I made my way through the throngs of tourists at the market, nodding at some of the vendors I knew.  The heat was not quite oppressive but the addition of suntan oil, perfume, sweat and that lovely velvet humidity made me more than a little short-tempered.  A fat family of tourists completely blocked my way.  All around, I heard voices, vendors, tinkles of wind chimes and gew gaws, tired shouts of basket makers, and the occasional car horn.  I tried to dodge a Japanese man snapping pictures of the glistening black vendors, but the baby carriage stopped me.  Damned tourists.

A small pink faced woman appeared at my elbow.  She held up a clear plastic bag dotted with condensation and announced.  “Miz Carol!  Here the fudge you wanted us to make!”

 

I said thank you, but she stood there while we were jostled by lines of people.  I opened the bag and took out a piece.  It was still cold from the marble and I bit into the wetness.  It was cool and full of texture, and I savored the piece even while my throat went dry and begged for a tall glass of iced tea.  The heat hit about the time I tasted a hint of pepper.  That heat spread through my mouth, down my throat and blew off the top of my head.  The fudge was unbelievable.  My southwest taste buds sighed and settled in for a long snack.  Sweat rolled down my temples.  Ole Rhonda had outdone herself on this fudge.  I smiled and nodded, not wanting to miss a single flavor.  It was deep chocolate and bold furnace.  It was exactly what we had talked about just a week before.

She beamed.  “Da boy worked on dis fuh days.  Is ca’lina peppuhs, miss lady.  What ya think?  Mebbe get us some peoples over yah?”  I just closed my eyes.  It was indeed a winner with me.  A few sweating tourists took our picture.  I hugged her, overcoming my automatic revulsion at wet bodies and handed her a twenty.

Her face fell.  Damn it.  Another faux pax in the convoluted southern tradition.  I said, “Honey, if you could just find me a tea, I would be most grateful for your gracious hospitality.”  She beamed, then.  She disappeared in the crowd.

I closed the bag and coughed discreetly.  Damn, but the fudge was hot.    I moved between two tables to get out of the way and all of a sudden, a man appeared in front of me, smiling.  I smiled back.  He held his smile for a beat too long.  A quick, strong revulsion sprang up before I managed to hide it.  His smile faded so quickly I didn’t recall it.  His eyes looked dead and yet alive.  He was relatively young but not so much that his youth showed.  I memorized his face, a dough ball of white skin, dark brown eyes, wispy eyebrows.  His lips were too red and full to be real.  He looked like the main character in a John Kennedy Toole novel without the noticeable bulk or ridiculous hat.  In fact, his hair was receding just a bit.  In those few seconds, something happened between us.  He leaned toward me, his height nearly mine.

“I wanted to tell you how much I like your books, but I see you are just another uppity bitch”.  Fear sprang up dark behind my mind.  It was primal.  I couldn’t get away, trapped as I was between the tables.  A red mist appeared to suffuse his face.  Instincts kicked in and I pushed him out of the way, not caring who got knocked over.  The ripple of protest echoed behind me as I ran blindly east through the market.

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The sun was slanting through the windows by the time I finished outlining my characters, specifically the character lounging in my Queen Anne at the foot of my bed. Her robe was mine. Her slippers were mine. She sipped the last of my Johnnie blue, swirling the dregs in the old fashioned glass. My mouth tasted like I’d been eating a sweetgrass basket. Come to think of it, my head was throbbing, too.

I stood, feeling the effects of liquor and well, the appearance of an apparitioin. I swayed a little. In a flash, she was at my elbow, holding me with a strong hand.

“Let me help you to bed.”

Her voice sounded smoky, slightly geechee, through her nose, like my friends sounded when they gathered for cocktails and shrimp on John’s Island after their boats pulled up to Rutledge Carteret’s dock at his winter plantation.  I pulled away.

“Wait!” I staggered back to my desk. Scraps of paper looked like a print shop after a hurricane. I rifled through the papers, getting increasingly agitated when I didn’t find the one piece I needed. maybe I didn’t write it down. maybe I put it under something else.

“Shit. Shit. Shit!” I tossed papers on the floor and spun around. Vertigo floated in and siezed what was left of my equlibrium. A hand touched my upper arm, held it again. I rubbed my eyes with my other hand and sank back into the puffy robe. God, this was too much. I’m a fucking writer. A drunk writer, but a writer nonetheless.

The house grew dark, heavy with portents and omens

Not a breath of air stirred outside in the descending gloom

a pause, a holding of the world’s breath

Thunder marched with cannon booms from thirty miles out, then twenty miles out

and then it was on top of the house, descending with a majestic roar

Hissing rain that slapped gleefully on the roof until it dripped energetically from the eaves

what a roar.  what a smacking of hail.  It’s a symphony.  it’s a battle of elements that bring

me to my primordial knees in awe and fear of the power

 a gauze of memory  wraps my day in a warm cocoon

when it gets too shitty outside to keep putting up with shit

I remember how the sun coming through the oak leaves made bright splashes

on the grass and how they would disappear like magic when clouds floated by

I remember the oozing mud at the bottom of the fill dirt backyard and the oily

sheen that seemed to be liquid rainbows at low tide

I wanted to build a little raft and float down the marsh to unknown parts

explore like DeSoto did, see things for the first time before people were around

That wanderlust grew into an unbearable sense of desperation to escape, to run,

to be in a place where nobody knew me and I could be who I was

Then I turned 9 and real life smacked me right between the eyes but the desperation

just buried itself in my intuitive sense of powerlessness to do anything just yet

I’ve been thinking about how we tend to put other people on pedestals to keep them from us, not as much as to hold them in high esteem.  It’s much easier to think of other people as, well, “other” than to get to know them on a visceral level, because that takes work.  It takes thinking well.  I laugh sometimes about how we pick out people not like us and say, “her, I like” or ” I trust this guy with my tools” but the rest of them, well, they’re lazy, shiftless, criminals.  Not. Like. Me.  Now, this is so simple on the surface.  It’s not simple, and yet it is.  Let’s just cut through the bullshit.  Our only common experience is that we are human beings.  We are in this world together.  So, let’s find a way to get along.  Bottom line. We will hang together, or we shall surely hang separately.  That being said, how do we do that?  I don’t have any easy answers, but they are simple enough.  Be kind.  Help others. Volunteer. Do the hard thing and reach out.  You don’t have to try to fix people.  There are always going to be shitty people in the world.  Don’t paint everyone with the same brush and don’t be shitty yourself.

This week has had more twists than a Dairy Queen soft cone made by some high school nerd with a penchant for culinary flair.  Annoyances include two, count ’em, two back to back instances of crappy customer service.  I mean, really.  I’m not much to look at, but I don’t make dogs bark or small children cry and hide behind their mothers.  To be crappy at customer service, one must be an active asshole, and by that, I mean, this must be one’s goal in life–to make others as miserable as possible without actually taking a crap in someone’s pocket and smashing it against their skin.  That annoys me to no end and I won’t let them get away with it.  I don’t say anything when it happens because after all, this is an open carry state.  I write emails.  I am very polite, of course.  It’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.  As I’ve gotten older and less apt to let things like that slide, my writing is more fun than ever.  I enjoy crafting a witty little nastygram about Miss X treating me like I just kicked her dog and insulted her mama’s biscuits.

That being said, I am flummoxed by recalcitrant bureaucracy and the petty little autocrats intent on running their little fiefdoms as they see fit.  Those people . . . I got nothing.  Today, I received a letter dated March 6th, saying that my case was closed because my information was never received.  How can this be?  I sent it via certified mail, by fax, and called to follow up.  But I received a call on March 9th from the office to let me know that I had until March 14th to submit any more paperwork.  That call was actually informative and very positive.  My temple started throbbing when I read the letter.  Lord Baby Jesus in the cradle.  Those people.

I was raised to not challenge authority, because, well, authority.  My rebellion has always been directed inward.  My liver hates me, my pancreas is no longer speaking, and my back took a hike years ago.  My motto has been, ‘Screw you, I’m gonna hit myself in the head with this hammer and then, you’ll know something!’  Insert eye roll here. It’s not a motto to live by.  Not going to go off on a tangent about this particular quirk.  I’m almost sure it involves Southern Baptist guilt, and neurotic guilt like that is a tooth numbing dissertation.  But it sure does make some purty poetry, so I will keep it around a while longer.

I watched the Daytona 500 yesterday. The race was pretty good. The graphics were ok. The commentary was hit and miss. The sexism was rampant. I guess the demographic for racing is young white males. That explains Gronkowski yucking it up with the monster girls. I guess they don’t want to piss off the good ole boys too much. I like the technical aspects of racing; the strategy, the teamwork, the precision of the crews in what is inherently a messy, sometimes fatal sport. F1 and Indycar don’t have the appeal in this country that NASCAR has, and even they are losing viewers and sponsors, a downward trend that shows little sign of reversal. The format has changed somewhat, and I did like that, for the most part. However, I want to see more diversity. A couple of WW announcers isn’t diversity.

The sound woke me.  Cracks and booms echoed through my bedroom.  I bolted upright, my heart pounding.  I slowly became aware of another presence and that panicked me.

I turned on the light and noticed a body standing at the foot of my bed.

“Behold.  Your creation.”

I rubbed my eyes.  Damnit there was another person in my room.  A naked, wet person.  A naked, wet, unformed female person.  I mean, she had a body with boobs, sort of, and the water dripping down her body was real enough.  She shivered, her arms crossed in a V across her chest.  Her legs ended at her torso, but she didn’t exactly look right, and her voice was flat.  I shook my head. The hair was wrong, the . . . everything was wrong.

“You formed me.”  Her voice was flat.  Creation?  Really?

I sat up and drained the last of my blue.  Thus refreshed, I looked again.  It was a female body.  Everything wasn’t exactly there.

“I formed you?  What do you mean?”

“You write.  I appear.”

I laughed.  No cowboys or rich guys had ever appeared in my bedroom.  She wasn’t real, obviously.

“Nah, characters don’t just appear.  You’re my imagination.” I lay back down and pulled up the covers.  Thunder rumbled close by.  I closed my eyes again.

“I’m your creation.”  Again that flat voice.  I sat up and looked fully at the creature.  She sure as hell looked real.  But what was wrong?  I got up and went to my desk, giving her a wide berth.

I switched on the lamp and looked over my notes.  OK, let’s see.  The main character is a lesbian, yes, tall, yes.  I looked back at the apparition.  Tall.  The notes didn’t say much more than that.  I picked up my pen and wrote down:  she is witty, acerbic, lightly muscular.  I looked back at her.  her body was smooth and looked strong.

“Ah, much better.”  Her voice was still flat.  I wrote. she sounds like Jodie Foster in bed.

“Do you really want to finish me out like that?” Her lip curled in an unholy sexy smile.  I looked back at the outline and started working like crazy.

‘She is a lesbian.’  I put down my pen and leaned back.  Time for a drink. The curtains waved with a vengeance.  Smoky, moist, pluff mud breezes had been blowing all evening. From the street below, a tinkle of glass and laughter wafted up to the window.  The outline was finished and that glass of Johnny blue wasn’t going to drink itself.  I stretched and sipped and let the fire untwist my belly.  Stress over a book wasn’t my forte.  My forte was zipping through a couple of cowboy romances every few years, going on tours, signing books for housewives, doing the odd interview for a small town newspaper.  It paid well.  It was relatively easy to do the same formula.  I loved my characters.  They performed well on the written stage.  This book was different and way out of my comfort zone, but dammit my agent was too persuasive.

“Lesbians are hot this year, Carol.  Do your thing and your exposure will explode.”

“For God’s sake, Althea!  I don’t know anything about lesbians!”

“Carol, just do some research, already.  Surely you know someone you can ask for information.  Your last book only sold fifty thousand copies.  We need a new shtick and gay fiction is hot, although I don’t think you’d want to try your hand at gay men, would you? ”

I admitted this was not really something I wanted to get into on a book level.  I enjoyed my cowboys and millionaires on the page, but maybe I could try my hand at gay boys.  They liked cowboys and millionaires, too, right?  Nah, not my thing.  Maybe girls, then.  Surely they liked cowgirls and millionaires.  I’ll try my hand at it, find a new niche, come back to the romances I know.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll find a new market.  I don’t need the money.  I need to write.  That’s it.

The night sorted itself out into a fierce storm that blew in around midnight.  Lowcountry storms were noisy and fierce and rarely so bad the sirens went off.  Lower Broad got lots of visitors and few memories.

 

 

I like both platforms.  Really, I do.  Facebook was fun when I first joined.  It was exciting to be able to reconnect with old friends and stay in touch with family.  I could have long chats for hours, catching up with everyone, liking their posts, feeling as if I am a part of their lives.  It is comforting on a certain level to be able to let someone know I am thinking of them, and when they read it, I know they are thinking of me, at least for that moment.  I could invite people in to see my pets, my dinners, my collection of craft brews.  I felt comfortable sharing my activities, my whiny days, my job.  The boundary lines are roomy, up to a point.  After a while, the honeymoon was over.  People can only take so much complaining before they start giving advice.  The advice phase lasts about as long as the falling out of love phase in a marriage.  Then, people either start really jumping into one’s shit, or they just go away–ghost the whole thing.  After a few years, though, strong friendships can be formed and family bonds severed.  It happens.  That’s where people start getting choosy about what they post and they continue to grow.  Whether they grow together or grow apart depends on what they are willing to do to keep the relationship alive.  It’s a familiar place, as broken in as a favorite pair of shoes or faded polo.  I look at them and hang on to them because they still serve a purpose, albeit much narrower than in the beginning.

Twitter is the opposite.  It’s like 50 first dates every stinking day.  It’s exciting, addictive, soul-sucking.  It’s as demanding as a mistress and as flighty as a girlfriend.  Every day there’s something new.  Every day, all day long, breaking news, twitter wars, trolling, and somewhere under the noise is a steady hum of news, research, articles, exposure to new cultures, diverse opinions, creators, artists, teachers, journalists, politicians, leaders, celebrities, lawyers . . . and they are all accessible.  Unbelievably so.  I can send a tweet to Chely Wright and she just might respond.  I can make a pithy comment on a Julian Castro tweet, and he might even answer with a pithy comment of his own.  There are few boundaries between people and stars.  There’s a level of trust and an element of danger, just like a psycho girlfriend.  The sheer volume of information can become crazy-making.  Woe to the neophyte who wanders into a timeline that is already rolling along and try to be clever.  It’s like trying to jump on a moving train while wearing a gunny sack.  Pragmatic elitism exists as a desperate filter to at least move the noise to an acceptable level.  There are bad neighborhoods and good neighborhoods, just like every city in real life.  It takes a certain level of street smarts to navigate unscathed through them.

We need these platforms–to inform us, to make us think if we want to.  They can become echo chambers of confirmation bias, and they can impel us to educate ourselves and find out the truth of what is out there.  I don’t know anything about reddit or 4chan or instagram because I waste enough time already with these two sites.  Being curious can lead me all around the world and back home again.  I become a little wiser and more willing to explore, as long as I understand on a visceral level that these two platforms are for me to use, not for them to use me.