTube) to humiliate myself.  I had no desire to enter a room full of relative strangers and shake what my Momma gave me. I’m sure if I truly attempted to shake it, it would be incredibly awkward or I would possibly break something. Instead, I elected to buy the Kinect game.  It turned out to be the best fitness decision I made.  The mid-length class passed quickly because I was more concerned about getting the steps right (and all while having fun). I was burning 1000 calories a session. Thanks to that game paired with a diet of salmon sandwiches, I lost enough weight to not scare people off the beach when I went to Key West last summer. The rigor of the class and a balanced diet were helping me shed pounds and get my old body back.

However, the main reason why I adore Zumba is that it taps into an old desire of mine – my hopes of becoming a hip hop dancer.  That’s right, this book nerd wanted to be a “fly girl” on In Living Color. When I was younger and my parents left the house to run errands, I would put on headphones, pop in a CD of “No Diggity” and flail around the house like those crazy arm balloons you see at used car lots. For me, it was liberating to dance and, you know, not suffer extreme social isolation.  Who wants to wear a scarlet NS on their chest (“No Skills”)?

The main problem is that my body is rather stiff.  My knees are nearly always locked and my hips cannot operate independently of my trunk and legs. Therefore, if I attempt to swing my hips, the rest of my body follows without avail. It’s like watching a rag doll being pulled by her belt into a tornado. Instead of moving hips seductively like Elvis, I’m having some sort of seizure which (instead of mesmerizing them) prompts people to call the paramedics. My elbows, in frustrating contrast, never lock. They have some sort of perpetual bend which makes a powerful fist thrust look like a knobby tree branch. Form is definitely not my forte. Another great benefit to the Zumba game is that you are only 2-3 inches tall; the screen is dominated by virtual dancers.  That way, you think you are casting some sort of erotic spell with your movements (a la Sucker Punch), until you glance at the left corner and see this corny figure clumsily beating the air with her fist and twirling like a lunatic.

Nonetheless, I am beginning to get the hip movements. You won’t see me on So You Think You Can Dance? anytime soon, but my body is slowly beginning to obey what my mind dictates.  I enjoy my morning workouts (finally) and my clothes are fitting better.

So in the fortress of my living room, in front of a T.V. and sofa that won’t mock me, I surreptitiously spin and stomp my pounds away.  It’s not graceful, it’s not pretty, but it’s progress. And somewhere deep down, the fly girl who wants to break out some mad grooves smiles in satisfaction. Don’t ask her to come out in public or “in da club” though.  Seriously don’t.  I’m not that confident.  If you want real dancing, watch the video below.