Thank Goodness My Husband Chases Storms…?

I knew on Thursday that my trip home from Little Rock today might be dicey. I considered, very briefly, to come home last night to avoid the potential danger I could face driving up the Missouri/Kansas border to my home in Kansas City. That (would-be) 7-hour drive (6 hours for ol’ Lead Foot here) was supposed to be smack-dab in the middle of the moderate risk area. Anyone who follows storms like my husband does (literally, he follows them, the fool), will tell you that moderate risk days are not to be trifled with. [ugh, dangling participle]

Mother Nature wasn’t playing around today either.

I made the fortuitous, and educated, decision to leave Little Rock before nine this morning. I only drove through one moderate downpour, and had virtually no issues with rain otherwise, except leaving my gas cap off for 120 miles during said downpour .

Around 1:30, my husband contacted me to ask where I was. “Lamar (MO),” I told him.

“Don’t stop,” he replied. “There’s a storm coming up behind you going about 60 miles per hour.”

“Not a problem. It’ll never catch me!”

(Please don’t tell the cops, but my speed was between 83 and 88 miles per hour nearly the entire trip. I’m not bragging, and if my mother ever reads this, she will no doubt reprimand her 40 year-old daughter, but I am admitting my guilt. Like I said, please don’t tell the highway patrol.)

I was right. I missed all the weather. I missed the tornadoes (plural) that ran along Highway 40 on which I had just sped, my satellite radio blasting, just a few hours prior. I missed the mayhem, the disaster, the lives lost, the property destroyed.

And for that, I thank my crazy, adrenaline-riddled husband who chases storms and worries me constantly every spring. That dumbass (and I mean that lovingly) kept me from harm’s way. Guess he wants to keep me around a little longer.

Probably because he needed clean socks.

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What Does A Writer Feel Like?

Today was a spectacular day. I met, spoke with, shook hands with, and ultimately became a fan of 7 different authors. As each one spoke, I felt myself lifting out of the body of a sometimes bitter high school teacher and settling into the writer I know I am. Highlights are as follows:

10:00am – Panel with Curtis Sittenfield, author of Prep, American Wife, and Sisterland, and Mona Simpson, author of Anywhere But Here and Casebook. Each spoke frankly about writing when trying to raise kids and have a “normal” life. Sittenfield seemed so down-to-earth, as if she would be the mom who reluctantly volunteers for able sales and PTA events because she feels guilty her kids are often under-represented in the social stratosphere of suburbia. Mona Simpson, whose children are older, is a professor whose students probably hang on every word. Of course, these are assumptions based on the panel discussion, but I can understand Sittenfield’s balancing act as she tries to carve out time for her young children while sticking to publishing deadlines and book tours like she is on now.

11:30am – Mary Beth Keane, author of Fever (fictionalized account of Typhoid Mary that I cannot wait to read) and Wiley Cash, author of This Dark Road to Mercy. Both authors are new to me. Unlike Simpson and Sittenfield, whose books I’ve read most of, these are two writers whose work has flown beneath my radar, but I attended the panel because both novels sounded interesting, and so did the blurb about the discussion on the festival website. I was enthralled. Absolutely enraptured with their discussion. Cash has a smart, Southern boy charm; Keane is intelligent, and I could tell she wasn’t entirely comfortable with speaking before crowds. Fortunately, it wasn’t a large one, and she warmed to our little audience quickly when talking about her book. One could tell she had much to say about class, about social mobility and construction in the Victorian Era, and how we are so quick to make villains out of people who, through no fault of their own, become public enemy number one. Cash’s description of North Carolina and of his characters left me wanting more. When I handed my copy of his book to him to sign, I was terribly tongue-tied, but was able to squeak out my name and the correct spelling of it. Just a little literary crush. Nothing to see here. Move along.

2:30pm – Panel of authors and editor of The Shoe Burnin’, stories written by a group of Southern writers who gather annually to sit by the fire, burn shoes, and share stories. This was the most entertaining panel of the day, as married writers Joe Formichella and Suzanne Hudson, along with Shari Smith, discussed the inception of the book and musical CD that accompanies it. They spoke with humor about things great and small, and I became an instant fan. None of them had I ever heard of before today, but I will purposefully seek out their writings from now on. That Suzanne Hudson is a quietly dark writer with whom I feel the upmost literary and professional connection. She has just retired from teaching high school English and Spanish, and I could just tell we would have much in common discussing the problems of public education today. Her husband Joe kept the discussion light, and Shari Smith cracked us all up with her Southern flair for everything funny. Their stories could have gone on all day and I would have stayed until my bladder burst or my ears bled.

I spent far too much money on books, and I need a new bookshelf to hold all of my autographed copies so I don’t mistreat or lend them to others. I just couldn’t!

My reader’s cup overfloweth, but my inkwell is freshly filled, and I am ready to get down and dirty with writing. Maybe one day I will be invited to be a panelist. That is my sincerest wish. Hopefully I won’t have to wait until retirement.

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Arkansas Drivers Don’t Yield

Sweeping generalization, I know, but after being cut off mercilessly no fewer than 5 times between Conway and Little Rock (a span of about 25 highway miles, nearly all of which are currently under construction) by four semi trucks and one bright green Kia with no hubcaps and sporting the name Torres across the back windshield in a “Traditional Gothic” font (I looked that shit up), I can make this generalization with a slight bit of authority, however hyperbolic it may be.

Despite the six-point-five hour drive, I made it to downtown Little Rock for the literary festival. As I write this, my forty year-old feet are propped up to bring the blood back into the reaches of my circulatory system and out of my ankles. That is a long-ass drive.

The area around my downtown hotel is filled with people – thriving, one might say. I circled the block before arriving (because I honestly did not know where to park) and saw two restaurant patios full of almost middle-aged people like myself and baby boomers. (Technically, I realize I am middle-aged, but I still think of my parents when someone says the term, so give me a few more months to get used to it, OK?)

I am here on a quest of self-discovery. The festival is an excuse to step out of my comfort zone. I booked the hotel and pre-paid months ago so I couldn’t back out. Last night and this morning, I probably would have had I not paid our hard-earned money on the reservation.

My anxiety level is tremendously high – or it was this morning before I left and last night before I finally fell asleep. I know I have issues with crowds and with being by myself in a crowd and with doing things alone in general. A few years ago I had an anxiety attack trying to register at a Jazzercise convention. Too many other women around, too little air to breathe. I didn’t make it into the convention room before I was out of breath and sweating as if I had just worked out with Judi Sheppard Missett herself. I went to my car and drove home from the hotel where it was held in tears. I lost money on the registration at the convention, and that pissed me off.

Last summer I suffered one trying to find a parking spot to meet a friend for an outdoor Shakespearean play. I texted my friend, told her I was sick, and I went home instead of getting out of the car. I sobbed all the way to the house then, too. My husband consoled me, but I felt like a loser. Such simple tasks, and I couldn’t do them.

Turning forty probably wasn’t the catalyst for this sudden desire to finally put on my big girl pants and do something on my own, but it certainly is a motivator. I am learning about anxiety, and my need to overcome it without medicating myself into the blue nothingness (as antidepressant drugs made me feel when I had postpartum depression years ago). I will conquer this shit, and I’m starting today. Now.

I need to do this, to step out into the evening air in downtown Little Rock and see the sights, to taste what it has to offer. Only then can I get up again tomorrow and navigate the city streets to listen and learn from writers with more guts than I currently have with the hope of gaining some of my own.

Fortunately, it is all within walking distance, and I won’t have to deal with those crazy Arkansas drivers until Sunday.

Big Girl Trips

I haven’t ever been on my own. Not really. I had roommates in college, a live-in boyfriend during and after (who eventually became my husband), and a baby a year after getting my degree. When baby daddy and I separated for a little while while we both got our shit together, I still had the baby almost every night, so I can confidently say that I have spent maybe a dozen nights alone in my life.

What is an independent woman of 40 supposed to do when she wants to be alone – truly alone – for a few days?

She takes a road trip by her ever-loving self, that’s what.

In fewer than two days, I will get in my car and drive away, far away, from my family and job. I will spend most of the daylight hours in the car, but when I arrive, I will check into a hotel, grab my laptop and my purse, and head outdoors to a literary festival. I’m going to go pick the brains of writers I’ve never heard of. I’m going to listen and soak up the literary genius and the hackneyed advice alike. I am going to sit in caf├ęs, visit a presidential library, and write. No laundry, no dishes, no papers to grade. Just me, myself, and my thoughts…along with a few thousand other people attending the same festival.

I will be on my own for the first time in 40 years, if only for a couple days, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Stay tuned…

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