Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new start

This morning I got up early, jumped in the shower, threw on some clothes and drove to prison.

For the last year and a half, I've been following two women at Black Mountain Correctional Center for Women. I sat with them through a re-entry program and their subsequent class graduation, interviewed them in the cafeteria and library for hours upon hours, talked with them about everything from how they got in prison to their work-release jobs to what they'll do when they walk out of the administration building for the last time. Notebooks are piled in my office, filled with my scribbling about our conversations, their stories, thoughts, feelings.

And today! Debbie! Was! Released! After five years of living in a N.C. Department of Corrections facility, a sargeant's voice rumbled over the PA system, calling out her name, telling her to go to the administration building. It was for the last time. Cheers and clapping erupted in the yard, where women in green-blue shirts and shirt dresses sat smoking or listening to music at concrete picnic tables. She went inside and 20 minutes later, she came out arms filled with white plastic bags holding all her stuff. She and her probation officer loaded them in the trunk of the officer's car, and she climbed in the backseat. I stood in the parking lot, watching. As she rode away, her face was turned to the red brick dormatory where she'd lived the last two years. The sun shone on her face. And suddenly this feeling hopefulness flooded over me.

If you know me or my writing very well, you'll know that I don't believe in the "objective journalist." Do I believe in being fair? Oh, absolutely. For the last 1.5 years I've been practicing fairness. But today I felt so proud of her, so hopeful for her future, so happy that she won't have to ask anyone whether she can go to the bathroom or sit on a bench ever again. (She is the first to tell you that she needed to be in prison, that there wasn't a choice almost. But that was five years ago, and a lot has changed, I'm hoping. Now, I'm so happy that she's back!)

And it must be catching, these New Starts, because a woman I worked with at the newspaper is leaving the paper today to go teach English in South Korea with her husband. Wow.

I'm ready for a change, too. And, really, there was nothing left to do except jump up and down outside my house, happy that I feel one coming.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Uh-oh. Another slideshow

Things creating this slideshow of our recent trip to Oak Island with my niece, Acy, showed me:
1: Sit up straight, dammit. (The plague of being the tallest girl as a kid is growing into a slump-backed adult. Jeez.)
2: That kid is cute.
3: Seagulls are awesome.
4: We like to eat. A lot. (Both in quantity and in sheer desire to intake more food.)


(TIP: If the slideshow is going too fast, hit the pause button then manually scroll forward using the arrow button. E-mail me if you have a problem viewing.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Remember when I wrote about my summer read-a-thon? I'm well underway, and all I have to say is read this book: Eat, Pray, Love.

I'm in love with Elizabeth Gilbert. If she was here, I would hug her and make her a mug of tea or a shot of bourbon and we would sit on the porch and talk about Italy. I know that this book is also about Indonesia and India, but I'm only in the Italy part and already I'm wondering how many times I can reread this book without it getting creepy. And I'm only on page, like, 120.

I am in awe, too, because I think travel writing is insanely hard. To me. You have all these competing tasks: Tell the reader about the place you are -- what you're seeing, doing, etc. that others might like to see, do, etc. -- while also delving into the inner workings of that place. What's going on there? What are people doing, saying, feeling? What is that place about? Then, you have to show some inner awareness, some vulnerability, some tension, something that makes me want to keep reading your story, otherwise you just seem like a privileged wiseass who gets to go to all the most beautiful places in the world and rub it in the faces of people who are stuck at desks, behind brooms or some such drudgery in comparison to gazing at the Taj Mahal at sunset.

And, really, isn't that most of us?

What I'm definitely not interested in is this stop-by-stop listmaking diary entries. *Went to X. Ate Y. It was good. Next time, try ABC.* Not to point fingers here (because here I am having written close to nothing about my traveling), but I picked up Frances Mayes' book, "A Year In The World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler," because I'm a sucker for an interesting title. But, boy oh boy, did I have to skip about half that book. If you asked me where she went, I couldn't really tell you. (Though I could say that not having good places to stay is a Big Deal--better have some quiet and a garden to wander around.) The food discussions were the most interesting, if that tells you anything. (And I haven't read anything else by her, so this is no reflection on her entire body of work. And, to be fair, I haven't read anything else by Elizabeth Gilbert, either.)

Anyway, back to EPL. Literally. I must get off here and go read. Have you read it? And what other books about traveling do you recommend?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Hello, again. Did you miss me?

Sorry for the disappearance. I meant to tell you, but things caught up with me and there I was, Friday morning, rushing out of the house on my very, very long road trip* to the North Carolina coast, to my most beloved Oak Island.

Judging by the long lines of traffic snaking around Wilmington and the truly stunning amount of people at the local Food Lion the night we arrived, I'm not the only one who believes summer isn't summer without enough sand in your bathing suit to build your own Leonardo da Vinci. Why bother with sitting out in the sun and sculpting piles of sand when you can do it in the very own comfort of your very own bathtub? I love the beach. Love it. Really. Love. It.

I took a lot of photos, mostly of my little niece, Acy, so there will be some photos to come. But here's the short story: sand, perfect waves, perfect temperatures, running on flat land (Easy! Watch me go far and fast!), eating so many oysters, clams and crabs that I began to smell like the sea, too many episodes of Drake and Josh and The Dog Whisperer (Which, strangely, always put me to sleep. Even though I really like Cesar Millan! Really! *Snap, sshhhttt!!!*), and gulping down Water for Elephants between never-ending pretend matches with Acy that we were, in turns, mermaids and fairies.

The long story will come, slowly, but not too slowly as we're about to leave again, this time heading north to Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania for a few days. Just wanted to say Hey! I'm home! Want to go to the beach with me?

*OK. So not so long, just about 8.5 hours. On the road tripping scale, I'm sure this really equals a trip to the local grocery store, but still...

Monday, July 2, 2007

Ten things a five-year-old girl will teach you

1: That I was never the kind of kid who, like her, sang myself to sleep with tender, sweet songs I made up while playing in my room with tiny dolls and a pet wind-up rat.

2: That that surfing Chicken Joe is hilarious! What did he say, again? What's up with the boom-chicka-boom?

3: That attention spans are over rated -- as are pizza and french fries, but definitely not Oreos or potty breaks which are just excuses to pump soap out of the soap dispenser and play in the sink.

4: That you get to Albuquerque by train or by a space ship that collects stars.

5: That most kids on the playgrounds have absolutely no manners and don't care if they push others kids to the ground and make them cry. Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Dad! But some kids really want to share and play and all it takes is one five-year-old to say, "Want to be friends?" for life-long friendships to form in the line for the slide.

6: That the mind starts out so curious about everything. Does the Earth spin? How fast? What happens when it stops? Does it ever stop? How long is 15 minutes? How long is 10 minutes? Is that a long time or a short time? Is today the same day or is it tomorrow?

7: That turtles are first really frightening at first but then become something to be taken care of. So throw some leaves and sawdust on their shells that they can take home to their turtle families because they are hungry and/or cold and could use some blackberries because it looks like it likes them. Dogs are friends immediately and must be petted and stroked and kissed even if they are nasty and covered in foul decaying matter. If you have a dog, you are immediately a friend of a five-year-old. Cats are so-so. If they do cool tricks, then maybe.

8: That girls like the color purple and pink and boys like brown and gray and that black is ugly. Get it straight. But then, don't forget that colors can change every day. Yesterday, I liked green. Today, I like orange.

9: That being at home is awesome, that we don't have to go anywhere but in the woods and pick tulip poplar leaves that become mermaid tails and gravel becomes golden rocks that allow you super powers like jumping really far and running really fast.

10: That people were nice when I had a little kid (with me). So instead of ignoring me and/or scowling, they talk, smile, ask questions about things and generally want to be friends. Who knew?