Saturday, April 4, 2020

Find my books on Amazon!

Fiction or nonfiction. I enjoy writing in a variety of genres, just as I enjoy a variety of visual art mediums.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Keep Going! (Memoir, part 2.)

Winston Churchill said, "If you're going through hell, keep going." I concur. Stubbornness has saved me a lot of grief. Not that it hasn't made other grief, but that's not the story I'm about to tell.

The part of Kentucky I've always known is different from the rest of the world, and it has its peculiarities even over most aspects of Appalachian culture. It's insular, though that's easing up.

It was once known as The Land of Saddlebags, thanks to a book of the same title by James Watt Raine. Roads in and out were scarce. One rode a horse or mule, or walked, to get around. There were nurses who traveled so among the hills, playing midwife, and librarian women who came to bring books to the back of beyond. It was a place full of diversity and was a big source of exports prior to the Civil War.

Since the people saw little of the outside world, though bigots touted the supremacy of white skin, the truth was very different. People went to church on Sunday, because it was a measure of conformity, and because they had been raised to do so. Faith is a word with many facets, good or bad.

I was there when my great-grandmother was laid out by the funeral home; no one saw fit to block a child from the truth, life always ending in death. (Since my mother was a beautician, I saw her do hair and make up on many corpses.) I was there, too, when my grandmother was laid out. Also my mother. Three generations of women. Many aunts, uncles, cousins, and even a sibling lay there on that same slab, and most of them I said goodbye to before the fancy dressing and padded box stage. Death terrifies us all until we get a close look at it; after that, it's the dread of the unknown that keeps us all hopping.

My great-grandmother always said, "I don't fear dying, but I do fear the sting of the asp." (In her far-older version of English, what she said was actually more like, "Ah don' fear a-dyin', jus' fear th' sting o' the asp, childern.") That's a reference to the King James Bible, Proverbs 23:32, "At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." The way she said it, it sounded more like she was afraid of snakes. I was a teenager, before I understood what she meant. When she lay dying, her organs simply worn out with age at beyond 100 years of use, the nurses tried to tell my mother what was going on, and stuck on that old memory, Mom turned to me and said, "What must I do?"

Dad wasn't there, having had to go do something else. I was. I thought about it, having heard the options of forcing food or giving IV fluid to prolong life, which would disrupt the euphoric state of painless brain function, and I had seen the rapid eye movement and halting breath of my ancestor. I stood up straight and answered. "Mom, you have to let her go. She deserves peace. She's been there for this family for a century. She can't stay forever. Let her have this grace. Go sit with her and tell stories that would make her laugh."

Mom didn't see the nurse wilt with relief and flip me a thumbs-up. She just nodded and sat back down to hold her grandmother's hand. The woman told me later she had been so afraid Mom would fail to make a clear decision, as she had done before. Dad had spoken with her earlier, and explained the problem.

In a region where being able to buy liquor is a milestone of adulthood, I sat down beside the old woman, memorized her glaucoma-blasted eyes, the hooked nose, the strong cheekbones and skin as brown as my own, but at an advanced age, and thought about her stories. When Dad came back, he spoke with the nurses first, before coming in the room. He gave me a nod. I turned my seat over to him and went for a walk around the facility.

When my grandmother passed, it was a similar scene. Though my Mamaw was about a foot shorter than her mother, and blonde before the gray came in, the same hooked nose and cheekbones lay beneath the marks of aging. I was with both my parents when they died, and have seen other deaths occur. The worst of it is that I developed a need not to allow anyone to die alone, if I could help it.

It's a part of our culture. From the cradle to the grave, the land calls us home. Different churches, different beliefs, but a stubborn solidarity throughout.

All of the elderly people I grew up around used sea-going phrases or sayings that developed in faraway lands. I can remember a few.

"Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor's delight."
"Gag at a gnat, swallow a camel."
"That's the straw the broke the camel's back."  
"In for a penny, in for a pound."

Mamaw (Mom's mother) used an old story to scare me when she thought I was misbehaving. A figure of raw hide and bloody guts, lurking in the chimney. I later found it was a Cherokee story, turned around. Instead of a smoke hole, she used "chimney." I was forbidden to eat fish and drink milk in the same meal... a food taboo I still can't place.

In the mists of time, much is lost. Information not written down fades away, and new generations must either replace it or build new. It's all about the story we come from, and where we're going in it. Things not passed along, parts of family history, are done so at a price too precious, in my opinion. Hiding shame or displaying a lack of dignity is a stone flung into a pool where the ripples never end.

Death is not the end, but a passing of the torch; the disapproval of elders is a scourge used on the most rebellious. We stand up straight, to make our mistakes or successes with equal dignity, or we hide beneath a garden of stony silence.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Voices Make Me Do it. [Writing sample and commentary.]

The Appalachia, specifically Kentucky, that I knew in my childhood is fading fast. People were different back then, more down to earth and practical. That doesn't mean they were or are lacking compassion; the opposite is true. The proof is in the music and arts made popular by their ease of use on front porches, where swatting summer mosquitoes and singing off key while frogs sang all night out at the pond was the usual evening entertainment. Cold ice tea, beer, fried chicken, and biscuits. Home. To remember is to carry forward the battle, a blended culture based on story telling. A region respecting the art of bards.

There are few songs in Appalachian music to rival the bittersweet beauty of Put My Little Shoes Away. In the song, a dying child asks its mother to put away its most treasured belongings, a pair of little shoes. "Give them all my toys, Mother, but put my little shoes away..." It's tragic and vivid. It cries out to our heritage, the strength of generations of immigrants, poverty and struggle versus hard work and honest profit.

From time to time, fragments of the past float up in my brain, creating voices where none existed, almost as if time and experience have created spirits that refuse to lie down and rest. When that happens, I have to let it flow. Open the valve, let it flow. Otherwise, the pain of silence is unbearable.

The following is what became of one such inner episode:

Momma says I shouldn't talk to strangers, but you're a neighbor, so it should be ah'ight. Them's right purty flow'rs you got there; I bet my granny would like 'em. She grows all kinds o' flow'rs. Momma says hit's a waste o' time, a waste of good sleepin' hours. Momma's at work down at the rest'rant right now.

Yesterday hit rained, I know. Got a lot o' mud puddles in th' road. I like to ride my bike through 'em, but Momma gits mad when I git m' good clothes dirty. She says she reckons warshin' clothes hain't a good pass-time when you're tired.

Lookee, I got me a candy-bar. Momma just got the food-stamps; they call that "SNAP Benefits" now, she said, but hit's the same thing. 'Long 'bout the end of the month, won't be no candy, cause the money and the food stamps done run out. So's I make 'em last, the two candy-bars I git. Got a Pay-Day so there wouldn't be choc'late to melt in my pockets. Purty smart, eh? Well, I miss the choc'late. But not as much as I like the sweet lastin'.

Yessum, I know that, an' I brush my teeth. When Momma can get some toothpaste. Some of the bristles is gone outta m' toothbrush, but I still use it. Hain't got 'nother'n. Just the one. But it still works. Momma says soap an' soda's about all she can handle paying for, an' toilet paper. Gotta have gas t' git t' work, an' hit's precious to buy. Can't waste ary dollar on frippery, Granny says. Momma says 'yes ma'am'.

Momma sleeps a lot. I gots a key to the house, see? Granny sleeps a lot too; she says she's just restin' her eyes. Granny's supposed to watch me, but I wake her up before Momma gits home and we sit an' eat sammidges in front of the TV with ice-tea. Gotta knock that dang cat outta the way, ever' time. Sits on the footstool and scratches them fleas like hit was a preacher poundin' on the pulpit a-Sunday. Granny calls 'at cat names, then tells me not to say 'em. Not fair, I call it.

Yesterday I helped weed the garden an' pulled up some plants I wasn't s'posed to. That's where 'at bruise come from. Momma said she's sorry, just so tired she can't think straight. Worrit, I reckon, 'bout Granny an' me an' the 'lectric bill. We all gotta drain on Momma. I split out a pair of jeans an' ripped a shirt last month when some kid called me a welfare bastard, whatever that is, an' I pounded his head some. Momma was still upset over bein' woke up by the school an' replacin' my clothes, so the garden thing hurt more. I didn't mean to harm, hit just happened while the sweat was runnin' in my eyes. Reckon the bruise'll heal. Usually does.

Well, I gotta run now. 'Bout time to feed Granny an' git me a bolony sammidge too. Momma'll be home soon. Work t' do. 'Bye, now.

This is a work of fiction (social commentary, a story told by a storyteller) based on composite fact, told in the voice of a child living in the hills of Appalachia, dealing with the problems of his youth as has every one of his ancestors has done before him. Times change, problems remain, yet the people endure and adapt as they must, and go on.

Copyright: author R.L.M.Tipton (Home page

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The hard part? (Memoir.)


     The Hard Part? 


The hard part is the beginning.
A body has no choice about who, what, when, why, or how. You have to go along for the ride.

It all started in a Lexington hospital, a ten month baby staring, confused, into the light of an early morning, bereft of a warm shelter. Dad was there with my siblings, when the doctor ran out into the waiting room, threw wide the towel he'd wrapped me in, and said, "It's a girl, see?"

It had to improve from there, trust me. There have been ups and downs. So far, I've handled whatever came at me. I hope I've done so with a measure of enduring aplomb, but hey, I'm still new at this. Aren't we all?

Growing up in eastern Kentucky during the early 1960s was a unique experience. I remember my mother's grandmother well; she was born in Clay County, Virginia, and came "west" when she was about ten years old, in a caravan of wagons with her family and others. That was around 1901, according to what I was told. They had sheep, a form of livestock I didn't become remotely familiar with until I was in my thirties.

I wasn't a "normal" child by today's standards. I was late born, my parents old enough to, technically, be my grandparents. I knew both of my mother's parents and my father's mother. Yet I had siblings who were teenagers shortly after my birth.

Intruder! Yes, that's me. And I did make the most of it. After I got a pair of eyeglasses, especially. It's kind of hard to be a kid trying to conquer the world when you can't see where the hell you're going.

I've survived, nonetheless, to a little over half of Mom's mother and grandmother's ages... they lived to be over 100. Mom, alas, made it to 88, as did Dad, before passing on. I survived with a healthy phobia for nursing homes and hospitals, and a long string of odd skills that seem to be fading away from the Appalachian heritage.

If you can't hunt, fish, preserve meat and vegetables, work leather, grow a garden, handle horses and hunting dogs, or drive a mule in the log woods, you've got a lot of catching up to do where I'm concerned. I was outside more hours than inside, as a child, and had the brown skin to prove it.

Mom remembered being a small child among her young cousins, taking the colorful beads and ribbons of her paternal grandmother's ceremonial clothing while the old woman rocked, crying unashamed tears, knowing that the time was coming when her children's children would have to pass as white in an intolerant world. I was born with a full head of long, black hair over light olive skin, a throwback who turned brown when kissed by sunlight. On some level it bothered my mother. I remember screaming in pain when she tried to use Ajax or Commet, some gritty scrubbing cleaner, with a harsh brush, in a very misguided effort to remove the "black" from my elbows and knees. Thankfully, Dad heard me and stopped her. When I say it was painfully funny, I mean that in all ways.

To sum it up, the family story is of a strong measure of Cherokee and some Choctaw genetics in the family. We all had or have scoop-teeth in front, along with other physical markers. There is no registry involved, no genetic testing being suitable either, and so it rests. I can give nothing to the Nations, and so I ask little of them beyond my usual, which is "Teach me." It will have to be good enough.

Papaw (Mom's father) taught me to make a fish trap. Mamaw (or Granny... Mom's mother) , taught me to cook and can. Dad taught me gardening, hunting, fishing, how to process all those meats and present them as edible, and to walk the woods with understanding. He also taught me horsemanship, how to train dogs, and how to learn well without a formal education. My great-grandmother, born circa 1881, told me stories while I sat in her lap; she was blind, and I helped her clean and break beans or peas, my stubby fingers already skilled with a paring knife as I cleaned away the bad spots for her.

When you grow up seeing the world through the eyes of the past, even a summer hide, a worthless, thin, almost transparent summer hide isn't quite as worthless as some would have it. Even a bluepelt has the makings of rawhide.

A brief glimpse into The Glimmerings. (Novel excerpt.)

An excerpt from an older novel series: fantasy of the magical realism flavor.


Something about the shape of that elderly female face worried him momentarily. She flipped something dusty at him, a substance with a delicate scent of herbs and something else held in the cloud of its passing. It glimmered, a faint glow suffusing the powdery stuff as it left her hands. When it hit him, he staggered as if slammed into by a large, heavy object.

He heard the person say in a voice shimmering like delicate silver, yet hard as tempered steel, May your body reflect the size of your functional soul, and may only the scent of your haven release you to be whole and fulfilled. Once, twice, thrice, by the truths of the veils, so mote it be.
A roaring wave of violent, rushing nausea swept over Logan. He aimed with sudden precision for the men’s loo door, the light around him somehow seeming to have turned a spring-leaf-green. In the bathroom, he was thoroughly sick. He wiped his dripping face with a damp paper towel, aching shudders racking his body. A slick of sweat coated him and Logan yearned for a place to rest where the cool air might soothe his misery.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Starting over.

Established readers of this blog will notice that I've removed the past postings from it. I'm changing my life to focus on things that make me happy. I'm exhausted with the whole anxiety-for-pseudofun-and-profit game. This is my life. I intend to make the most of what's left.

Stay tuned for changes.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Adventures come in all sizes. (A nonfiction story.)

Living off-grid can be an adventure. The wildlife can be large or small, but conflicts occur regardless of size. Or so I found...

Note: We now use mint oil and bay leaves to repel mice. I've never liked having to kill anything without good reason. At the time this was written, the woodland rodent population had decided to overtake our residence. They were making havoc in everything, even the big packrats finding a way in (I'm still missing some socks!) to carry things off, especially soft or shiny items. The cat, poor little girlie, was delighted with all the live toys; she was raised in-town, and had no idea about killing anything. She learned fast. From me.

                                                             B-Movie Mouse

Tossing and turning all night, dreaming repetitive dreams of visiting and helping to cook a huge meal in someone else's kitchen, waking up sweaty over and over, the air not moving at all. Nothing making a move except with the whine of a hunting mosquito.

Finally the alarm clock went off, just the buzzer on my cell phone (I'm almost always awake before the ringing actually starts) vibrating the headboard of the bed. I turn it off fast, lie still in the tangled, damp summer sheets, and pray for strength to rise and at least fake shining.

A trip to the bathroom. I hear a mousy squeak on the other side of the wall, and think, "Yeah, Lucy Jo finally got that damned mouse again! Finally." She'd played with it about a week ago, and I hadn't seen or heard it since then, though I knew she'd been watching it off and on.

I stump stiff-footed back to get dressed by the light of my clip-on flashlight. Just the basics. Fill my pockets with phone, a tiny spare flashlight, a small pocketknife, and clip my watch onto a belt loop. A pair of soft, comfortable cushion-y shoes made of foam-plastic of some sort.

Back to the bathroom to wash up a bit prior to making coffee and breakfast, a wet washcloth to clear the sweaty-face and the sandman's leavings from the corners of my eyes. I bite back a cracking yawn; bugs like to flit about under the flashlight, and I don't care for the taste of adventurous bug much.

I start to turn away from my tiny mirror, and then I hear it, realizing at last that the squeaking is a lot closer than it had been. When I look down as I turn, I see why: Lucy Jo is at my feet, looking up at me with big, joyous eyes.

"Look, Mom! I found that great toy again. Wanna play?" She seemed to indicate, looking happily from me to the mouse.

The mouse. Ah, the mouse. It was sitting less than the width of my hand, perhaps three inches, from the cat's nose, squeaking at the top of its lungs. Obviously, it was giving a mouse-to-cat cussin' that went beyond the average rodential rant. It ignored me totally. 

It hopped at the cat, seeming to rave madly in its tiny, tinny voice. "Put up your dukes, you damned feline! I swear by the Great Cheese, I'll tan your hide to nest in! Go on, y' great fool! You couldn't keep me caught last time, so why should I be afraid now? COME AND GET ME, CAT!"

I shook my head. I wasn't hearing the words, I swore to myself, I wasn't. It was merely an early morning, before the first cup of my beloved, acid-strength coffee.

Just then, Lucy Jo peeked at me again, and did a small, delicate cat-squeak of delight. "Oooh, look, Mommy! It wants to play. Play with us, please-please-please!"

The deer-footed field mouse never let up once. It was giving the cat pure hell and hopping around in a purely pugilistic manner.

I squeezed my eyes shut and reopened them, hoping the illusions would go away and I'd wake up to see that it was too early for the alarm to go off after all... but when I opened my eyes, they were still there, and I could clearly hear Ronnie snoring from his prone position on the big, soft bed.

"Lucy, please tell me you're going to go ahead and kill that thing. It's way past time." I mumbled aloud.

Inwardly snarling, I considered: foam-plastic shoes. What were the odds...? Oh, well. Here goes.

The mouse had maneuvered to between me and the cat, back to me. Ignoring me still. Lucy Jo was starting to look puzzled, wondering no doubt why I wasn't playing with her wonderful mouse, er, toy.

So I stomped the mouse. Foam-plastic shoes and all.
Sometimes one just has to stand up and protect the resident cat.

When I stepped back, by the light of the clip-on, I saw the mouse standing still. Stunned, at least. I waited. It slowly slumped forward, sneezed out a tiny blast of blood, and spasmed once.

Ahhhhh, no more mouse dancing a challenge to the resident cat. Or me.

Lucy looked first confused, then insulted. I quickly pulled over a box half full of clean litter and propped it over the little carcass. No way I was going to let her eat it after it acted so crazy!

Ronnie, hearing the noises, managed to ask me what was going on. I told him to go back to sleep, that it was all a bad dream, and any rate I hadn't had my coffee yet. He was snoring again before I got through speaking.

Oh, but that coffee tasted so good. I sat and sipped it quietly in the dark of morning, by the usual candle-light, while watching Lucy Jo wander about the house. She kept calling to the mouse as if it were a kitten: "B'ahw? B'ahw?" But her search was in vain.

Ahh, coffee... maybe it was all a bad dream, after all.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Into every life a little rain must fall. Pray for wildflowers to grow. (My world.)

     The woodlands of Kentucky are green, green, green. Early summer is upon us in our peaceful hermitage residence. The gardens we started putting in as soon as the snows had passed are coming to fruition. They too are green, green, green. We eat fresh food, a blessing the earth provides if given a good change, and we eat it without the involvement of chemicals or heavily science-forced forms of life. Every day is a new day, nature-welcomed. 
     Blackberries already bend their canes, though the season is far yet from their ripening. We are preparing to make cherry jelly and preserves from fresh-picked, chemical-free fruit. The promise of clean-grown peaches and quince awaits, with apples for the late season. We've located a persimmon tree with uncommonly large fruit, and when the summer is gone, we'll be visiting there...with luck, before the opossums find the frost-kissed goodies. 
     Work is where you find it. If you can't make cash, make food. 
     Cabbage: sauerkraut. Broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, onions: mixed pickle. Beets: fresh leaves for salad and sweet-pickled treats. Sweet potatoes and 'Irish' potatoes: winter filler. Pimiento peppers: salads, stored in brine. Green beans: canned in jars, very valuable winter fare. Corn: canned, frozen, dried and ground into meal. Bell peppers: pickled, frozen, served stuffed with rice and other vegetables and topped with cheese? Onions: fresh and green, pickled, stored with potatoes for winter use. Spaghetti squash: keeps well all winter in a cool dim place for baking. Sugar snap peas: salads, cooked whole with potatoes and cornbread? Herbs! Sage. Rosemary. Mints. Kitchen flavorings of all kinds: include cilantro, from which the seeds are coriander. Basil. Jalapeno peppers, cayenne peppers. 
     We do not labor over food production, but work within its needs and abilities. Wide-row gardening does not require rototilling, constant disturbance of the earth, nor a great deal of water. Hoe work, chopping out the rows? It doesn't happen; there is no need. Given a chance, the plants themselves will do most of the work. 
     Weeds? A weed is a plant you don't know the use of ... yet. Weeds proliferate at the edges of our garden, but the bug populations do not: the insects who invade gardens prefer a wide selection of their native plants, which are not available in 'traditional', high-labor gardening. Given feast or famine, a bug will eat a plant it doesn't care for normally, just as a truly hungry child will. We do not use noxious chemicals to aid our work, but let the plants themselves have a chance through more natural means. 
     Consider companion planting: many plants benefit one another. Certain combinations can be wonderfully cooperative, or dismally dissatisfied to the 'Green People' (plants). Aphids on your roses? Plant some chives in a pot and set it near the roses. Chives repel aphids!
     A man by the name of Fukuoka came up with some very efficient and creative methods as well. Natural farming! Do-Nothing Farming! But real and a serious way to combat hunger. 
     Gardening-By-The-Square-Foot falls right into place alongside these methods. 
     I refuse to fear Nature, for she is me. Together, we breathe the same air, drink the same waters, set our feet to the same earth, and stumble over the same hardships and stones along the way. 
     Living with green things, gardening, is not a mathematical undertaking. It is a Zen kind of Way, a method or philosophy of growth and well-being carried into the needs of the future. Gardening IS.

     In this little piece of the world, life is precious. Pain is a blessing, for it tells you something is wrong. It can be endured but not ignored. Nor should it permit life to be perceived as any less precious.

     It is well known, across many faiths, that for every thing, there is a reason and a season for its being. For every ill, there is some form of peace to be found. Every wildflower, every living thing, is holy in its own being. For the serpent of the dim places, the gnawing of their prey, rodents, for the bugs, the arachnids who can and do poison either through some gift of evolution on their own or by chance. Every thing. Every part of the whole need not be a thing of beauty to every other part. It need only be. 
     We, poor stumbling learners, must find our own Way. 
     I pray for wildflowers to grow. I walk slowly in the gift of summer rain, and touch the earth with seeds whenever possible, looking for a way to make the world a little better. I am an imperfect vessel seeking any glimpse of the perfection of the whole. 

     Grow. Love the rain. Be. Life IS.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Mystery (poem)

Original digital art from an original photo, "Pony Romp". Copyright 2012 by RLMT/blog-author.

A Mystery

Do Bumblebees

     Sleep in the rain?

Do they shower and snore

          With a rainbow before

Pulling petals

     Up tight beneath chins?

The rainbow is sure

     To share its colors anew

Each time the flowers

          Dance under summer showers

The music all played

     In wind.

While the impossible wings

     No longer hum

To carry the impossible aloft,

          From city to croft

The children all sing

     Of the bumblebee's love.

From the wilds of the barnyard

     Comes a dancing mambo string

Of pony hooves lacing the air

          No gypsy's fine fair

Could parade with such sparkle

     Nor could racers do more to display.

The impossible horse

     On impossible feet

Waltzing without mathematical design

          Makes the scientist resign

To see magic alive on the hoof

     In the form of the horse.

A field of daisies and timothy grass

     A haven, a heaven to know

Where the bumblebee may sleep

          The birds of the field do cheep

And glorious horses run

     On impossibly tiny quick feet

I look for impossible clues

     Amid beauty and color,

The impossible blooms,

          The mystery resumes,

And all of nature's design

     Is genius true in its grace.

A ride on the horse is impossible yet

     It makes my heart play tunes

Seeking one chance

          To visit in trance,

One solitary creature asleep.

          ...Do bumblebees sleep in the rain?

Friday, May 3, 2013

* And it came to pass * [poem with photos]

Pony. Copyright c. 2008, by RLMT.

 And It Came to Pass

And it came to pass
          I sat
Among a tabernacle of oaks
     Where I was counseled
On the wisdom
     Of strength

And it came to pass
          I stood
Among a choir of willows
     Where the song counseled
On the wisdom
     Of flexibility

And it came to pass
          I walked
Among the beech and sassafras
     A varied counseling
On the wisdom
     Of diversity

And it came to pass
          I lay down
Atop a mound of moss
     A peaceful counseling
On the wisdom
     Of wasting nothing

And it came to pass
          The earth spoke
The voices of her children
     Resonant from the hills and mountains
On the wisdom
     Of all things lofty and green

A harmless greensnake. Copyright c. 2010, by RLT.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Creation [of] stories.

Stories pervade our lives; we are as much creatures of story as we are creatures with a wonderful adaptive thumbs and large, amazing brains. Not merely our waking lives, but also our sleeping hours are rich with tales and legends, often yet to be told aloud. It is our nature as we age to tell or share our stories more and more often, for in this way, we can both teach and learn without the trauma of hard experience. Nature built into us an admirable tool to help newer generations to remember, and perhaps avoid, the mistakes of the past both large and small.

Poppy. Taken in my own front yard. (c) 2000, by RLMT

Stories are our lives. We are stories in the making. We carry some stories within, often thinking of personal shame or error, and yet our actions tell stories we cannot free our tongues to speak. 

A tiny cholera graveyard in eastern Kentucky. (c) 2000, by RLMT

Writer's block (a catch-all term for an assortment of causes writers often claim forever stops the telling of stories) is in itself a mythical creation. If one can talk or communicate in any way, there is no such malady. To live is to be and tell a story.

Writers who claim total block will sit over a cup of coffee or tea with a friend and continue to spin tales of their pet, an elderly relative, or a child's antics ... without pause. Without a hitch. The story loops, be it a broken flower pot or a death by possibly unnatural causes, comes from the root of all evolution: life. There is no hesitation in the telling; the whole rigamarole, though laden with speech errors (ah, hmm, er, erm...) rolls out smooth and easy, perhaps too much so in some cases.

My mother's childhood home on Spaus Creek, in Powell County, KY (destroyed by vandals several years ago). (c) 1995, by RLMT/RLT. 

Stories both hurt and heal, forever moving us forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. We are wedded for life to an environment we cannot divorce. It is a marriage of need, not merely convenience or of love.

A painting in progress, still unfinished today. (c) 2001 by RLMT

Love your stories. Let them breathe with their own life, let them grow! Create, sharing experience with a change of perspective inherent in each one. Embrace that storied self, for the stories cannot be separated from who you are and what you are, or from all you live for and among. There is no block if you choose it to be so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Welcome to my world. (Environmental rambling.)

            Springtime is gently tinted in memory, a pallet of pastels, the baby scents of birth and gentle things.  Summer is a blast furnace of high activity, sweat; it's a crucible of ripening, a labor in preparation for a winter's icy unkindness.  My favorite time is that space when summer kisses goodbye to sweaty, blooming romance and settles into a satisfaction of harvest-time.

            Though I cannot point to a favorite kind of animal (each of them has their own merits and beauties), nor to a favorite color, even, I can still take a breath any day of the year and bring to mind those sweet August nights of cool mist.  I can smell those precious, juicy late-season tomatoes and almost touch the odor of homegrown sweet basil, that spicy mint-family herb that blends so well into tomato dishes, or with buttered new potatoes.  I can see the tall, vivid purple tops of ironweed, and the elegant silver-mauve heads of Joe Pye weed leaning heavy with brilliant, fluttering butterflies, themselves like gypsy petals of some exotic, mobile bloom, all of it scattered among goldenrod and wild sunflower or the fading heads of Jerusalem artichoke.             
            A land of green, passing into phases of purples and golds, royal in its independence of spirit, blessed by people of surpassing stubbornness and resourceful ways.  Though a king or queen might scorn these hills, so would the land scorn such a ruler.  Yet in the easternmost provinces of the state, there is a dark-hearted king with no golden crown, who would gladly destroy it all without a backward glance.

            The battle is heart-rending; the ancient connection of people for land, and for those who would – in the name of love and survival of family – agree to destroy the foundations of what has been termed an 'internal nation of lesser means'.  Before the so-called 'Civil War', this land called Kentucky was a rich provider; that information has been quelled and warped, lost in the struggles of change.  Where once sheep and geese grazed, where hogs fattened and cattle ranged loose with only ear-notches or brands to point out ownership, the carpetbaggers laid claim.  They have never left.              In the creation of a historical novel, one need not be special.  Only a few things might be good to know:





Or perhaps broken down more clearly:

         Food production and preservation

         Farming for profit or trade

         Shelter forms and construction

         Animal production, including that of burden beasts

         Animal training (guard, burden/riding, etc.)

         Tool production, including raw resources such as metals or wood, ceramic, and more

         Leather production and working

         Sources of religions/faiths and their customs or conflicts

         Historic past of various peoples and their relationships

         Trade routes, methods and means

         Roads and transportation

         Production of misc. household needs

         Recreational habits and so on

         Common names and cultural drift information

         Landscape realities and requirements

         War repercussions, uniforms, etc.

         Lingual drift

         Song and legend

         Medicine/healing practices

            That's only a part of it; there is of course a great deal more, including a working knowledge of a good many then-vital trades that either no longer exist, or exist now only in terms of artisans and tourism application.  Blacksmiths still shoe horses, but will someone please tell me where to find a cooper who still makes wooden barrels for storage?  Therefore, research (including some hands-on), and a huge amount of careful proofreading and editing is mandatory.  It's not quite as easy as it seems.

            In the last few months, I have had people who never tried to write anything try to convince me that this is nice, easy, sweat-free work.  I have consistently and openly told them they're sadly ignorant of the facts.  Some of them haven't liked this opinion.  Oh well.  The truth is the truth, I tell them.  I suggest, "Go on, try it.  If you can do it easier than I can, I'll gladly give you a public apology.”  I seal it with a wide, toothy grin. They subside for a while.  Bless 'em.

            A novel cannot be written in ten-minute increments, though the making of it rests there.  It is a heart-rending labor; if the story one has to tell comes from the depths of understanding born of a lifetime spent in the center of it, it's infinitely worse.

            Since starting the most recent novel, which by the way I refuse to abandon as 'too hard' or 'too involved', I have had many long nights of no real sleep, lying in a sort of stasis, unable to move, while various characters lived out significant chunks of their lives in my head.  I will, I swear, always insist that when this story is fully written (if it doesn't become some sort of life-long cancer of the dream-making portion of my brain) it was the voices in my head that made me do it.  Not ten minutes at a time, either.

            All of this and more, I am learning.  No longer young, saddled with lameness in a chronic, recurrent way, I cannot run.  I am too old to want to hide, preferring to stand until I cannot, leaning into the storm winds, feeling hard stones beneath my feet to remind me of reality.  If there be harness sores and scars, so be it.

            In my scribble-book, a common spiral-bound student's notebook, there are notes for three new chapters not yet roughed in.  Visual artist that I have always been, I liken those to charcoal sketches on a blank canvas.  I need to work on them before time blurs the lines and I have to start again.  Some of the chapters are in a fair but far from perfect state of editing.  They will and do need more work. A few pieces, some designed to be interspersed among the ordinary chapters, will also need editing further, clarifications and expansions or trimming all routine.             
            The finished product should be 80,000 words or more.  The average writer produces about 500 to 1,500 words per session... if undisturbed.  At 500 words per working day (not always possible), it would take around 160 sessions to complete it at the basic word-count number of 80,000.

            In short, this means that the writer has to beg, borrow, steal, or browbeat those scant hours out of an ordinary life's day.  Around spouses, aging parents, illness or death among family or friends, other work if it applies, pets, children and their personal needs and social lives, and so on.  Ergo, something has to give.  Usually, or so I'm told, a writer's social life goes first.  Then the juggling begins.  A real space to work in is hard to find: not area, really, but undisturbed space.  Privacy to concentrate.  Room to stare out the window, just breathe, and to let things happen.

            Unfortunately, it's a social reaction of family and friends to assume that a person staring out a window is not busy.  Perhaps they need entertained.  Alternatively, have time to run an errand.  Or want a bowl of ice cream, or ... oh yes, indeed, please turn up the television in one room, the stereo in another, and someone please try to yell over all the din and ask what the belabored writer wants for supper...  "Are you crying?"             Passing the tissues won't help.  Locked doors don't help.  Headsets and nature sounds don't help.  Screaming won't help, from either side.  Silence becomes precious and escape is mandatory.

            From a state of desperation, I have more than once escaped into a mountainside cow pasture with my laptop, notes, research books, and a pair of binoculars to use in checking on someone mowing the hillsides.  From that vantage point, on (let's say) a cool mid-August day, I sat in a worn-out old Jeep Cherokee with its sand-laden, threadbare carpets, and write.  Such a day is pure peace by comparison to the usual flood of interruptions.              
            Crickets singing in the shade, grasshoppers zinging around trying to escape the neighborhood birds, a distant old dog barking as if half bored to tears.  There is the smelly stink of tomato vines and the contrasting sweet, salt-blessing odor of ripening tomatoes.  A couple of horses amble by from time to time, going or coming from grazing to salt block, or to where a small spring gives them clean water in the shade of gnarled black willows.  One of them snuffles my elbow curiously; I find comfort in patting her neck and swatting a couple of horse-flies companionably, stretching a bit,  then going back to work with my stress levels much reduced by the encounter.  I work with short breaks until after the sunlight gets too weak to see the first round of notes.                
            Book after book I've peeled through, taking notes for more work to come, by the light of a tiny flashlight held determinedly in my teeth in order to free both hands up to work, even while the tractor’s being serviced in preparation for another day's mowing.  The next day is much the same.                
            In memory, I suspect I'll always tag those days as being the key to my mind.  Green mountainsides, all full of things I can relate to in some way.  Here I was born, upon this land to live, and such shall I endeavor to fulfill, if I have half a century or so left in me.  When these mountains are gone, when the hillsides are flattened and gone forever, trickling springs, wild things, and all, I intend to leave my spirit behind to remember them as they were, as they were created to be. Let them change only in the fullness of a time I do not have, even as I dream on, willing only the leaving of a few stories behind in some way.

            No, I am not a 'writer' or 'novelist' or 'poet' yet; I may never truly be any of those.  I can only borrow stories from the world I come from, and hope they live longer than I do, with richer lives much improved from those I have lived to see or learn of in my limited time.  Just as every other dreamer before me who took up opening a window on a favorite season -- the brittle, glassy rage of muffled winter, the birth-cry of mud-rich spring, or the sultry green grace of summer, perhaps, unlike my own glorious autumn memories.

            The memories I have are of sitting around a fire on my father's knee, spoiled and petted by his rough-cut friends, who invariably smelled like the Beagle hounds they listened to chasing rabbits in the cool night, often holding a handful of gorgeous colored leaves as I dozed off wrapped in his warm jacket and singular scent.  Then of course half-waking up in the truck seat (it smelled like horses and molasses-laced chewing tobacco or cigarettes) as we jounced our way home from the meeting place.

            This time of year is a reminder of a proud but blind great-grandmother who loved those strange tall flowers one rarely sees any more, with their purple and white blooms and tiny bean-like seedpods dangling down; she asked me to take her to them in the yard, so she could touch them one more time, and smell their faint scent.  I led her carefully, with all the dignity of a child who doesn’t yet understand the concerns of elderly folk and broken bones, through all the obstacles from her room to the shade of the enormous maple tree in the yard, where the plants grew, planted in an old water-well casing.  When she had done her visit, she thanked me gravely.  This near-ritual was repeated for several years.             The strings of braided onions in the barn, the ranked up jars of green beans, pickles, corn, and so on above a sand-box stuffed with carrots and even some pieces of horseradish root come to mind, as does the moldy-sweet odor of potatoes, the rich gold of news-bees hovering close, or that deep glow of wildwood honey.  Long strings of shuck-beans and carefully stored jars of seeds had light and color all their own in the airy, dim recesses of a big, old house, its windows open to the cool of evening while supper sat on the table, in the act of being consumed, forks clicking busily.

            I can still hear the whippoorwill's song echoing across the hollers, the soft call of an owl or perhaps the shivering-whinny of a screech owl so weird to the ear.  In the hoof-falls of a horse, mule, or pony is a metronome counting off rhythms timeless beyond even my own knowing.  Honeysuckle in spring is a balm to my winter-dried soul, and I wait for it every year as the season of cold passes.  These things and more are still upon this land.

            Ah, but the stories... the stories.  Where would the seasons be, without the stories to carry them ever forward?  Is this where the Native peoples of this land say, "Someone is calling.  Are you listening?"

            Could it be that it's worth the work and worry after all?