I was intrigued by the media coverage of the blue moon, enough to do some on-line research into it. I learned the blue moon occurs approximately every 2.7 years, so not as rare as other celestial phenomena such as comets making a visit to the neighborhood, but rare enough to warrant them as special. Incidentally the moon is not actually blue, it is just a full moon that occurs in a month that has already had a full moon. This time the cloudy skies obscured my view and my amateur photography did little to correct for the conditions when I tried to capture it. I suppose if we lived in ancient times the occurrence of this blue moon would be considered auspicious. I’m not sure if it would herald impending disaster or glad tidings. Preferring to live life on the sunny side, I vote for good things to come. As a coastal girl I am tuned into the power of the moon. It pulls on the tide, it sparkles on the water. I find the days and nights around a full moon to be restless. As a teacher I have years of anecdotal evidence that children walk a bit more on the wild side during the full moon phase and I dare say we adults do too. As a child I remember night time car rides when I fancied the moon following us home like a guardian angel. The crescent moon is dear to my heart, it is after all a symbol of my beloved South Carolina. However, the full moon, especially if you can witness it’s rise over water, it is soul-stirring magic. This blue moon seemed to say, “Get ready, great things are coming your way” so I revel in the anticipation. At the very least the blue moon can give us pause to unplug and gaze skyward. We can ponder and dream and that is a powerful thing.
Like the nation and the world, I am horrified by the events on June 17th at the AME church on Calhoun street in Charleston. I weep for the loss of life. I am shocked it happened in such a sacred place. I am sad that such a young person could be filled with such hate. I also am so proud of the grace our community has shown as the events have rapidly unfolded. It has not even been forty-eight hours since this tragedy has unfolded, yet people of all walks in our community have come together in unity. Charleston has long been at the top of lists giving accolades for being polite and friendly. Visitors I am sure wonder if all the yes ma’ams and sirs, the smiles and door holding are sincere or a show we put on for tourists. that politeness and friendliness is just an outward sign, the surface of what underlies our community and it’s values. The true measure of a person is not how they act in happy situations, but how they conduct themselves in adversity and the same is true of a community. We are far from perfect. We have members of our community who do not work for the good of all, but I would argue they are few and far between. In Hurricane Hugo, and other weather disasters, wrongful shootings, animal cruelty, no matter what the adversity the majority in our community comes together to lift each other up. We respond to hate with love. We take on our problems with hope, encouragement and compassion. Maybe it has something to do with being the “Holy City”, we practically have a place of worship on every corner, and that includes all faiths. The church I have posted above has Grace as it’s name. It is where I was confirmed in my faith. Immediately behind it is another church. Several blocks away there are synagogues and many other churches of many other denominations, our city has a long standing history of supporting America’s freedom to worship, one of our country’s founding pillars. Our southern charm is deeper than our friendly hospitality. Our community responds in action that echo our words of welcome and our expressions of love. Charleston is an example of grace in a world that lately seems to have grown a bit dark. Charleston’s Grace is the loving people who call her home.
I have been making a lot of casseroles lately. It seems many friends have need, they have suffered loss or are recovering from surgery and the happier event of having a baby. While I am sure this is true in all communities, it is especially so in the south, any major life event calls for the offering of homemade nourishment, usually the more cheesy and bubbly the better. The true gift of these offerings is not what lies beneath the foil with baking instructions on top, but the tacit message that comes with. You are loved, you are cared for, you are not alone, we grieve with you, we celebrate with you. All this is conveyed with each bite the recipients take in. When you offer that casserole you are feeding the souls not just the bodies of the receivers. I think authors, books and readers are like that too. An author pours a bit of their soul into their work, whether it is fiction or otherwise. While that work might not be written for a specific person, it can have a great impact if it comes in contact with the right person at the right time. As readers we find books we connect to, that feed our soul, inspire us to grow. I always know those books by the way they linger with me for days after I have read the last page. I would like to think some of my work might touch a reader that way. I definitely know a bit of my soul is poured into every story that bubbles up in my brain and spills out onto the page. I think if someone took away books or writing from me the affect would be similar to withholding food. I need to write, even if I am the only one who sees the product. I need to read, it allows me to travel in time, develop empathy for characters unlike me and wonder at the possibilities. Books have been feeding my soul for a lifetime. Authors have given me gifts beyond the stories they have created. I would love to hear what book or author has done this for you if you are so inclined to share. The sharing of a book can be just as nourishing as that casserole of love.
If the sight of a Magnolia blossom is an iconic symbol of the South, then in my humble opinion, the Gardenia would be the signature scent. In late May stepping out into my garden is a heady experience. The fragrance seems to roll off my Gardenias in waves. For me, this classic bloom evokes visions of vintage table linens, heirloom silver and strands of pearls under a moonlit sky. Gardenias speak to the charm and romance that characterizes the South. I also think they speak to the larger than life personality and the strength of South. While the blossom bring to mind white ball gowns, the evergreen leaves symbolize endurance. The powerful fragrance once you have experienced it, is instantly recognizable. The Gardenia, if you will pardon my expression, is no shrinking violet. I like to think southern girls are the same: graceful, unforgettable, and capable of great endurance through the ups and downs of life. So if you come across a Gardenia in bloom, close your eyes, take a deep breath and inhale. I promise it will conjure up the essence of the South and you will fall in love with this magical region I am blessed to call home.
Eight years ago a dear friend who lives on the nearby Isle of Palms, dug a volunteer Magnolia seedling from her yard and transported to my garden. It was basically a stick with two leaves, but I figured what did I have to lose? If it did not survive, I would not feel the guilt that would come from buying a pricy Magnolia seedling from a nursery. If it did survive I would have a visible reminder of our friendship, making it much more than a specimen in my landscape. I carefully selected a spot in my then barren landscape and watered it religiously. the first two years I could actually step over it when I mowed. Now eight years later it is reaching for the sky and has more leaves than I care to take the time to count. I looked forward to this Spring, surely my patience for the sweet creamy saucers that are Magnolia blossoms would be rewarded. Alas I must report I have been disappointed as new leaf after new leaf have unfurled yet no buds or blossoms in sight. There have been a few deer bites on lower branches but I am fairly certain it was only tender leaves that became a treat for my doe-eyed friends. I consulted my gardening bible: Southern Living’s : The Southern Living Garden Book (excellent resource for any who garden anywhere in the American South). I was a bit disheartened to learn that it could take as long as fifteen years until the blooms begin.
Well . . . could be seven more years to wait. I realized this tree is a great metaphor for my writing career. Although I have been a lifelong writer, it has only been a short time that I have been pursuing writing professionally. I am unknown in the publishing world, in a sense you can easily step over my writing. It will be a few more years before my leaves, my pages, are more than anyone would care to count (except possibly an editor). The reality is it may be quite a few years before I am in full bloom. But just like my stick of a tree, with the right nurturing, I will eventually get there. Conventional wisdom tells us the best and most meaningful things in life are worth the wait. Every time I step out my back door or glance out a back window my stoic Magnolia will be a gentle reminder that beautiful things will come my way in their own time. Patience will be my virtuous companion as time progresses on, but I will admit, an earlier bloom for the tree and me would be more than welcome!
Here in the South Carolina lowcountry, bridges are a part of everyday life. We are surrounded by rivers, tidal creeks, marsh,and the inter-coastal waterway. We nestle right up to the Atlantic Ocean. Most of our bridges are non-descript but a few are rather iconic. For years the main bridge connecting Charleston with the then sleepy village of Mount Pleasant was the Grace bridge., It was narrow, one lane for each direction and steep in places, not for the faint of heart. I know many a soul who refused to drive over it. It was a marvel though for its day. Years later a second bridge was built next to it, the idea was one bridge would be for travel in one direction and the other for the reverse. At one time to alleviate traffic lanes were reversed at certain times of day, A daily headache for law enforcement to say the least. These two bridges were often featured by artist renditions of the Charleston skyline. So when it was finally determined that the bridges had outlived their lifespans there was a lot of controversy about the modern bridge designed to replace it. I’ll admit I was one who was not enthused with losing the flavor of the old bridges. When the new bridge was ready to open and before the two old structures were demolished our community had a unique opportunity to run over one span and then back into to Charleston over the other. Now I had experienced being stuck in traffic on the Grace bridge with its narrow lanes and had felt the sway inside my vehicle. I would mutter prayers that I would make it off the bride in one piece. Running over it was sheet terror. Not only did the bridge sway feel like an earthquake, there were literally chunks of road bed missing and you could see down into the choppy water below. I had just driven over these same spots the week before. It truly is a miracle that no vehicle had fallen through and I’ll admit I finally saw the wisdom in tossing out the old and making way for the new. I’ll even admit I love the ease of driving over the new Ravenel Bridge and can even appreciate the modern beauty of the structure, it is a bit like a stylized sail and when it is lit at night it evokes the romance of our southern gem of a city. Which brings me to the bridge you see pictured in this post. As bridges go this is not the most charming or quaint bridge you might come across, but it is sentimental to me. I cross this bridge over the Wando River at least twice a day often more. It has become a touchstone in my life. A place to try and leave the worries of the day behind. A place I check to see is it low or high tide. But it’s days are numbered. Like much of our country’s infrastructure it is crumbling, it has been pressed into service long past it’s lifespan. So, it is being replaced by a concrete, soaring high above the water structure, devoid of character. I am worried I won’t be able to contemplate the water, or check the tide when I have to use it and my little bridge is demolished. Does it seem like we have taken the quaint and charm out of our communities in the name of progress to anyone else or is it just me? In a place like the lowcountry that is filled with such natural beauty shouldn’t we build more aesthetically pleasing structures? Is the modern world so wrapped up in what is happening in the virtual world on various sized screens that it is missing out on what is happening in the real world around them? I find inspiration, reassurance and solace in the vistas I see while crossing the bridges in this magical place I call home. I wonder if I will lose any of that when the new bridge is complete, after all the bridge over the Cooper River was a pleasant surprise. I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it.
I was a bit taken aback this week when the media decided to make a news story that a university study had declared that the simple act of a man opening a door for a woman was rife with the message that said man thought said woman was inferior. WHAT!? I was left scratching my head in confusion. Had the proverbial wool been pulled over my eyes all these years? Did all those men: dates, cousins, my Daddy, friends husbands and boyfriends who had held doors for me secretly think they were superior to me? No, Daddy spent my whole childhood telling me I could be anything I wanted to be and I could do anything I put my mind to, that certainly did not jive with what this study said about his behavior. I always saw a door held as a sign of respect and just plain good manners. I myself hold the door regularly for folks just behind me entering or departing from a building, not even taking their gender into account. I will admit I make the extra effort for my elders, not because I see them as frail incapable beings, but I want to show my respect. I understand that cultural norms of behavior change and evolve, but I would argue a culture devoid of civility and everyday courtesies runs the risk of ceasing to be a culture. I decided to consult my reference book on etiquette, no it is not the version published in the 1920’s that belonged to my grandmother or the 1960’s version one my mother received as a bride, it was the one I received when I graduated from college in the 1990’s and I happen to know there are newer versions out there that address on-line etiquette as well as proper wedding invitations. As I stated before, times change and call for adjustments in the norm for civil behavior, not the absence of civil behavior. I pulled my book off the shelf and found the above paragraph. Note where it points out such behavior is just common courtesy, not a statement on superiority or inferiority. A lot has been made of this study’s findings here in the south, mostly that holding doors and offering arms to women is a badge of respectability and manners for a southern man what is wrong with everyone else? We southerners sometimes think that we hold the market on manners and we do think it is part of a child’s essential education. I would argue it is also true in places like New England, where one of my male cousins who grew up in rural Maine, opened doors and offered an arm on and off boats to women from three to one-hundred. I find it hard to believe that any modern woman feels her intelligence suffers because a man held a door for her and if she does I would question her self-esteem, not if the man in question had a subversive plan to keep that little woman in her place. In this day and age mutual respect between people, shown via common courtesies, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or other identifying qualifiers is what will make our culture thrive. If we remove those acts of respect known as manners then the fabric of our society deteriorates. Not only do manners matter, they are the thread that holds our society together. So as a self-assured modern southern woman, let me finish by saying, “Thank you darlin’ for holding the door. Now, what kindness can I show you? Bless your heart.”
Well I went into my virus a bit on the optimistic side. turns out it was flu and bronchitis, so no leisurely reading in bed or writing, I was lucky to stay awake and follow a thirty minute show on television. I have one more day of meds that keep me a bit fuzzy so writing a new entry seems daunting. I am serious about my commitment to this blog and building my writing career so I am going to attempt a re-blog of an entry I made back towards the beginning of this journey, knowing it has not received much traffic, so to many it may seem new and fresh. I hope you enjoy reading about this place where I live, this place I love, this place that is definitely a muse for my writing :
I am the first to admit I have an irrational love for the Low Country of South Carolina. When I travel away I miss the smell of the pluff mud. My heart skips a beat when I see the waving grasses of the marsh or drive through a tunnel of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. As a child of an army officer I lived in many fabulous places including Europe and Hawaii, but no place has captured my heart or become essential for my soul’s happiness like the Charleston area. I think that is why I view the Low Country more as a character than a setting when I write. C. Hope Clark, the author of several mysteries, the latest, Murder On Edisto, recently published a blog on The Seekers ( you can find it at seekerville.blogspot.com) in which she talks about how the setting not only defines the place, but it also defines her character’s journey. Her love for Edisto in our shared home state sweeps you up and makes you want to be part of it. It got me thinking of other books where the setting drew me in equal to the connections I felt with the characters. I went back to childhood and thought about The Secret Garden. The garden , grew (pun recognized) just as the characters did. I thought about Nancy Drew and though I loved her little town of Riverside, what a thrill when she and her pals went off to places like New Orleans, the place became a character as Nancy, George and Bess interacted with the local culture. Sometimes I read a book set in a place I have never been and the writer makes that place come so alive, I move that place to the top of my travel list. When a writer is passionate about the place they set their tale, they elevate that place, it breathes life in the story, interacts with the characters and touches the heart. I hope as I write my tales set in the place I love, my readers will come to love the place I call my heart and my home.
At the start of each February we American’s get wrapped up in the oddest of traditions. We leave logic and science by the wayside and pin our hopes on a rodent and if said rodent casts a shadow. Now Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania may be the most famous of the spring prognosticators. He certainly garners the most national news coverage. I suspect he has a well-oiled PR machine on par with the A-list celebs. But here in the south we have our own prognosticator (love that word!). In neighboring Georgia resides the venerable General Beauregard Lee. As luck would have it, Beauregard predicted an early spring for us, a much better outcome than the forecast from poor old Phil. Now as rodents go, both Phil and Beauregard are first class characters. I would also point out they have cushy careers, who else works for a few minutes, one day out of the year? It makes me a little curious of how they fill their time the other 364 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes that are left in a year. But, I digress, the point I wanted to make when I sat down to write this entry was despite the craziness of this tradition called Ground Hog Day, it provides us with a light hearted moment in the depths of winter. It reminds us that the winter will pass and spring will come, sooner or later. Turns out it is the message of the tradition more than the prediction that is the true take away. Our lives are filled with traditions, some we share with our fellow man and others are personal to us and our families. If we take a moment and delve below the surface we can gain deeper understanding of our selves and our fellow man. The tradition becomes meaningful, much more than a notation on a calendar. Here in the South one could easily make the argument that tradition has been elevated to an art form. We revel in tradition, we honor and respect the past, appreciate where we came from. We take stock in where we are. Traditions are the shadows of the past that light our way forward. There is a comfort, a sense of stability that traditions provide. While I enjoy new adventures and I am not opposed to (gasp!) altering traditions as the times and necessity might dictate. After all we live in the here and now, even in the South. I find strength in our traditions , they are a framework to the story of our lives. I find value in the way the shadows of the past shine a light in today. So for all the foreseeable Februarys of what I hope is a very long life I will throw logic out the window and wholeheartedly accept the prediction of that rascal of a rodent, General Beauregard Lee.
We have many gifts that did not come wrapped in ribbons or stuffed in a stocking. They came through our DNA. Have you ever pondered where your innate talents and preferences come from? I’m not talking about the things you have cultivated through lessons and practice, but those things that came effortlessly the first time you tried them. Somehow you felt like you had done that before or felt an unexplained connection. Those gifts are from your DNA. We tend to focus on the physical characteristics we inherited from family, “She has her father’s eyes . . . mother’s face.” Sometimes we even recognize that we share the same temperament with a family member or make similar gestures. However when it comes to interests and talents we tend to claim those as our own. Sometimes we give credit to a family member for exposing us to something but I would argue our truly innate talents and heart stirring interests arise from the strands of DNA that were passed down through the ages and came together in the unique pattern to create you. What is my evidence? Well to start with, long before I came to understand that the majority of my dad’s family came Scotland, the sound of a bagpipe created a stirring in my soul. I was drawn to teaching, both my Grandma Sawyer and Great Aunt Helen were teachers, way before I was born or my mother for that matter, married women and mothers did not work outside the home in their day. Great Aunt Helen also ended up with a grand-daughter who made a career in teaching, both of us called to it (Could that be DNA sending the message?). Have you ever been to a place for the first time and felt an instant connection? Check your family history, you may have to dig a few generations back, but I would wager that place was significant in some family member’s life story. I don’t have to dig back very far to find family with the gift of story telling. I have no famous authors in my lineage, but I have multiple family members who were gifted in oral storytelling. As a child I was entertained by their tales of tiny people who lived among us, the family of field mice and their adventures and the love story of Horace and Henrietta the seagulls who lived on the beach in Jonesport Maine. They would spin these tales as if they had written them down, and I so wish they had. As I got older they would tell me the stories of members of the family, loved ones called Doodie and Busty (No, I am not making them up) comical events (holding a fake funeral on the beach to celebrate a birthday) and inspiring stories of persevering through tragedy. These were never just factual recounting, but entertaining and enthralling telling of family lore. Being the branch of the family that traveled the world and this great country with the military, these tales helped me understand who I came from. I would argue this need to story tell I have turned into writing novels was passed down in my DNA. Whether it is a talent, that will be up to my readers to decide, but I can tell you the drive for writing tales seems to be innately driven from within my soul (DNA?). I have tried to keep this idea of inherited traits and gifts in mind as I have developed my character Addie. She is my heroine in Pearls of Wisdom and three more books it will take to tell her story. In these books you will get to know Addie and many members of her family, Especially her mother, grandmothers and a beloved great aunt. I have developed these characters so the reader can see the DNA that makes Addie who she is. Southern women are strong and independent, but they understand the importance of honoring the family that came before them and the gifts bestowed from their DNA. In this season of giving and receiving, ponder on the gifts that your ancestors have given you and if you are so blessed what you may have passed on to your children.
p.s. Wishing you all a joyous time with your loved ones, I am taking a short vacation and will post again January 9th.