Sunday, February 15, 2009

As I Stand Speaking...

This may be a TMI moment, but here goes. A bunch of people live in my brain. This wouldn't be so bad it they weren't all storytellers, and if they weren't all bent on telling their stories at the same exact time. We get along fairly well in private but this group thing can be especially trying when one is speaking before live audiences. Every story I begin reminds the individuals that comprise this interesting fellowship of another story-- and what's worse-- everyone thinks she should go next as her story is better, more appropriate, more interesting. As I stand speaking the audience sees one person. They do not see the full out mud slinging cat fight going on inside my head. This is good. It could be the sole reason I haven't been put away. That, and the fact that I am Southern, which explains a lot to a lot of people, at least the type that generally book me. This, too, is good. Note to self: Do not travel outside the South without your papers, or your people, or both.

The south is full of storytellers. Some have to write them down. What happens that causes the first to become the second? It's a question I like to ask other authors on my live show, All Things Southern LIVE at that was born out of my website, I never tire of hearing their answers. (Did you see those shameless plugs? It's a gift.)

So, how would I answer my own question? You mean after I wrestled "the group". I'd begin with one of my all time favorite quotes on writing: "Everyone says they'd like to write a book. What they mean is that they would like to have written a book." Big. Difference. I think the folks who cross the line, the storytellers who write 'em down are the ones who have to, flat out have to. Most little kids write play words before they can read, pretend words, squibbles. Some never stop.

By now, if you're still with me, you may have scooted over to my website. By now, you may think you know the type of stories I tell. I understand that you would feel that way, but you don't. You can't know the words spilled all over my house. If you hold my latest book in your hand you see the words Penguin (God love 'em) decided were worthy of the light of day. There are so many others that, and this is probably good, will never be seen. Novels, short stories, and poems that jump indiscriminately from one genre to another. And since I don't think the poetress is ever going to wrestle the others down long enough to perfect her craft, I think I will now give her a moment in the sun.

What follows are thoughts of my paternal grandmother who saw in me a famous writer. She gave me a typewritter when I was eleven. My siblings thought it the strangest gift. I was elated. I used it to write my first novel,"Martha and her Horse".

Grandma was a Kentucky woman who came to the Delta in a horse drawn carriage and kept house in a tent until she and her husband could afford a home. She didn't have an education, but she was enamored with words. Finding a grandchild who loved to write them made her glow with pride. I wish every child knew the feeling of having some one think his or her words are worthy. I post these now because Grandma never saw my words in print. Or did she.

“My Father’s Mother”

climbing four cracked steps

as the bus plods off

first grade reader in hand

I knew I’d find you

in your green chair

near the window

voices whisper

she does nothing now

but watch the flickering lights

of make believe lives

I don’t care

I liked you there, in your chair

worried faces

her feet, they’re too heavy

ankles swelling at awkward angles

I didn’t mind you being heavy

I needed you solid

like a rock

let ‘em frown

did they come to the delta

keep house in a tent

birth a baby alone

while the youngest tugs,

his dress held beneath the bed’s leg

bending and picking the scratchy white cotton

with ten of your own

baby waiting in the shade

see, you talked

they listened

but I heard

Anxious hearts

they say he died at lunch

with crops waiting in the field

broke her heart in two

she threw in the towel

and sat down for good

house was empty

noses wiped

bottoms cleaned

meals cooked

Grandma, did you quit

or were you through

later they wiped you with the others

old and tired

and wondered why you hung on

I wondered how you’d feel

who your spirit would be

when your body wasn’t tired

from babies

and cooking

and scrubbing

I missed you then

I miss you now

I wish I could sit in your chair


1 comment:

  1. Hey Mrs. Shellie,

    I just wanted to thank you so much for your prayers and for being so encouraging. We feel so loved by Lake Providence! I am more than blessed to have Carey as a friend who would ask others to be in prayer for us...what did I do to deserve such a friend? Well, I do love all of you guys, and thank you again for lifting us up. And, I loved what you said about your pricked a special place in my heart for my late, hard-working Grandmother who somehow saw something special in me :).