Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tallulah at 4

Thanks to Nancy Sullivan Mason and Kirk Chamberlain, new friends here in Jacksonville, for these photos!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Post removed because the material will be published elsewhere as an essay I'm writing on motherhood.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tallulah's projects

"Barbie in jail"
Sculpture with objects found on the side of the road

Sullivan's Island to Jacksonville

Princess dresses worn daily, Sullivan's Island
Latest foraged food--bay leaves, Sullivan's Island
Adam with hard drive, Intracoastal Waterway
The crew, Beaufort, SC
Sunset somewhere in Georgia
Jekyll Island
New dinghy, Jacksonville

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The British Colonel fighting at Breach Inlet in the late 1700s wrote of alligators, spiders “as big as my coat buttons,” rattlesnakes, “nothing to drink but brackish water”—we read it on the commemorative plaque before running back across the road to the boat to head out, leaving Sullivan’s Island, sailing across the harbor, past the curve of Charleston’s battery.

Rough palmettos and changing leaves, expanses of yellow marsh, no movement except that of the sea birds, a vulture circling on an updraft. This is the verge of the New World.

At Brickyard Creek, there’s a loop of houses, small outpost of development—half are empty or for sale. There’s an old cemetery across the road. We walk up to a grave—Bolden, the name is. “I want to see a dead person,” Tallulah says.

I think of Buddy Bolden and his loud, loud cornet bursting from the bandstand at Lincoln Park, echoing all the way down to Canal Street. Years later, holding an instrument donated to the asylum, he played breaking notes that sounded like mown grass, like sweat and cheap perfume, like barbershop bravado, which recalled boys with dented brass that had come up the river from Asomante and Santiago, shouting for pure joy.

I tell her there’s nothing but bones down there, the woman’s been buried since 1926. “I want to see it,” she insists. Spanish moss hangs from the low limbs of the oak trees. The graves are scattered haphazardly, overgrown with weeds—one still a mound of earth, though the man died a year ago. I wonder why the gray dirt hasn’t melted into the grass. I don’t want to go near the little lambs on the headstones.

Walking back, Tallulah gathers fine sand at the road’s edge—stops and spreads her arms wide, chanting an incantation to some god she’s created, letting the sand fall from her fingers and smiling up at the moonlit sky.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I dreamed that Barack Obama was having an affair with Mae West. She lived in a big townhouse in the French Quarter, filled with old furniture and hardback books, the kind of place that would be in a novel about octoroon balls. Mae West had a daughter, maybe seven or eight, and our kids played. I opened a book—something by Flannery O’Connor. (I love my dreams, and read avidly, making whole worlds of private space.)

We left Charleston and made it as far as a dock near the Stono River. A mechanic named Ray ate Halloween candy we gave him and tried to figure out what was wrong with the engine. Tallulah and I took a walk on a road raised between the river and the tidal flats where long-legged white birds landed, poking in the grass, and tiny crabs with huge claws ran like ants across the sandy dirt.

In the end we headed back to Sullivan’s Island. Adam fixed the engine today. I’m dyeing the gray in my hair for the first time. We’ll head out again tomorrow.  

*Thanks, Vicki Stone, for the great photo. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Quick sister/cousin visit before we head south to Jacksonville.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I’m driving Adam’s grandmother’s gold Acura V6 coupe. The steering wheel is smooth, covered with stuff they might call glove leather. I turn on the radio. The antenna extends, creaking. I remember when radio antennae that extended and retracted were cool. My sister and I used to turn the radio in our new car on and off and watch through the back window. I notice buttons to the right of the steering wheel that let me control the radio without looking down.

It’s my father-in-law’s old company car, the one he drove to work in the late eighties, driving fast but not too fast, wearing ties zig-zagging with color and a beard, California-executive style. I imagine him crossing the hills, the sky bright blue and the hills brown with drought, toggling the radio switch with his right hand, tuning in Jefferson Airplane. Adam told me he used to listen to Jim Jones broadcasting from San Francisco—engineer’s mind turning over mad utopian mind.

When he got a new car he gave this one to his wife at the time. My eighteen-year-old self observed the curve of her face from the back seat, her coppery skin and stiff hair. She was driving us into Fairfield, dropping us off at the movies. That summer afternoon in Fairfield will probably always flash somewhere in my brain. The sky spread out, the dry flat land, walking across the highway overpass to buy red apples at the Safeway.

The strip of sand between Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter is dark gray and smooth. The wind off the ocean is stilled here. Fort Sumter’s flagpoles like masts ahead of the setting sun, the fort an island, where Citadel cadets aimed their guns, firing the first shots in defense of Southern secession. Charleston harbor’s a small jagged horizon. A skeletal freighter lies at anchor beside the shipping channel. African slaves first set foot on this nondescript stretch of sand. Loaded on rowboats, looking across to the shore, and maybe for a few minutes thinking anything was better than being aboard ship—than that ceaseless motion and the reek and the dampness. Not wanting to think about what would come next. Or planning, already planning to run.

By the time Edgar Allan Poe arrived there were no longer cargoes of slaves being rowed ashore to quarantine. But I think they must have left something for him to find. Poe served at Fort Moultrie—low slice of brick half-embedded in the beach with flocks of white birds flying across the wild marsh behind it, gulls floating amid the grasses at high tide. If Poe had been here two hundred years later he would have hung out at the abandoned bunkers facing the Atlantic, relics of the Second World War, their dark doorways beckoning and repelling. Neighborhood kids go in there, leaving their bikes tossed on the grass. Giddy white boys, jittery, the smell of bodies, slick, sweating, ready to fire.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

From Beaufort, North Carolina to Sullivan's Island

I have always believed in magic more than logic. Things will move of their own accord, appear and disappear. Statistics don’t persuade me. I haven't yet mastered the art of conjuring.

Out to sea, at the edge of the Gulf Stream. How do we know land is there, in the distance? Only because of others who have come here, who have changed and been changed by it.

Late into the second night, closer to shore. Awake at odd hours, the world continues—distant lights of container ships heavy in the wild current.

Columns of light flash in the loom. I am still thinking of the others who have sailed this way. Pirates and soldiers. Ships crossing the Atlantic from Africa, ready to dislodge their cargo—starving, wracked by the collision of wind and the Gulf Stream—into this new world.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Thank you Carl, Rhonda, and McKenzie for being such wonderful, generous hosts!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Aurora, North Carolina

"I can't stop!!"
Finding ancient sharks' teeth in gravel dug up in the phosphate mine and dumped across the street from the  Fossil Museum in Aurora, where you can dig and dig all afternoon. The museum has a case full of trilobite fossils that stand up on the rocks, the last rocks they ever perched on, antennae curving.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August in Eastern North Carolina

Pick a card, any card.
1.       Hospice Thrift Store. A cheerful gray-haired woman announces all the clothing and bags are a dollar each. We smile brightly at each other. I’m smiling brightly because I’m alone and somewhat disoriented, out in the marina’s “courtesy van” for a trip to do errands all on my own, without anyone else to be responsible for. The afternoon is full of thoughts tumbling over each other--and fears, like that the ambulance going the other way is responding to an emergency featuring someone I love. I try to write it off as the product of too much coffee. I find a couple of bags, too good to pass up for only a dollar. I feel like spending money. I feel the money in my old bag (about to be replaced) getting up and getting out all on its own.
The woman at the checkout says, Have you been here before? Someone like you came in and bought all these old-timey clothes. She was just going crazy because there were all those old-timey clothes. Unfortunately that wasn’t me. We all smile at each other and I say with great sincerity that I’ll be back soon. I think about the woman, someone like me, who bought the vintage clothes, trying to imagine what they might have been. Feeling a little jealous. I think about who might have unloaded them in this little corner of a strip mall in Alliance, North Carolina. I remember a yard sale I went to my first summer in New Orleans--someone was selling all her vintage wool suits. I had never seen so many perfect wool suits, all being cast off cheap. I looked at those perfect little suits and shuddered. Who in their right mind would buy them? Who could possibly touch wool? I imagined the fibers of it sticking to my hand. It was not possible that cold existed. I learned so much at yard sales in the summer. Cast off things are as good as mystery novels any day.
2.       We sit in the audience at the Old Theater in Oriental. Our new friends Richard and Penny had suggested a night of Shakespeare--a “concert reading,” where the performers read from scripts and don’t wear costumes. A blend of performance and rehearsal. I’m watching the performers in their street clothes grappling with the archaic diction and vocabulary of Henry IV, Part 1. I can see the women’s pale thighs in their shorts, the men struggling with their reading glasses, and feel how terribly remote is this whole notion of monarchy and succession. The audience chews over Shakespeare’s words, and I can’t be the only one who longs to join in--to try my hand and take a place in the long echoing line of performers speaking these same lines over centuries.
I wonder if it is harder now to let go. To let the self you have worked so hard to craft float away. I wonder if the Lord Chamberlain’s Men could let slip their identities like leaves in the current. I can see the gears of selfhood turning on the stage of the Old Theater and the parts Shakespeare has written struggling for purchase in these new bodies. To possess them.
I’ve recently discovered that writing is like that--no matter how much I want characters to speak through me, my self won’t flake away, and I (meaning what?) must hustle it off into the shadows.
3.       Everyone goes to Paul’s Produce--local produce and the best deal in town. Women run Paul’s--friendly mother-women I want to tell secrets to, even in full earshot of other customers. They offer comfort. The other day they had big trays of scuppernongs and muscadines, deep purple ones and dusky green ones and I fell upon them and filled up a big bag and when I got out to the car I started eating purple ones as if they held the secret of life. I sat in the driver’s seat of the courtesy van biting into a huge purple grape and it was so dense and sweet, so perfectly sweet that I bit the seeds too, what harm could it do--and the seeds were bitter and the sweetness was shot through with it and I sat there tasting bitter and sweet I could see that it was true--bitterness is the most perfect part of sweetness. And that’s the real reason we’re here in Oriental, North Carolina, a place none of us had ever heard of six weeks ago--because this life we’ve chosen is the kind of thing that breaks your head open. Eating a grape will just break your head wide open.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The size of it. This time last year we were in Culebra—and I still think of walks there, and the people I talked to in the town, and the fish in the reef off Luis Pena--and the ferry, and the sound of bachata that is so sweet and filled with longing and blind confidence. And how nothing seemed to be going right. And trying to plan. And in a year a lot has changed. Here we are—now—launched to this place in North Carolina, and the people I talk to, who I would never meet if I lived a life I controlled (like the man with the lopsided body in the swimming pool who tells me about his autistic daughter), and I think how much I learn this way, how much better it is that I have made the choice to let go of things, which, once you start, is a process that is hard to stop. Here in the 100 degree heat, and as usual there’s a job to do. The pieces of a household, things we take for granted on land, like toilets and refrigerators and water. We work around these things, like some kind of nouveax pioneers. Letting go of things, making something new.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My new "office"

The trick to getting anything done is to tell people you're doing it. So I tell people I'm working on a novel. The other trick is finding a place to work.

I vividly remember sitting on a picnic table somewhere on the coast of northern California. I was talking on the phone, and I was saying something to the effect of, I’ve left everything behind. I don’t know who I am anymore. 

I can see the sun glinting off the vast expanse of the Pacific, and the grass, and the orange-brown of the picnic table. There were people there, a family with two sons, on vacation. A quaint notion to me now. Vacation. 

And I find it a testament to what’s happened between then and now that I’m sitting on another coast, the Atlantic, this time, on another boat, getting ready to take off. The future feels exactly as unknown as it did that December day in California. There’s a world of difference between then and now, but I’m still not sure who I am.

Friday, July 22, 2011


"Oh silk and fur,
How could that scratch the furniture?"

by Tallulah

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My current state of mind

Writing from the deck of the "clubhouse" of the Whittaker Pointe Marina in Oriental, North Carolina. It's a nice night. Life is good. All I want to do is hide out. More reflections to follow.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sitting at the Dairy Inn across from the Flamingo Sports Bar—with a picture of Jack Kerouac, black and white, blown up, to the left of the door. Tallulah is eating ice cream, a mountain of strawberry ice cream, her spoon digging delicate little bites of pink from a styrofoam cup, and I’m staring out across the street, beyond the handyman here on his break, across Martin Luther King Jr Avenue to the little green shack of a bar where Jack Kerouac drank (my brother-in-law tells me) whiskies and a wash—cheap and plentiful. Maybe he’s an unquiet spirit, hanging out at this busy crossroads with a message, for I can’t take my eyes from the photograph, the pale face with its wondering eyes. And I can’t stop seeing him bent over the toilet, blood streaming from his mouth, lifting his head to call out to his wife—“Stella—I can’t stop bleeding.” Maybe he came here sometimes, on his way to or from the Flamingo Bar, maybe he sat on a white picnic bench just like this one, looking out across the street. Hey—I hope you can rest in peace, Jack. I have received you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Random thought when I should be doing something else

I remember a long ago afternoon when I was allowed to stay home from school. It must have been at the end of the school year, because it was a sunny day in Portland, Oregon—I remember lots of sunny days there, no matter what they say about the rain—and my grandmother took me somewhere I’d been longing to go—that now I remember only as bright colors in a cave, a kind of strange garden, the sort of place that lives in books that were read aloud to you once, long ago, before you understood all the words. We took the bus up a hill and in my mind the city’s stretched out below us, the river like a skein of silver in the distance. We were talking, she and I, about nothing in particular—and how could either of us know that I’d keep the memory of that day, the way it felt to be beyond the reach of ordinary things, folded away so long?

Monday, June 6, 2011

ISR Swim lessons rock!
This is the "baby abuse" swim course, can't recommend highly enough! T went from never having swam underwater to this video in 1 month. She was used to the water so never seemed too traumatized, other kids definitely weren't having fun--until they figured it out, then they were loving it--but it's only 10 minutes per day and soon enough they're not going to drown, big plus if you live on a boat (or have a pool).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

It’s been awhile since I’ve had the leisure to sit and think about what we’re doing. Something’s happening, that’s for sure. We’ve been casting things off—the house in New Orleans, Sea Wolf in Moorea—moving betwixt and between, through the liminal state where transformation happens. We’re camped out at the moment in St. Petersburg, Florida, around the corner from Adam’s brother Chris’s place. Our version of going north for the summer. White birds with curving orange beaks and wise eyes peck at the lawns. A silent man stands smoking outside the thrift store downtown, the smoke making a little world of respite around him. I can smell bacon frying. An old woman circles the park waving an umbrella, maybe someone who’s been here a long time, gotten addled by too much sun. Ratty palm trees, deco stucco, tanned brassy women driving Camaros all feel familiar, like a postcard of a place I’ve never been. It feels right to be here, waiting for a sign.  

Many thanks to all those who have been hosting us and hooking us up with places to stay across the Southeast these past couple of months, as we’ve been wheeling and dealing, writing, childraising, refining our theory of the rooted vagabond.
"I ate my imaginary word cupcake and now I remember my song."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For Adam, far away for a few more days

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day weekend in Greenwood

Faulkner would have felt right at home here--the same vibrations he must have felt in Oxford, the fictional Jefferson, Mississippi, resonate in this brick ranch house with the white columns and the magnolia tree, the cicadas droning an alarm, living their one day in mad, erratic exploration of the dandelions and the oaks before dropping, spent, into the dry leaves. Faulkner, or Tennessee Williams, who could represent so exactly the humid claustrophobia of family. I return exhausted, charged with familiar sensations, thick with bad memories, honored, in some way that is impossible to live, that is livable only as art, by where I came from.