Tag Archives: writer

How To Treat Your Guest Speaker

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  1. Pay them. Don’t make them ask for the check like you are a drug dealer. Don’t forget to add expenses.
  2. Be honest about how long you want them to speak. Mean it. Don’t take up half THEIR time with YOUR introduction or housekeeping which forces them to frantically make cuts on the fly to stay in your time frame.
  3. Offer them water. Snacks. A meal. Mints. Whatever’s appropriate. Show them where the restrooms are. Speakers are HUMAN—not robots-for-hire. They need to eat and sleep, too.
  4. Offer to pick them up at the airport or hotel so they don’t have to worry about transportation. If you provide a driver, your speaker will likely offer to name a child after you.
  5. If you know, tell your speaker what to expect from your group—age, gender, demographic, attention span, expectations . . . all the little quirks of your organization.
  6. Leave treats in the hotel room or a thank you gift basket. Don’t include a whole bottle of wine or fresh flowers if your speaker flew in. Can’t take them on a plane. Sadly, those gifts go to housekeeping at checkout.
  7. Have your event ready-to-rock. Podium. Mic. Signing table. Ask before about technology requests. Test the sound system on the day of the event.
  8. Reach out about a week before to confirm and remind of unique details, especially if there have been date or time changes. Identify one contact person and cell number for day-of questions.
  9. Ask your speaker to provide a short bio. You won’t have to write it! No mistakes from a last-minute online search for biographical material! Bonus: the speaker won’t have to worry about repeating information you randomly decide to include in the intro.
  10. Don’t expect them to speak for free, donate to your cause du jour, or perform additional work unless you’ve previously worked this out. This is your speaker’s JOB. Like you, speakers prefer to choose which causes they support with pro bono work, and they speak to charity events ALL THE TIME.
  11. If you aren’t providing transportation, save your speaker a parking space, and give precise, detailed directions.
  12. If your speaker does a great job for you, remember to write a good online review and recommend him or her to your friends and colleagues. Those of us who work as guest speakers talk to one another, too. You don’t want to be one of those venues or organizations we ALL avoid.
  13. Treat your speaker like an honored guest—not like an indentured servant. If you do, your guest speaker will work hard to personalize your event and make it extra-special!

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I Hear Voices


My favorite weather report is windy and cold. I know I’m in the minority with that vote. Most people prefer hot summer days. I do not. You need to respect my opinion and move on. I don’t expect you to agree with me. I’m not campaigning for cold, windy, wet weather fans. I don’t understand why people are so scandalized by my preferences. When I claim to like windy, cold days, people act like I’ve personally offended them. It’s as if I’ve confessed to stuffing ballot boxes or buying an outfit to a wear to a party that I plan on returning to the store the next day. There’s nothing unnatural about preferring overcast days to sunny ones. It’s unusual, I admit, but my preference doesn’t make me freaky. I’m a little bit tired of having to defend my views on weather. I like storms, too. Deal with it.

Where I live, I don’t get nearly enough windy, cold days. When I luck up weather-wise, I have to hide my delight from the sun-worshipping masses. I check my grin and grumble a bit to fit in with my fellow commuters, but secretly, I’m throwing a little party in my head. I especially like the sound effects on cold-weather days—a roaring fire, rustling leaves spinning across the sidewalk, and the whooshing effect of wind rattling the last dry leaves clinging tenaciously to tree branches. Those sounds are so much prettier than the incessant clicking of cicadas on a hot, humid summer night. That is a harsh, repetitious, non-melodious noise that I associate with misery. In fact, that’s the sound of crazy in the South, if you ask me.

Prepare yourself. I’m asking you to keep an open mind as you continue reading. I need room to write here, a little literary license, often defined as a willing suspension of disbelief, and some leeway. Humor me for the next few paragraphs, and I promise to give you something interesting to think about for the next few days.

The sounds of wind blowing through trees, a faint, whispering murmur, sounds just like voices to my ears. In my imagination, those voices could belong to all the people I have ever loved in my life who have died before me. Before you get all worked up, let me reassure you that I’ve not gone round the bend, I promise. You don’t need to call someone to check on me. Let me explain.

Instinctively, I strain to make out faint sounds when I hear them. We all do. So when I hear the wind rustling the leaves and branches of trees, a sound that mimics human speech to my ears, I close my eyes and concentrate. If someone is trying to talk to me, I want to be hear what he or she has to say. What if that could really happen? I want so desperately to hear those voices distinctly and to connect with people I’ve loved who have died. This is the stuff of ghost-hunter fantasies. I’ve never pursued such hobbies myself, but I’m open-minded. I have gone on ghost tours in Charleston, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana. (That’s a whole industry now, in case you didn’t know. People will do anything to make money. Humans are resourceful like that. I think it’s an admirable trait.) Those were fun. And I had a friend who had a Ouija board when I was young, but we never got any messages to the other side. I wanted to stop for a palm reading several times on long trips with my husband, but I have never been able to talk him into it. He said I could just roll down the car window and throw my money out to get the same result. He’s not as interested in being open-minded as I am.

Haven’t you ever longed for contact with someone who has died, even though you know it’s impossible? Sometimes, I think I can hear those people in the wind, as if they are discussing the upcoming SEC football schedule among themselves. It’s just a faint, murmuring sound. The experience reminds me of the time my dentist showed me a cavity on my X-ray. “Can you see what I’m talking about?” he asked, looking down at my upturned face. “I think so,” I replied, “but it’s possible I’m imagining it.”

When I feel the chill wind on my face and hear the murmuring, I feel sure that the presence of those voices is real, as real as other conversations I overhear when I’m walking down the street passing pedestrians deeply engaged on their cell phones, or when I make my way past tables of bar patrons in search of a bathroom. When I lie on a beach with my eyes closed, my face turned up to the sun, my body draped across a lounger, I hear conversations around me ebb and flow against the background of waves crashing on the shore. We can all agree those conversations are real. What is so different about the possibility of . . . more?

When I walk across campus after teaching all day on my way to the parking lot, my brain is tired and more open to hearing voices. (You could argue here that my students have actually driven me mad, and I am hearing voices because I’m two minutes away from crazy town. That’s one interpretation.) In the minute right before I drift off to sleep at night, I think I’m more open to the sounds around me, too. Voices, maybe echoes of former conversations, seem to crescendo and demand that I pause to remember the random people who have crossed my path over the years.

I know, I know. Hearing voices isn’t a good sign—is it? I might be in need of medication or a hearing check-up, but I don’t think it’s something boring like that. Don’t worry. The voices don’t threaten me or give me instructions or anything scary like that. It’s just a warm presence I feel, like hearing the noises from a fun dinner party my parents hosted when I was a child when I was tucked into bed on another floor of the house. It was nice, even then, to hear those pleasant sounds. It made me feel safe and happy. I knew I wasn’t alone, and I had nothing to fear.

I believe there are proverbial thin places in the world, spots where this world and the next one are close, literally, as if we are only separated by a sheer veil, (think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban here) but I believe the thin places may be different for everyone. There is some scholarly reading on this topic if you’re interested. I’m not the first person to talk about this by a long shot, which is reassuring, I admit.

When I allow my mind to wander, or when I’m especially tired, that’s when I hear . . . more. Have you ever experienced a thin place in your own life? Open yourself up to the possibility. Listen carefully. You might hear voices, too. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I think we’re both perfectly sane. We are in good company in those thin places—in more ways than one.


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Swept Off My Feet


I want to be swept off my feet. Literally. Figuratively, too, of course. For those of you who don’t already know this, especially those of you with a Y chromosome on your double helix, this little fantasy is not unique to me. Almost every woman I know wants to be swept off her Jimmy Choos, too. It’s a girlie thing.

I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have had a conversation like this:

“Pick me up!” I demand.

“Why?” my husband asks. He is genuinely baffled to receive such a request from a perfectly healthy, fiercely independent, grown-up woman.

“Because I want you to! It’s romantic and fun!” I respond in my most commanding, I’m-not-fooling-around voice.

“What for?” he quizzes me further, trying to read my mood. “It’s not like you’re injured or anything. I could pick you up if I had to–if the house caught on fire or a bookshelf fell on you or something like that, but otherwise, what’s the point?”

I am momentarily distracted from my pick-me-up crusade by the word “could.”

“What do you mean you ‘could’ pick me up? Of course, you could pick me up! Are you implying that I’m fat?” I inquire in a dangerously quiet voice.

NO! Absolutely not,” he responds instantly. “I said I COULD pick you up if I had to, but there isn’t anything wrong with you. You don’t need me to pick you up. It’s ridiculous.”

“I DO need you to!” I affirm dramatically, arms stretched wide open in a gesture to the Heavens to demonstrate my dire need of a swept-off-my-feet moment.

“What is this really about?” my husband queries. “Were you not picked up enough as a child or what? This is weird. Where does this come from?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m sure I was picked up as much as any other little girl—which is completely beside the point. Being swept off one’s fee is romantic. Think about the scene in Gone With the Wind where Rhett Butler sweeps Scarlett up in his arms and charges up that grand staircase,” I reply, trying to inspire my husband with a classic cinematic visual.

“I read somewhere that Clark Gable had terrible breath,” my husband digresses. “I doubt Vivien Leigh enjoyed that little ride very much. I could probably carry you over my shoulder in a firefighters’ lift or something, if you want me to, but I’m definitely not charging up any stairs. Do you want me to have a heart attack?”

“I have no desire to be tossed over your shoulder like a giant bag of potting soil!” I reply, stamping my foot for emphasis. “I want to be swept up like a bride crossing a threshold for the first time in the arms of her husband! How can you not get this?”

“You haven’t been a bride in 26 years!” he points out with that obnoxious logic and keen eye for detail that makes him good at being an appellate court judge and bad at arguing about romantic gestures with his wife.

“For better or worse, remember?” I remind him.

“I don’t remember one thing in the marriage vows about carrying you around anywhere,” he observes, rather rudely, in my opinion.

“Maybe you didn’t read the fine print. I think some carrying around is called for in every marriage. Wouldn’t YOU like to be picked up?” I ask, trying to get him to empathize.

“Good grief, no! I’m a foot taller, and I have over 100 pounds on you. You carrying me defies the laws of physics. I’d crush you like a bug,” he announces, gazing at me in open-mouth horror.

“It’s a grand gesture, honey. Romance. Hearts and flowers. Don’t you see?” I implore him. By this point, I am practically begging the big lug to understand and respond to my emotional needs. The least he can do is fake it politely.

Ignoring my heartfelt plea for chocolate-hoarding, bubble bath-loving female clichés like me the world over, my husband falls back into his comfort zone: logical analysis—like that ever got him anywhere with me.

“You know what your problem is?” my husband asks me rhetorically.

I close my eyes in anguish. I hate when my husband gets all uber-calm and reasonable. It gets on my last nerve and makes me want to throw things just for the heck of it.

“I have a feeling you’re about to tell me, sweetie. My advice: Pick your words carefully,” I caution him, ready to launch myself right into a full-blown, you-hurt-my-feelings snit.

“You’re high maintenance,” he declares, like this is a pronouncement God Almighty whispered personally right in his ear, “But you think you’re low maintenance. Worst combo ever.”

“I am not!” I defend myself indignantly.

“You absolutely are, but it’s okay. You’re worth it–most of the time,” he adds as a caveat. “How about a piggy-back ride? Would that do it for you? You can climb on a chair and get right up. I’m pretty sure I can handle that,” he offers as a compromise.

Frankly, I feel it is beneath me to respond to such a childish counter-offer, so I merely roll my eyes and make a scoffing sound with my throat to signal my flat-out rejection of that idea.

Leaning contemplatively back on the kitchen counter, one foot propped up on a bar stool, my husband crosses his arms in front of him and prepares for serious negotiating while I watch. I know this body language.

“What do I get if I sweep you off your feet?” he asks.

“I think there’s an emergency Toblerone bar in my underwear drawer,” I throw out half-heartedly, not overly concerned with rewarding such a reluctant hero.

“Toblerones do it for you–not me. What else you got?” he asks with that head tilt I’ve always loved.

“What do you want?” I demand, in no mood to be charmed.

“Get creative,” he responds.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I promise.

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10 Ways Southern Women Are Like Downton Abbey Women


  1. Southern women and Dowton Abbey women know that appearances are often more important than reality. I know plenty of Southern women who would help their friends move bodies in the middle of the night if some foreigner/Yankee had the bad manners to die in the wrong bed. You know the old saying: “Friends help one move. Best friends help one move bodies.”
  2. Southern women, like Downton women, believe that their roots are tied geographically to where their people were born. Southern women are always interested in tying your people to their people, and if they cannot, they are not overly concerned with knowing you. Genealogy is important. Have you ever met a Charlestonian from The Holy City? Enough said.
  3. Southern women and Downton Abbey women are always convinced they know best. They are bossy at a cellular level. It’s part of their God-given DNA, and you can examine generations of Southern women and their Downton counterparts to see evidence of this. I am bossy. My mother is bossy. My grandmother was bossy. We are here to help all those lucky enough to be born within our sphere of influence.
  4. Although the Great Britain of Downton Abbey fame seems to be dominated by men (Consider that pesky entailment of the estate, for example), underneath the surface, you will find a strong matriarchy at work—just like in the South. Ask any child under the age of 12, “Who is the boss of you?” The answer will be mama—not daddy.
  5. Southern women and Downton Abbey women are attractive. If they aren’t born that way, they know how to make themselves appear attractive, which is way more important. Even the sulky sister in Downton Abbey looks attractive after she gets a job. These women know the importance of costume changes, lipstick, a good sense of style, and fine jewelry. I think my fellow writer, Celia Rivenbark, says it best. When speaking of Southern women as compared to women from elsewhere, she says: “We’re just like you, only prettier.”
  6. Both Southern women and Downton Abbey women are able to do whatever has to be done: necessary murders, distasteful marriages, strange bedfellows, difficult politics, trying in-laws, eccentric relatives—whatever it takes to protect their homes and families.
  7. Southern women and Downton women know how to throw a party. Even if one is losing one’s house and fortune, for example, there is no reason not to go out in style with a big wedding. Use the good china; hire a great caterer, and wear a fabulous dress.
  8. Southern women and Downton women believe that good manners are a virtue in any endeavor. It is possible to face any calamity—cheating spouses, feuding sisters, possible jail time, financial ruin, even death—with grace, dignity, wit, and a really good hat.
  9. Southern women and Downton women are strong characters. They weather, endure, and get even more formidable with age. Who is your favorite Downton Abbey character? Violet, the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith, right?

10. You don’t want to get on the bad side of Southern women or Downton Abbey women. They can hold a grudge for generations. It’s best to give them what they want the first time they ask. In the end, they’ll likely get what they want anyway, but you’ll get a gold star if you’re cooperative from the get-go. Believe me when I tell you: you want a gold star from a Southern woman.


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Medusa, Visa, and Me


The wind was really gusting when I pulled off the interstate at a gas station to fill up my tank on my way to an out-of-state speaking event recently. I was dressed in my usual comfy leggings and a long tunic, which, unfortunately, acted like a huge mainsail and inflated almost instantly the moment I exited the car, literally sweeping me off my feet.

I grabbed the hem of my tunic in a panic to avoid flashing innocent bystanders. My hair flew around my head like the snaky locks of Medusa caught in a windstorm created by a ticked off Mighty Thor. (I swear to you that not a week goes by without someone comparing my curly locks to Medusa’s coif. This is not exactly a compliment. Do you remember her story? That wench was scary.) Mythology metaphors aside, the wind was epic.

While I tried to keep my clothes on without spilling gas, the credit card I’d just scanned flew out of my hand and started rolling, skipping, and cavorting its bad boy self away from me at a startling rate. I gave chase. This was a highly entertaining sight judging by the ear-to-ear grin on the face of the man filling up his tank in the wind tunnel next to me. I lost a few precious seconds giving him the evil eye, but he wasn’t fazed. He just shook his head, laughed out loud, and went right on with his business—nary an offer to help retrieve my plastic.

Every time I got close to my fleeing card, reached down to snag it with my fingertips or stomp it flat with my adorable new Kate Spade flats, another big gust whipped by, and the card danced further and further away from me. I swear I could hear it laughing in the wind.

I turned back to my gas tank in disgust, sealed the sucker up, and returned to the great credit card pursuit. Unfortunately, my credit card was no longer visible on the horizon. It was gone. Outa here. Nowhere to be found. I made eye contact with the hero still filling up his ridiculous, oversized Hummer (no big surprise there, right?) to see if he’d seen anything. He shrugged. Yes, indeed. That man was some woman’s grand prize.

I began walking the parking lot methodically, searching in earnest. I no longer felt the least bit playful. Fifteen minutes later, I was ready to scream and take out my frustration on a giant bag of peanut M&Ms. A quick glance at the station revealed three heads peering out at me in fascination. Clearly, I’d been entertaining the afternoon shift for quite a while with my credit card drama. Marching to the storefront, I tugged hard on the door, felt it catch and fall open dramatically in the wind, and I headed in with a full head of steam.

“I need some help finding my credit card, please,” I announced in no uncertain terms.

“Did you check the card slot?” one helpful worker asked, “People leave them in there all the time.”

“I watched it blow away,” I explained.

“Why’d you do that?” she asked, baffled.

“No telling where it is by now,” another employee muttered.

“Didja check your purse?” the next bright bulb asked.

“Here,” I said, slapping my bag on the counter. “I already looked. You double-check me while I look outside again.”

“You want me to go through your purse, lady?” the attendant asked, clearly scandalized.

“Yes. You look honest, and I’m in a hurry,” I replied.

Another worker busy stacking decided on some personal initiative:

“I’ll help you look outside,” she volunteered.

So that’s what we did. Step by step, we searched the tall weeds in the vacant lot next to the gas station. We looked like people frantically searching for Easter eggs or CSI bodies.

Eventually, the employee-with-a-little-something-on-the-ball held up a small plastic rectangle and shouted downwind:

“Are you Mrs. Thompson?” she asked.

“Yes, indeed! Thank you so much!” I replied.

A few seconds passed as she mulled over my identity confirmation. Then a light bulb went off over her head. I watched it happen.

“Do you write funny books?”


“I’ve read two of your books!”


“Can you wait here for a few minutes while I go home and get my books? You can autograph ‘em for me,” she asked.

“Well . . . I’m already a little behind schedule, but . . . ”

We did a deal. I gave her signed cards for her books. I keep a supply of those in my purse. She was happy. I was more than ready to hit the highway.

Life lesson:  Book fans are everywhere! Hallelujah!


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Mirror, Mirror Angst

It’s the little things about growing older that hurt my feelings. One day, without any warning whatsoever, I went to the mailbox and found an invitation to join AARP addressed to me. I was shocked and gaped fearfully at the envelope like it might contain Anthrax. Somehow, I’d convinced myself that the inevitable march toward sunset might not apply to me personally.  I know that’s illogical, but it’s how I felt.

Since I am not yet fifty—49 is not 50, by God—I assume the letter was posted to me in error. I marched straight in to my husband’s office, announced, “You have mail!” and off-loaded the hot potato onto his desk, in case his slightly older genes might be catching.

“You’re aging just like the rest of us!” he taunted. “You think you have some kind of exemption?” he scoffed.

“We’ll see about that,” I shot back.

Do I not walk half-heartedly on the treadmill at least three times a week while gossiping with my best friend on the phone? Do I not swallow those calcium horse pills every single day? In my own mind, I’ve been playing a shell game with the grim reaper for years.

Every day, I pole my pirogue right on down the river of denial. You can’t worry about everything—the flu virus, glaciers melting, and gluten content. I make a determined effort not to dwell on things I can’t control without a magic wand or a time machine. Although I hope my children do not figure this out for a while, I am not, in fact, the boss of the world.

It’s hard to find an up side to aging. We’re wiser, happier, and less stressed, according to studies funded by institutions which waste money proving things regular folks already know to be true, but no one would choose to be older and wiser if the other choice is to be younger and foolish.

Some of us go to great pains (not me) and expense (a bit) to postpone or camouflage the inevitable gravity-induced wrinkle or droop. None of us wants to look old—even when we are. This false expectation leads to epic fashion faux pas–women eligible for Medicare wearing T-shirts with “sexy mama” emblazoned in sequins across their sagging bosoms, for example.

The fact that I have to stash reading glasses all over my home like Easter eggs isn’t the worst of it. It’s not just the superficial stuff that vexes me. Every fifteen minutes or so, I worry that I’m developing Alzheimer’s disease. To me, that would be a nightmare.

I often lose my train of thought while arguing with one of my teens about his curfew, folding laundry, responding to text messages on my cell phone, cooking dinner, and paying bills—all at the same time. (Don’t ask how I managed to pay the mortgage three times in one month. My husband is still baffled. It was an accident. I’ve apologized. Let’s leave it at that. Just so you know: If you accidentally pay your mortgage twice, it doesn’t give you a “credit” for the next month. Oh, no. It counts toward the balance, of course, but you have to pay the next month’s bill in addition.)

I’m a mom of three, so multi-tasking is normal for me, but it can get out of hand. For example, while cleaning up the kitchen yesterday, I bent to retrieve a napkin. That single act caused a chain of events that sucked up my entire day. First, I scrubbed the filthy kitchen baseboards next to the dropped napkin. That led to an emergency mopping of the kitchen floor, which was so sticky my shoes made sucking noises when I walked to the refrigerator.

When I propped the mop on the porch to drip-dry, I remembered that I needed to water the plants near my mailbox. After retrieving the mail, I sat my fat fanny on my porch swing to peruse a catalogue hawking pants “guaranteed to make women look ten pounds lighter.” I don’t know a single woman in my zip code who could resist a sales pitch like that.

Poof. My day was gone.

I get that aging beats the heck out of the alternative. I am in no hurry to have my name checked off the roll up yonder, I assure you. Still. I’m struggling with how to handle aging with humor and perspective—as opposed to a menopausal meltdown—and I’m surprised by how sensitive I am about a foregone conclusion.

After all, aging is the good version of “playing the back nine,” as my father says. It obviously beats being run over by a log truck at an early age. Still, it’s harder than I thought it would be. Inside, I feel the same way I always have. When I visit people in nursing homes, I remind myself of this. I bet all those residents feel the same inside as they always have, too.


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Around midnight last night a big, fat, black tick crawled across the pillow on my bed. How did that tick get on my pillow, you ask? I have NO CLUE. Therein lies the problem. I have to know. Was it in my hair? I have curly hair. I’ve found things in there before—twigs, berries, Christmas tinsel, and dried baby puke, for example. Was it attached to my body? Did it crawl up the wall? Did it bring friends? Do ticks travel in herds, pods, or some other collective group? I need to know. This is a genuine domestic emergency. I’m thinking of calling Homeland Security or Martha Stewart.

My husband’s reaction: He reached across the bed with a tissue, scooped up the invader, crushed it, walked to the bathroom, and flushed it away. He then calmly and wordlessly climbed back into bed, turned his light out, and gave every indication of nodding off without a single comment on Tickgate. I, on the other hand, was too horrified to speak. I sat fully upright in bed, clutched my covers in full-panic-we-might-need-to-call-an-exterminator-tonight-to-cluster-bomb-the-house mode. My sleep-deprived, chronic-insomniac, ferret brain was churning like an overloaded washing machine. My neurons were firing in every direction, with no order, logic, or causal connection to the tick stimulus. Tick + pillow= emergency. Period.

Right then I discovered a very important test of marital compatibility, a clear predictor of future harmony. Although I did not know it until the wee hours of this morning, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who can sleep after finding a live tick on their pillow and those who cannot. My husband and I are on different banks of this great divide. In addition, my immediate, visceral response to this incident was to discuss its proximate, possible, probable, and actual cause at length. I’m not an outdoor girl. I am the least likely person in the world to have a tick on her pillow. I experienced an immediate and passionate desire to discuss every possible scenario that resulted in that tick appearing on my pillow. My husband did not share that need. How could this be? Who thinks like that? I don’t know a single woman in the world who would not have talked that tick to death with me.


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Thanks for a great luncheon event, Selma!


Thanks to Becky Nichols, my favorite librarian in the whole world, and all 70 of you Selma people who made reservations for lunch with the author (me!) yesterday at the Selma library. Selma is one of my favorite book tour stops. Thanks for being such a fun and interactive audience! Hope you laugh out loud reading those books! A special thanks to St. Paul’s for letting a fellow Episcopalian into the narthex to poke around.

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Conversations With Dead People

Have you ever found yourself making a mental note to tell someone about something that happened to you, a trivial bit of news you know that person would relish; mentally saved up a choice morsel of gossip; or smiled in anticipation of the reaction you expect when you relate recent shenanigans only to realize, with a belated shock, that the person you are planning to tell is dead?

I hope I’m not the only person out there talking to myself AND dead people. I have, at times, questioned my own sanity and determined that although I can distinguish the living from the daisy pushers, my brain occasionally seems to willfully jump its track to continue sharing amusing anecdotes and all the other wonderfully ordinary events of daily life—never mind a little thing like mortality. I’ve asked myself the standard emergency-room-orientation questions, and I can name the current president and get close on the exact date, but somewhere, deep down, I still long for contact with all the people I have ever loved, the living and the dead.

I can’t decide if this is one of those comforting mind games our brains play to fill the void of missing people in our lives or if we continue in some way to commune with all those who have gone before us. All of this is just way out of my theological and metaphysical comfort zone. But I admit to feeling the presence of all those “others” sometimes, a comforting, you-are-not-alone feeling, as if it’s okay to share a one-liner with a deceased friend because I already know what he or she would have quipped in response.

Maybe love is just so strong you can feel it from one world to the next. Love may, in fact, be the strongest force in the universe. It is, after all, one of the primary catalysts for human behavior, yet it is something intangible and impossible to prove. Strangely enough, most of us hardcore, show-me humans—those of us who struggle daily with issues of faith in our religions—still believe in love. If asked, most of us say we believe love exists. We are convinced of it, have seen evidence of the power of love in our lives: love between children and parents, lovers, and friends, even between humans and animals.

The last words from a dying person’s lips are almost always words of love or caring, not expressions of hate or enmity. And love doesn’t end with death, does it? The object of affection may be six feet under the ground, but the love and longing for that person do not end. Grief is, in fact, frustrated love.

Katharine Hepburn has a great line in the movie Love Affair about just this subject. In reply to a question about the wedding ring on her finger, she says, “Dearie, I am married—although my husband has been dead for years.”

I know exactly what she means by that, don’t you?

Want to read more? This essay is an excerpt from my second book, The SWAG Life. I took the photograph this month in an old cemetery in Selma, Alabama, where I had a wonderful time poking around. The Spanish moss was very evocative to me as a writer (of all kinds of things!), and the craftsmanship in marble and concrete was breathtaking. Imagine being loved that much!  To me, it  looked like a restful place to spend forever.

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Mother’s Day Ambivalence

If you go to any big high school basketball game in the country and see a heavily recruited shooter miss a three-pointer with an air ball, you’ll likely hear this spontaneous cheer break out in the stands: “O-ver-rate-d, clap, clap, clap clap clap.” It’s a smart-mouth slam from the student section, and it continues until the next good play or until another player makes an even more egregious mistake.

That’s my first reaction when I think of Mother’s Day: it’s overrated. This response may surprise some people in my life, primarily my three teenagers who believe that my world revolves around them. They’re fairly typical examples of their demographic, I’ve found.

The second thought that flashes across my brain’s ticker tape when I see that Mother’s Day is about to roll around again is that it’s a made-up holiday. I don’t know why I find this offensive, really, since every legally recognized holiday has to start somewhere. This one was dedicated in 1914, thanks to the efforts of activist Julia Ward Howe. Ms. Howe championed quite a few worthwhile causes; jotting down “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is an impressive legacy even if she never lifted another philanthropic finger for the rest of her life, in my view.

I love that Julia Howe was particular about the holiday’s apostrophe. She wanted to honor each mother within her own home. That accounts for the singular possessive spelling. I like that. She never intended the holiday to be a big “We Are The World” mother solidarity statement. She was aiming for a much more humble homage to ordinary women like me who clean up vomit when our kids are sick, nag them to do their homework, and wait up until curfew time to make sure they arrive home in one piece—in body, soul, and mind.

It didn’t take long for the seeds of commerce to sprout. Mother’s Day became a red-letter day for greeting card sales and potted plant deliveries, a day followed a month or so later by Father’s Day which, somehow, isn’t nearly as big of a deal. For many mothers, Mother’s Day means breakfast in bed inexpertly prepared by her children or Sunday lunch with extended family members. There are gifts involved, too. They often feature children’s handprints and badly written poems containing odd, mother-inspired hyperboles like, “Mama, I love you more than chicken fingers.”

Mother’s Day prompts phone calls home from grown-up children, emails, texts, and a heartsick longing for mothers who no longer walk the earth. In Alabama where I live, there was a television commercial for South Central Bell years ago that starred Crimson Tide football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. In it, he asks customers, “Have you called your mama today? I wish I could call mine.” She was long gone, of course. No one who saw it ever forgot it.

Raising children is the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. I liken it to work in the local rock quarry. There isn’t much glory in it either. There are no paychecks, health benefits, or retirement accounts. In fact, from the moment the hospital shoves that swaddled bundle of joy into your arms and nudges you out the front door, you are virtually guaranteed a life of sleepless nights, college-fund worries, and at least eighteen years of working as a short order cook, chauffeur, fashion consultant, tutor, spiritual advisor, coach, nurse, financier, and, occasionally, a prison warden.

It happens.

It’s hard to grow people from the lima beans you can barely see on the sonograms in your obstetrician’s office into responsible, kind, tax-paying adults who can take care of themselves and those less fortunate than they are. Sometimes, I feel like the whole world is working against me. Motherhood requires vast reserves of patience and unselfishness. The potential rewards are great, but children are such a long-term investment that it’s hard to keep the finish line in sight when you’re lost in a round of parent conferences, cheerleader tryouts, broken hearts, and losing sports seasons.

Every once in a while, though, something happens that makes my job seem worth the heartache and the penny pinching. One afternoon, one of my kid’s friends said these words to me: “I wish I lived at your house.” He meant it. I could tell. Another time, one of my teenagers made a good choice in a downright dangerous situation, not because it was the right thing to do, but because he was afraid of me, his mean mama. Clearly identifiable moments like those don’t happen often, but when they do, I fall into bed that night knowing I made a difference in the world, a small difference, to be sure, but a difference, just the same.

Moms matter. They really do. Mother’s Day—not so much.


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