Category Archives: writing

red

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The last place my Mom and Dad lived in before he died was out in the country, near Lake Fork, Texas. There was a big plate-glass window in front of which Dad had hung bird feeders. Among the many birds who winged in were cardinals, crimson feathers startling, vivid, unforgettable. Whenever I see cardinals, real or otherwise, I think of Dad, I think of that place, a home place for him, a vision he’d worked toward all his life. And I think of my mother, too, acquiescing to him, sharing his dream. What was hers?

In Pier One yesterday, caught like a magpie by all the Christmas glitter and glow, I saw LED candles with tiny red cardinals on them. I had to stop and touch the glass. My throat got tight as I thought of my father, but also of my mother, 13 years down with Alzheimer’s, bedridden, incontinent, unable to turn over or ask for what she wants, able only to croak sounds and smile her occasional but still lovely smile. I didn’t buy the candle. I bought five small, red clip-on cardinals, glitter on their tails and shaken like salt in among their color. Foolish, I thought as I checked out. She won’t see them.

But today I go to place them in her room, among the bits of holiday tinsel I put up even though she doesn’t know. My heart hurts, my throat is tight. I think I summoning Dad to bring her on home.

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I’m on sale

Through_A_Glass_Darkly_s2Hello. I’ve been offline resting, but online ebook seller bookbub has Through a Glass Darkly on sale only today for $1.99. If you would, if you can, pass it along on Facebook or Twitter or Goodreads or email or whatever.

Here’s the link: https://www.bookbub.com/ebook-deals/latest?page=2.

Where have I been? Well, the novel I’m in is taking too long, so I’ve been in lots of worry and fear and judgment, which makes me tired. But I am in some sort of ending (never-ending is what it feels like). I hope all is well with you. I hope I pick this up again, for it feels nice to be here. Love, Karleen

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dead

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We make an ofrenda, which is an altar for the Day of the Dead. I bring photos of a father, grandparents, an uncle, a sister. Among them is a suicide, an alcoholic, a poet too gentle for this life, women who had to scramble to survive or live with men who treated them badly. Few died with any semblance of peace.

I offer chocolates and mums, a pencil for the poet, a cigarette for the smokers. What I wish I could give them is another pass at life, for too much of theirs was stark and unforgiving. Some of it was character, some of it was heritage, some of it was cultural.

Do not go gentle into that dark night, wails a poem. But why not? Why fight against the dying of the light? For we all must die. It’s the last clause in the contract made with being born. What unseen can I offer my dead, who have gone on before me? Courage to amend mistakes and character flaws with unflinching honesty? The never ending weeding of my inner garden? Loving what is? Love?

For them. For me. For it all. Forever and ever. Amen.

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commands

k6160536Le Notre has come to visit again. I am so grateful, for his sternness comforts me as I grapple with the middle of the novel whose ending is still vague. Prune here, he announces. Plant there. Lift and carry and work. It’s physical labor, and I need it. October is a grace month in Houston, when humidity lifts and temperatures drop.

I plant violets, not the proud African ones of my girlhood, with their large heart-shaped leaves and deep purple faces, but Australian ones, the only ones I can find, with smaller, less deep emerald leaves and faces that show both white and purple. I love violets, have tried to start them any number of times in my shady yard, which they should love, without success. Le Notre points to where he thinks they might thrive. If you water, he sniffs. His face is lined with age and knowledge and Louis XIV‘s confidence in him. He’s fashionable for his time, a wig, a satin coat, shoes with buckles, a long, long staff like the one Lully used to direct the king’s orchestra. I like this stern taskmaster who tells me what to do in the garden and bears with no excuses.

k6160536I know my garden is symbolic of something, as is my choice of Le Notre as its muse, but I don’t want to probe the symbolism. There are violets to plant. There’s a woman in the novel with a heart-shaped face, who was called a shy violet by history, when it bothered with her at all. She was scorned because she wasn’t ambitious. She turned to God in her pain. Perhaps I plant for her.

scales

indexLast week, I listened to Houston’s Brene Brown talk about vulnerability. Among its bright attributes are its necessary place in joy, creativity, adventure, joy, belonging, authenticity, and love, which I hadn’t thought of. Among its shadows are feelings of fear, shame, and uncertainty.

Certain behavior of mine—around the reluctance to write, around days when I can’t force myself to sit down in the chair because fear jumping-beans in my pulse—came into clearer focus.

I am vulnerable when I write. I am vulnerable when I am published. I am vulnerable when my work is read and people comment upon it. The dread I carry inside is the dread of being vulnerable.

Brown also quoted  Teddy Roosevelt about daring greatly–that the man or woman who attempts something in the arena of life, even if he or she fails, will have dared greatly. So I balance these on unseen scales inside myself each day that I write fiction: vulnerability and daring.

Interesting. I wonder if having defined the feeling will ease anything. And then I am reminded of some redneck advice that I like: The world ain’t even honking at you. You just think it is……….

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welcome

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Alpine: July I’m on the wrong side of the tracks, where the hotel and saloons were when Big Bend’s cattle were herded to railroad tracks where trains took them north. The hotel has gone to ruin, two walls left. The saloons have moved across the tracks to the gringo side of town and are called bars. Here houses are weatherbeaten. Blocks have empty spaces where mesquite and desert petunias grow and sheds and barns fall in. We face a hill. Sounds travel. The train. Music.

It’s late twilight. I hear singing. I follow the sound. Valensuela Reunion 2014 a handmade sign taped to metal carport says, and beyond is the band. Mariachi, the accordion, the guitar, the fiddle, and the nasal, heartfelt singing. Someone is grilling. A woman sits in one of a row of empty folding chairs listening. The man grilling sees me, waves me forward. No. The woman turns and waves for me to come in, also.

IMG_1006Why not? I think. I go in and sit down beside Tina, who explains the band is practicing for the party tomorrow night. You need to come, she tells me. The man grilling shakes my hand and tells me his name is Jaime. Come to our party tomorrow, he says. I sit in the long summer twilight listening to Mexican love songs, their wistfulness rising to the hill. It’s neither lonely nor strange to be sitting in this back yard with people I don’t know. It’s Alpine.

nellie

indexI can’t cry for Mother anymore. I can’t remember her when she wasn’t this shell. I can’t remember her when she loved clothes and shopping, always kept chocolate somewhere, would go off with me if I needed a partner, was a natural engineer at repairing just about anything, loaned her money without a backward look to her loved ones.

She has a friend from forever. Their fathers were best friends. Nellie has always called Mom several times a year and always sent cards. She calls on Mom’s birthday, and this year, my mother can’t even parrot hello into the phone, doesn’t recognize what the phone is, or realize I am asking her to speak into it.

Nellie tells me she has breast cancer and that she is going to the doctor. Later I find out from her son she has 4 to 6 months and is refusing chemo. A fair choice, I think, cool in my analysis like autumn rain, and wishing my Mother’s end was as clear. I go about my day the day I learn the news, and I feel sadness gathering in some far distance in me. It’s pushing zinnatears up. I sit in the car after some errand and weep for a long time. Hard tears. Ones that tear. For Nellie. For life. For its inevitable end. But also for Mom. Somehow I can weep for her through Nellie.