The Catastrophe of Success

Uncle Henry’s was a fine place to celebrate a first year of writing.

Tucked between Yazoo Pass and the Mississippi River, just north of Clarksdale and a little south of the Helena bridge, it sat alongside Moon Lake, an oxbow good for fishing, if not for navigation and commerce.

Across the road from the lake, Uncle Henry’s provided its guests with a spacious gallery, a west-facing view perfect for sunset-watching, no scheduled activities, and plenty of solitude — perhaps its greatest virtue. Not every lodging encourages just sitting and thinking, those necessary components of the creative process. Uncle Henry’s did.

While robins stitched their song through branches of dogwood and azalea and morning flared out across the sky, I was more than happy to sit and think, particularly about the nature of persistence, and how quickly a year can flee down corridors of time. Continue reading

Persistence, Personified

After months of struggle, The Little Essay That Could finally started its engines, cut loose the string of cars that had been carrying the freight of an idea that didn’t belong and began chugging its way up the hill toward publication. It had been left on a siding, bereft and forlorn, condemned to idleness by my own obstinancy, my stubborn insistence that two thematic strands should remain entwined in a single essay.   Only after I pulled them apart, discarding one, was the storyline able to get going and pick up a little steam.

Ironically, just as I began working again on my simplified piece, sighing and moaning to myself that things ought to be progressing more quickly, I came across news of Harper Lee and her former literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. Lee recently filed suit in Manhattan federal court seeking to recover royalties from from the sale of her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  According to Associated Press reports, Lee was contending that Pinkus had tricked her into signing over the copyright to her novel while she was recovering from a stroke.  Continue reading

Search Pattern

Due north from south
then south again
my heart flies,
unfettered but forlorn,
anxious in this unexpected space,
winging over absence
with an osprey’s climbing curl.

From east to west
frail rising hope streams light
across conviction’s shattered hull.
Adrift beyond arm’s reach
love’s oars float fruitless,
splintered as the fragments of a dream.

What flotsam drifts,
preserved through night’s long tumult
to wash exhausted onto shore?

The osprey climbs.
The oars drift on.
The heart resumes its wheeling flight
due north from south
then south again
across a bowl of tears.

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Dam Atchafalaya

So. The engineers have calculated, the scientists have pondered, the advisors have advised and the decision-makers have decided. The Bird’s Point levee has been blown apart, the river is being allowed to run free through the Bonnet Carre Spillway and the Morganza Spillway gates are being raised, one by one.

I have no real quarrel with any of this. I’ve followed the decision-making process as best I can, and I understand the rationale. But like so many who claim even the slightest connection to the Atchafalaya, to Cajun country and to the area’s warm, friendly and often downright quirky people, I was immensely saddened to see the waters begin to pour into the Atchafalaya Basin, scattering wildlife and sending its people fleeing to higher ground.

If I’m cheered at all, it’s by the knowledge that a goodly portion of the folks in Louisiana are what my grandfather used to call “britches hitchers”. Faced with a challenge, with adversity or grief, they “hitch up their britches” and get on with it. Jim Delahoussaye, a resident of Butte La Rose, recently mentioned a friend, a catfisherman who’d pulled a rib trying to run lines that were too tight. You can’t always fight, said Jim, reflecting on his friend’s experience. There comes a time when it’s “best to let it go, and start over when this statement by the river has been made.” Continue reading

The Joy of Learning to Close Those Tags


In 1987, a friend invited me to help celebrate her 40th birthday aboard a chartered catamaran on Galveston Bay. I wasn’t a sailor, and never had boarded a sailboat, but I accepted the invitation because I loved my friend and wanted to share in her happiness.  Driving to Galveston, I never imagined I was heading toward  an experience that would still be affecting my life nearly 20 years later.

As we loosed our lines that hot August night, there was a freshening breeze, and a lapping of wavelets against the hull. As the sun touched the dusky horizon and stars emerged above the mast, I felt a sudden impulse. Walking to the stern, I asked the captain, “Do you teach people to do this?” Glancing in my direction, he mused, “No one’s ever asked”.  When I asked again, he gazed at the darkening shoreline a long moment before saying, “Fine. But you’re going to learn it all.”

He was true to his word, and he taught me well.  No one “learns it all”, but I learned enough over the next months to know the joy of competence, and the discipline of the sea. In bays and waterways, offshore swells and quiet anchorages, we practiced navigation, rehearsed Rules of the Road, bled fuel lines, and mended sails. I learned to single-hand, and I learned to crew.  Above all, I learned to love water, wind and sky in a deep and profound way.

The learning took time, but the most important lesson I learned immediately. On my first day aboard, Tom asked me remove the canvas cover from the mainsail furled on its boom. The boom was higher than I could reach; the sail was tightly stacked and tied. Looking at it, I spoke the first words that came to mind: “I can’t reach it.”

Bent over the anchor chain, Tom never moved. When he spoke, his tone was clear: “Never again will you say, ‘I can’t’. If I tell you to do something which seems difficult or impossible, ask, ‘How can I?’ The answer may be that you ask for help, or find someone else to do it, but that’s not where you start. The only way you’ll succeed is by first asking, ‘How can I?’”

“Over the months, there were difficulties to spare. Each time I hesitated, Tom would grin and say, “You know the rule.”   By that time, I certainly did.  When difficulties arise, the rule says: relinquish pessimistic or petulant “I can’t” for curious and optimistic “How can I?” 

Then, begin again.

Over the years, the question I learned to ask on that sailboat has embedded itself so deeply into my psyche it seems a birthright, true across every realm of life. No matter how painful a relationship, no matter how fearful the unknown, no matter how difficult life’s challenges, there always is a way forward.

I’ve had more than a few occasions to remember my “rule” since coming to WordPress.  When I posted my first blog, I was as Dazed and Confused as the title implied.  Confronted by a site filled with people  comfortable with categories, tags, css, rss and html in the way I’m comfortable with my cousins or my cat, I could only admit to the truth: “When I look at a hyperlink, I hyperventilate.  When I hear the word “tag”, I think of a children’s game.  If any computer guru in the world begins a sentence, “All you have to do is…”, I’ve already done a mental turn and am running for my life.  They mean well, and so do I.   It’s just that “intuitive” is not a word I associate with computers or their programs.”

On the other hand, I’m not oblivious to the fact that the world has changed in my lifetime.  I’ve been forced to admit that, “whether I like it or not, the day of the Number 2 pencil, or even the old, clunky Underwood, is over.  If I am to share my words and my vision, technology must become my friend.”

And so, taking a deep breath and with my somewhat older friend “How Can I?” by my side, I began to create a blog.  Step by step, I learned to work with images, and colorize my text.  I learned not to use Word to create my entries, and how to create links.  I learned about blogrolls and Blogger,  text-wrap and Twitter.  It was slow and more-or-less awkward, but all worked well until my last post.

I met my match in the form of four links which wouldn’t format properly.  I like to emphasize links by making their color different from the text around them, and never had problems doing so.  This time, it was beyond me.  I tried everything I knew and a few wild guesses for good measure.  I simply couldn’t make it work.  The only solution was to swallow hard and head off to the forums, to see if I could ask my question clearly enough to find an answer.

The details of the question and answer aren’t really important.  The fact that I was able to solve my problem with the help of a forum volunteer is wonderful, but somewhat beside the point.  The point of it all appeared a day or so later, when I stopped by my blog to answer a comment.

I’ve begun responding to readers by adding my italicized comment directly beneath their post.  It’s neat and tidy, and helps the flow by keeping comment and response together in one place.  This time, when I added my response, the entire comment-and-response became one large, clickable link.  It didn’t hurt anything, but it wasn’t right.  Staring at the screen, caught up in html-phobia, I stopped hyperventilating long enough to remember my success in repairing those four recalcitrant links simply by re-arranging a bit of code.  I thought to myself, “It was easy enough to fix that, once the problem was pointed out to me.  How can I fix this?”

Clicking into the html editor, I looked over the page.  I examined the code as though it were a lab specimen, looking for the anomaly, the error, the out-of-place character.  Making myself slow down, I went through the code one line at a time, over and over, until I found it: an unclosed < a > tag.  Amost breathless with excitement, I added the necessary  < /a >, saved it, and previewed the page.  It was perfect.  

Sometimes, a tiny triumph is enough.  Sometimes, solving even the smallest problem will do.  Now and then, just a glimpse of a present reality can open our eyes to the wonder of future possibilities.  After two months at WordPress, I’m still a bit dazed but not nearly so confused, and I’m learning once again the power of those simple words: how can I? 

It will take time to learn the vocabulary, the culture and the simple etiquette of this blogging world, but I find it more accessible every day.  There’s a certain elegance to this “other language” called html that intrigues me, not to mention the pleasure of learning so many new skills. 

Now and then, someone will ask, “How can you spend so much time messing around with that computer?”   Reading my words, looking at my images, I ponder a bit, and then ask in return, “How can I not?”





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