Speaking in Tongues

March 27, 2013 § 4 Comments

Sometimes, I have to open up a can of whoop-ass, imported straight from E-KY. If you understood that last sentence, you are my people. If not, let me translate: I have a temper that I was raised to cultivate. It hides most of the time, but when it ventures, blinking, into the light, woe betide he who has brought it out.  I will unleash a stream of acidic words right out of my face. You may have heard that mountain people sometimes speak in tongues.

This duplicity might seem unlikely when I am at my high pitched voice, open-minded teacher, lover of all humanity best, but it’s true: I can be mean as any snake. At least any snake who can speak.  I can almost see some of you shaking your heads in agreement. I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but I recognize it, and everybody needs the element of surprise.

It comes mostly from my mother, but also through my grandmother before her.  I was  taught not to suffer fools. In basketball, I love nothing better than to talk trash. In my mind, I can back it up. You want to take it outside? As a mother, I have found myself yelling at administrators, coaches; I’m best at defense. Sure, sometimes I regret my words. It’s not the most well behaved monster, but it’s part of the family, and I can’t seem to tell it to go away.

I’m not the only one in my family who got this “gift.” When I was a senior in high school, and the Calculus teacher made me cry (another long story), Leigh Ann, who was my 22 year old guardian at the time, called Ms. Woods up and dressed her down.

So, the other night, at Cole’s track meet, I got pissed. Kids were crossing the track casually during the 3200, waving at friends mid-way across as the two-milers plodded through eight laps, breathing heavily, having to almost dodge the dwadlers. I stood up and let loose in the stands: my mother emerged. “Get out the way! Somebody needs to get those kids off the track! Now!” she yelled, out of my mouth. People turned to look. Jack Henry grabbed the sleeve of my coat. Mom, he said. Sit Down.  “No,” Mom said. “Somebody has to tell them.”  He slunk down into his book, the way I’m sure I did as a kid, and I calmed down, sat down. I’m glad my mom was around though, glad to know she’s waiting somewhere deep inside me, keeping my can of E-KY whoop-ass warm.

My Face is Up Here

March 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

We sit, scattered like marbles, in our own corners. Different ages, skin and hair colors, more gray than not, some dyed. I am the youngest by far and a rookie. The look of fear or veiled bewilderment is the only thing we share. Could it really be me? Am I the one in eight?  She’s older, has raised her kids, let it be her.

“Whetstone,” the nurse calls in an Eastern European accent, so it comes out “Vetston.” I am led to the Gulag. Here, I enter a tiny dressing room and undress from the waist up and wipe off my deodorant on her command. I put on a blue apron-like gown that opens from the front to expose one breast at a time. This puzzles me a bit. So much modesty when I will be sticking my bare breasts into a vice grip at any moment? Out of the dressing room, I join four women already dressed in blue gowns, waiting. I feel like we are some kind of cheerleading squad. Give me a B! I think, but decide not to share. They are reading Good Housekeeping and Vogue as if they are Bibles. They might turn to pillars of salt if they look up. They are scouring the pages for good news or weight loss tips. Idleness will make them think too much. So will eye contact. It’s my turn.

The technician, a pleasant, petite woman with an Indian accent, chooses her weapon. It is a narrow pillar with two plates of Lucite, chest high. There are handholds on the sides. I was expecting cold steel. Maybe with blades? How bad could Lucite be? You can see through it. She locks it into place. “Hold the handle and don’t breathe,” she says. Lucite is an evil liar. It can be very bad. I try my best to follow orders because my breast is stretched and pulled onto the shelf and compressed. My breast looks, well, long. Perky may never happen again. “Ow!” I say.

“I have to get close to get a good picture,” she says, as if it is a family portrait. Maybe it is. I hold my breath for the amount of time it takes me to swim across the pool under water.

The torture device guaranteed to make me “just a little uncomfortable” outdoes itself. Why didn’t I go to Med school, with an undergrad degree in electrical engineering? Surely, this innocuous looking, medieval feeling instrument was designed by a man.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Back in the waiting room, clothed again, I see a new crop of faces.  I count off by eight, but only get to six. Maybe it will be one of the ones in the back. I know I shouldn’t hope this, but I do because then I won’t be the one.

The radiologist, a man, shows me my scans. “Nothing to worry about,” he says as casually as you would say, ”cream, oh, and two sugars.” I want to cry, but he is cute and I don’t want him to think I’m irrational. “Are you sure?” I ask.

“Sometimes the tissue presses together and looks suspicious. Some women are lumpy. It is not a growth.”

I want to kiss him on the mouth. I am happy to be lumpy. On the way out, I pass by the waiting room. It is silent and full of awful imaginings. I feel guilty for a second, knowing at least one of these women has a disease that could be killing her as we all watch.

I rush through the doors and take a deep breath.  Safe in my car, I turn on the radio, The Commodores proclaim, “She’s a Brick—House!” The universe has an odd sense of humor.

Run Away! Run Away!

March 10, 2013 § 3 Comments

I ran away last week. I packed up my clothes and my computer and drove two and a half hours away to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, otherwise known as introverts’ heaven.  I showed up on my own schedule, and when I got to the Fellows Residence, it was deserted. There was no welcoming committee, nobody to tell me where to go or what to do. Isn’t there always supposed to be someone to tell you where to go and what to do? I saw more cows and horses around than people.

I found my way to an office where I announced my arrival. “I’m here for a residency?” I said. The calm, quiet woman at the desk nodded. “OK,” she said. “Your keys and everything you need are in your mailbox in the residence. “ I had a mailbox!

“Do I need to do anything?” I asked.

“No, that’s it. Your studio should be ready.”  I had a studio!

The envelope of papers I got had some advice:

“Please do not visit anyone’s studio unless you are expressly invited.”  And:
“Do not feel rebuffed if fellows choose to work, rather than engage in conversation. We are here to take advantage of the quiet time to work that VCCA allows.”

These are my people. I settled into my room and my studio and turned on my computer. I’ve had a novel in my head for a while, and part of it had made it to the page. The rest was waiting in a jumbled pile in my brain. There was always something more important than really diving into it: dinner, grading papers, laundry, TV. But now, I had a week (which I found out was no time at all! People come here for six weeks!) to crank out as many words of this story as I could. Nobody cared about anything about me, except that I was a writer. It said so on my name tag.

Turns out that once you decide to focus on one thing though—they would take care of meals, cleaning, a space—you have to face the fact that there is nothing holding you back from your own work, but you.

Each morning, I would get up and force myself to dive in. Sometimes it smarted. It took a while to quiet my mind and listen only to the words I wanted to put out there. There is a single bed in each studio (for naps!) And I took advantage of it.  I told you, these are my people. I stopped for meals with other writers, artists, composers, and then I would slip into bed to read until I fell asleep, exhausted from trying to make something out of air. Nobody expected anything from me all week, except maybe the horse I fed apples to and me. Nobody is asking me to write a book. As the wire walker in a movie Jeff and I watched, Man on Wire says, there is no why.

I expected to get words on a page, and I did. I have no idea if they’re good, and I’m not going to show them to anyone for a while, but they are there. For that, and for this place, I am very grateful.

Where Am I?

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