There will be no more new posts for this blog as we have been designing and moving to a more professional platform–and boy howdy, do we have some new digs.
Y’all hang on–we are in the final stages of development and will post here, on this page, when the house warming party starts!
And–while I love the comments that are pouring in on old content–all of these will be lost soon (unless I take screenshots, but that would be quite a lot). If you would, consider leaving those comments on my FB page so that we can keep them!
It shouldn’t be much longer now. Waiting on a little design project to finish and the very smallest bit of polish. 🙂
“It is quite possible that an animal has spoken to me and that I didn’t catch the remark because I wasn’t paying attention.”
E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
I’m rusty, y’all. Everything in my head has not hit type for years, so this might be harder than I thought. I sat here today, after grappling for several days with re-learning WordPress, trying to get the words to come. Okay, and trying to figure out a home page again, inserting pics, and good grief I’m behind in my skills here. I reckon the only way is to try, so here goes.
I met Harriet back in the spring. She was bullied from day one, smaller than the rest and not willing to peck back to achieve that critical order that would allow her a share of the food. I noticed, but not enough, and there was so much chicken shit. Oh, so much. (Let’s talk later on how on how to use that for maters?) To make matters worse, we were hunkered down trying to finish a high tunnel on a tight timeline . . . with nowhere for these chicks to go. And so, they lived on top of my deep freezer for a bit too long.
That’s when I noticed. Amongst all those adorable “Frizzle” babies, one little black one, running back and forth in front of the door like the building was on fire. I had grabbed her up that first day quite by accident: two white, two black, two brown, two red . . . wait, I can’t have two of the brown? Fine, I’ll take the extra black one left in the corner. No one seemed to love her. I had no idea, but that was Harriet—my darling, my heart. But I didn’t love her yet. She was just . . . another chicken.
So, my sweet Frizzle was frantic. I grabbed my coffee, a stool, and some patience to sit there for a spell. That’s when I saw it: they were all pecking her. Hitting her, over and over, with sharp beaks across her head, her eyes, her tiny little rumpus. I opened the door to swat them away . . . and she fluttered to my shoulder. I attempted to put her back (what the hell was I going to do with a “free chicken?”), yet she hid her head under my ear and begged for sanctuary. I should have known then. How many times in my own life have I asked for the same thing?
She lived on top of the cage for the remaining month, free as a . . . chicken? Y’all should have seen her, pooping on the heads of her abusive kin, cooing at me and occasionally flying down to watch me make coffee. We called her “free chicken” for a while, but one day she whispered her real name in my ear, and that was that.
She wasn’t as classically pretty as the others: missing so many feathers on her head made her somewhat sharp in the face. And it had nothing to do with her. Oh no, not one nary bit. Her eyes were pools of copper, a tiny ball of ebony fluff, but she was so much bigger than her tiny body. Harriet went to work teaching me something I had no intention of ever truly learning, something I’m still grappling on: everything has a soul.
Oh, I’m fairly unnerved about this. I mean, I knew that everything had a soul, I just didn’t “know that I knew,” if you get what I’m saying. I’ve preached hours about the Cherokee way of thanking an animal for it’s life, honoring that life in real and sacred rituals, and working to assure that the meat we buy is ethically “harvested,” blah blah blah. And yet, I still had maintained a healthy (???) cognitive dissonance about it all. I mean, c’mon y’all. Chickens have tiny brains, right? So . . . it’s not so bad. Right?
(I’m sure you are all thinking: she’s gone vegan. Nope. Hang on.)
I’ve gone with the “tiny brain” theory on so many moments . . . and then, Harriet showed up. Let’s see: yup. Her brain is tiny. But: she coos when I touch her, while all the others run for the hills. She snuggles me, while the others scream as if in the clutches of a fox when I pick them up. (Assholes. I have tried to ‘splain to them to no avail.) Every night, she still runs back and forth in front of the cage of their new luxury coop and run–just so that I can pick her up and put her to bed. And then, it finally occurred to me:
Brain size and soul size have literally nothing to do with each other.
We already know this, somewhere deep inside of us: we’ve always known this. We knew, as children, looking into the souls of dogs, kitties, butterflies, turtles. I have even recently pondered: do chickens “know “this? Did she outgrow them? Was she born unable to pretend? Is this why they were compelled to attack her, push her away, kill her? To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, did she cluck a word that they did not understand? (See “Dressed to Kill” if you want to chase that one down.) Either way, Harriet was down to break the rules. She intended to make a human remember what her soul had lost. I was the lucky victim.
I fear that I cannot get across the deep lesson this has given me. Words seem so inadequate. It’s like when a tree frog doesn’t jump away, but gazes back at you for one brief moment and you wonder: do you *feel* things? If you cannot think them, does your soul know them? And is that somehow, at the end of the day, so much more profound?
I remember the day that I knew Harriet loved me. I cannot prove it–nothing can–and I’m sure that it can be dismissed as imprinting. You had to be there, I guess. She doesn’t peck–never will–it’s against her nature, but one day, she accidentally “bit” me with her beak trying to garner a green bean. I must have hollered out, and then we just looked at each other, and then . . . she picked up her right foot and placed it in my hand. We just froze there, human and chicken, in an awkward trans-species moment, and I knew. Her brain is the size of a pea. Her soul is the size of my heart.
You see, I think we miss this as one of those magical “great mysteries.” I think we miss it because we are conditioned to be the grand poobah of the animal kingdom amongst subjects that we might decide to eat, train, domesticate, or stuff and hang on a wall. Waking up to other souls on the planet that are not human is, well, inconvenient.
Do I still eat chicken? The truth is: I’m not sure. I’ve struggled with whether it would be better to raise my own, give them a few years, grant a more sacred and honorable death than Tyson and live with the reality of it all. At least, the Cherokee knew this to be more noble, more balanced. Without that connection (and YES, it would cost me something), I don’t know if I could still honor the life of that soul. It’s horribly inconvenient, this moment, and I have not finished the battle with my conscience.
But I will say that I’ve decided to learn to fish. (Yikes, now there’s THAT to think about.) Upside: Harriet adores fish.
Finally, and this is the heart of the matter, I cannot continue to live my life as some kind of uppity-careless-unaware species. (Harriet would have my ass for that, after all.) While we might have the biggest brains, I am becoming more and more doubtful that the same can be said of our souls. There are mysteries to unveil, lessons to learn, love to find. And sometimes, your teacher might just be a chicken.
Sorry for the rust on my writing. I’ll get better.
To watch Harriet being, well, a chicken:
The Before: I remember sitting across from a friend of mine, someone I had trusted and loved for years, caught between how much she had given me and how much she had forsaken me. It was excruciating, really, sitting over that salad in a brightly lit deli next to the university that had broken me. I remember how sympathetic her face turned and how the rage against that look made the olives on my plate taste bitter. I told her “it changed me,” hoping for her to finally see the depth of the damage. She said something to the effect of “good. It was time to grow up.” Peter Pan. She could not see me from her world, I was simply Peter Pan. And I let her go so that I could keep the memories of us. She had loved me before, what we used to have was real. I needed to keep that. I love her still. But, we change, don’t we?
It did change everything, losing my job. There are reasons for that, but today is not the day for that exploration. Today is the day that I called a teacher friend of mine, a successful fiction writer, who I knew would be important in my life. Not in the way of epic friendships, or edging up my own teaching skills, or even in the way of just garnering a good listener—rather, my friend has an important skill. He still believes in magic and possibility, but he never misses the mark when calling me out on my bullshit. And here’s what I found out today: PTSD is a cruel teacher.
I used to blog like breathing. Writing my struggles and sharing my life allowed me to be free for the first time: it was the real me. No more disapproving mother, no more hiding, no more. So, this blog was like a cozy witchy cottage, filled with sparkly blue jars and bracketed by a warm fireplace and a creaky rocking chair. And it’s where the bomb went off.
So. It’s five years later and I’m standing here. I crowbarred the door open and am just standing here, the dust dancing across the light, and I don’t know if I have the strength to sit down. How many times have I imagined just bulldozing this place down? No one would remember, given enough time. I could just take a brick or two and put them on my mantle where I live now. Remember when I wanted to, forget when I need to . . . let the explosion have the bones of the house.
But then . . . my friend Terry suggested something crazy. Renovation. Some new paint? I’m older now, I’m different now, maybe rebuild the porch? Add a garden. Put some new books on the shelf. See who still wants to come and sit a spell with me—perhaps even invite a stranger or two over? Like any structure, the woods are taking it all back. But I could get my machete out . . . ask the trees to let the sun back in . . . pull the weeds and wrestle the vines back . . .
If I did this, rebuilt a bit, it wouldn’t be quite the same. It couldn’t be for you, readers. It would have to be for me. That’s not to say that we couldn’t have a deep friendship, it’s just that: I’ve become a crone. I’m not so swayed by public opinion anymore. And if I clean all this shrapnel up, sage the room, and sit back down in this here rocker, it’s going to be mine again.
It would be the one that I (one day) die in. I wouldn’t leave the room again if another bomb went off. It would have to be my last stand, and one doesn’t just willy-nilly make a last stand. I’m going to study on this, think about what I would want the cottage to be, and maybe cry a little on the floor for the past. There’s a penny in my hand, a can of purple paint in the truck, a gas can on the porch, and I have a decision to make.
She was a pretty little cottage. I’ll let you know her fate.
“I don’t want to die without any scars.”
― Chuck Palahniuk,
“Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
― Chuck Palahniuk,
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“There’s a moment in fighting when strength of muscle ain’t everything because enemy has already given you enough energy to gain the victory.” – Toba Beta
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher
“We shall heal our wounds, collect our dead and continue fighting.” – Mao Tse-Tung
Yesterday, it was unseasonably warm and bright here. It tried to offer me hope, but it need not have worried so much. Thank you, Yesterday, but I am my grandmother’s child. I cannot help myself.
It would be much easier if I were made of something else, something more sensible and human. Most of the time, I do not enjoy being here. There is too much pain and carelessness and self-indulgence and all of it cuts and beats and blocks the sun too often. But then again, once is too much, isn’t it? Yes, self pity would be the obvious go-to for my experiences and living. Did I deserve that childhood? That abusive husband? A family who needed for me to be the black sheep? A child who couldn’t love me? Poverty/single parenthood? The loss of a career?
I refuse to answer that question. Doing so would mean that I would be omnipotent in my judgment. Maybe so . . . maybe not . . . maybe sometimes . . . maybe never. This post is not about my suffering. Others have suffered much more than I could ever know and I am no fool when it comes to grief competition. No one ever wins. No, this post is about a horrible flaw/curse/blessing that resides inside of me and will not let me be. This post is about rising.
When I was in my teens and living on the street, I fought for money. Sometimes girls, sometimes boys. I lost only once–not because I was stronger or faster or a Jedi knight, but because of my horrible inability to just stay down. (I lost to a very large woman who sat on me. I still say that’s cheating.) I’ve had my jaw broken, my ribs shattered, my lip busted clean through and my dumb ass still grapples for the dirt and pushes back up for more. I would never be able to scream if someone were actually killing me because I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing my horror. I have had a few pets like this who just will not die until there is literally no explanation for the simple fact that they are still breathing. And yet, they will howl against it and try to stand again just to get in my lap. It’s truly an excruciating thing to watch. (It happened again just a few days ago. For that, I spent the last of my money on a cremation. Bless his fierce love.) That must be how the people in my life feel from time to time, and for that, I am truly sorry.
I remember losing my dad suddenly in his early fifties two days before the end of the semester (grad school). Dr. X sent a message that I did not, after all, have to show up and present my research with the rest of the class due to my grief. I did, snot and all, because that’s what I do. My daughter was in a fierce car wreck during finals. I wrote the essay at the hospital. (Not my best work, but there you go.) I lost my baby girl in the middle of a semester while teaching an eight a.m. English course. The next day, I sobbed my way through “Why We Write” and kept two office hours with blood soaking my pad. I stood last year and shook hands with the “official” that tried to take my dignity away whilst breaking my family’s financial security and smiled (and threw up in the bathroom, but still). Incapable. I just cannot stay down.
Once, many years ago, I was raped by two men while going for milk in the middle of the night for my sons. As the first one unzipped his pants, I made a snap decision: I lifted my head and slammed it into the concrete curb of that back alley and knocked myself clean the hell out. They raped me, hurt me, and I stayed in the hospital for days: but I have no memory of the event.
In my estimation, I won. We told everyone that I had pneumonia. And that was that.
I know. It sounds as if I have no feelings. You would be stone cold wrong about that.
There’s this “thing” inside of me that will not stay down. It makes things rough, not easy. So many smooth roads in my memory to which I’ve thrown up my middle finger. If I have loved you, you have been told–even as you walk out the door. If I have found you to be dishonorable, I have railed against it in spite of threats and loss of friendship. Now, this doesn’t make me more noble than anyone else. It’s just that “thing” in me that will not stay down.
And I hate it. So, there’s your moment. Now, how noble is that?
There have been times, very dark ones, in which I have wished that I had married for money, taught high school, kept my mouth shut and my head down. Wished it in retrospect, because in the moment: I cannot help it. There was this beautiful man named James Foley who once said: “There’s physical courage, but that’s nothing compared to moral courage.” I’m sure that he did not intend to die for his cause. Some of us just don’t weigh things the same as others. It’s a curse.
I had hoped that as I grew older this “thing” would get calmer, but alas: it has almost outgrown my frame. When it is big enough to crack my skin, my bones will finally just stay down. Hopefully, the rest of me will still rise.
I know that I am exhausting to anyone who loves me. RB once told me: “We are not like you. You cannot expect the rest of us to be like you.” It taught me to be more patient. But it did nothing to quell my illogically unconquerable spirit. I wish it had. This thing in me is not my personality. It is not my appearance. It is not my desire. I have begun to think that it is a soul.
And I cannot save myself from it.
For those of you who have wondered what happened to that law suit: I can only legally state (according to my attorney) that: “It was satisfied.” I cannot answer other questions without bringing my home into jeopardy. Please understand this. And remember what I did on that curb that day? And how I felt after? Like that. So be it: it is done.
I can state, though, that I always get back up.
I know that I haven’t used my SFW voice yet. Shall I?
I was four when I slipped and busted my lip on that sidewalk. I don’t have memory of why, only the sting and salt and copper taste of it and the way I wanted to hit it back. She stood over me and told me to “get on up, now. That sidewalk don’t care if yor mad. Stand up!” And I did. And I never stopped doing it. And I reckon that sidewalk never got its druthers.
And it never will.
Next time I blog, let’s talk about gardening. 🙂
“Upon hearing the first verse and chorus, I thought that this was nothing more than a rapturous praise of sexuality gone too far—a goddess with the alleged power to absolve his sin and make him well. I was uncomfortable with this, but then I immediately realized that what Hozier is doing will be condemned as sacrilegious by anyone with a conservative bent, and that should come as no surprise—certainly not to him.” 
“Hozier, and any other artist, can use words as if they were on the free market. But they aren’t. Words have a relational meaning in the divine-human community and a history to boot. In short, Hozier is using stolen capital of the Christian faith. And I, for one, would like it back when he’s finished toying with it.” 
“Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction; it is, in great part, a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive; passive rather than action; innocence rather than Nobleness; Abstinence from Evil, rather than energetic Pursuit of Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) ‘thou shalt not’ predominates unduly over ‘thou shalt.”
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
“Beware of organizations that proclaim their devotion to the light without embracing, bowing to the dark; for when they idealize half the world they must devalue the rest.”
Picture me, drinking my morning coffee on the day that same-sex marriage became legal in Alabama, stumbling onto this article while searching for the original video of Hozier’s song. At first, I was intrigued. Why, here was a Christian on a site that touts the values of the Christian faith dealing with a specifically radical song and claiming to be moved by it! It didn’t hurt that he wrote brilliantly—all of the commas in place, all of the thoughts well versed—something that even I forget to do in blog writing. In fact, he snuck in his bitch-slap so deftly at the end that I almost thought I deserved it.
It should go without saying that the original meaning of the song is somewhat disregarded by this author. If there is any doubt, you can always watch the interview in which Hozier clearly denotes that the song is an indictment of the homophobia and its related violence in Russia. Of course, the church carries its heavy share of the blame. Interestingly enough, Mr. Hibbs side-steps this angle and lunges straight into an accusation of theft of Christian terms and their related dogmas. There is only one sentence that refers to the intended focus of the song, but even it is only in parentheses. If Hozier has stolen Christian capital to make a point, Hibbs has stolen the resistant rhetoric of the LGBT movement to reclaim it.
But this is still not what chaps my bum. (After all, this tactic is what many of us do when trying to reclaim ourselves.) What really irks me? He’s wrong. Plain and simple. Let’s break this down a bit.
His claim is that the word “church,” and all of the divinity that the term represents, is Christian. And now we have a party folks. You see: the word actually derives from the Greek term “kuriakon or kyriakon,” or in German “Kirche,” or in Hebrew “kikkar” (circle), or the Anglo-Saxon root word “Circe” . . . in other words (yes, I see the pun): it is a Pagan term. Most often? It’s in reference to the structure/body/house of a Pagan god(dess). Any simple research will take you here. And that, my friends, is only half the problem.
As one of my blog followers clearly pointed out: he skips over the second verse of the song, altogether. Can’t say as I blame him—it’s a doozy:
If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work 
Smart man, refusing to deliver on an argument here. It’s simply reverent. I hear it and my knees buckle: he’s singing the words of my people. We are over 30,000 years old and have been sacrificing, worshiping, and slinging our faces toward the sun forever. Amen, amen. Mr. Hibbs, however, ignores this passage and pushes on:
“What makes Hozier’s words effective is the Christian faith itself. The central themes in the song–worship, sanctity, identity, relationship–and the words he uses to express them have little weight if not grounded in biblical revelation and the history of the church.”
*Cracks knuckles*. Let’s get this straight: these are Christian words? Christian themes? We have stolen from, um, you? This premise wholly denies the worship, sanctity, identity and relationships of legions of souls that were long upon the Earth before Christianity—and its representative “call to papers” text—ever shouted their first hallelujah. I get it though. What better way to make yourself right than to ignore history, science, anthropology? Alabamians have been doing this forever—and at least haven’t attempted to hide within the satin sheets of linguistic prowess. It looks more like this: “Y’all is going to hell. God said so.” Brother, please.
I contend that the author of this article is, well, unnerved by the rapturous nature of the song. (Strange how it reminds me of homophobic reactions to anything that smacks “gay.”) And that is fine and good—we understand. But man, read a book. Pick up one on etymology. If these terms (worship, sanctity, church) are Christian capital, we are only stealing them back. All’s fair in love and bullshit. But more than anything, dude, we never considered them “capital.” The whole concept of it being such gives me the willies—but hey. If you’re building an Empire . . .
Or a Walmart with a cross . . .
But let’s push further. The article also claims that:
His words are effective because they are weighty, but they are only weighty because of the gravity given to them (1) by God himself, whose Trinitarian nature is the basis of all effective communication; and (2) by years of use in the Christian tradition. The way I see it, Hozier is trying to exploit that historical use in order to praise what he considers to be the essential mark of humanity: sexuality. He has, in a sense, stolen weighty words from the church in order to empower his message for the world. My question upon hearing the end of the song was, “is he allowed to do this?”
Yes, Mr. Hibbs. Yes, he is allowed to do this. You see, not everyone ascribes to your dogma. Your first premise is, well, as ridiculous as assuming that dinosaurs died because they couldn’t fit on the Ark. The second assumes that stealing and using terms for your own gain (regardless of “years of use”) somehow makes such an act noble or just. Such an argument could also assume that stealing my car, driving around in it to go to church and such, makes the car yours because of “years of use.” And you dare to question my right to reclaim the car? Why, that car is Pagan, sir. I think the bigger question is: why do you need it? Oh, capital. That’s right.
Mr. Hibbs: some things are not for sale. If it is true that “Words have a relational meaning in the divine-human community and a history to boot,” then you have a sincere apology to write. History does not begin just a little over 2,000 years ago—and your faith has no dog in this fight. In short, Mr. Hibbs, you are using stolen terminology of the Pagan faith. And I, for one, would like it back when you are finished using it as capital for the Christian church.
But I digress into anger. Does Hozier sling the church into question? Yes. Does he take some liberties with assumed terminologies? Yes. Did he flip the church on its uppity ass to illuminate that the emperor has no clothes? Perhaps. My response to Hozier’s song, “Take Me To Church?” is pretty simple:
Thank you. Thank you for reaching past the institutional horror of religion and landing in something spiritual and real. Thank you for allowing for a moment in which we can become “clean” in the sexual and primal moment of real love. Thank you for calling out “the church” as that which deems us “sick,” simply because some of us love someone of the same sex. Thank you for reclaiming rapture. Thank you for mentioning—regardless of why—the reverence of “goddess” within that moment. And, forgive them. They know not.
Sorry, Mr. Hibbs, but if we are to tally how much of your Christian capital was earned on Pagan backs—well. I, for one, will need the deed to your house. Contact me for my bank information.
3. Hozier, “Take Me To Church,” Rubyworks: Island-Columbia: 2013.
“A picture’s worth a thousand words,
But you can’t see what those shades of gray keep covered–
You should have seen it in color.”
Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
“I bleed Orange and Blue. Auburn University made me what I am today–and I never turn my back on family.” Dr. Privett-Duren
My heart is broken. And this is a really, really good thing.
As a little girl, I knew the difference between a skinned knee and real sorrow. Loss of blood had nothing on the latter. From the moment I entered your world, I grieved the impending death of my Grandma. At four. At ten. At thirty. At forty-two. Knowing that she would die became the foundation I grew upon, red and sundown yellow against whatever innocence I should have understood. Something in me knew she loved me better, harder, deeper than anyone ever would again. And so, I suppose, it was selfish from the beginning.
She broke my little girl Southern heart, from the moment I breathed air. And she was worth it. Some things, and some folks, just are.
I fell in love with Auburn University while she was still alive. For this, I am so grateful. I remember her, rocking back and forth on the porch and chewing her nails, trying to grasp the difference between being a doctor and holding a doctorate. Not that it made any nevermind to her: I had made it. The little girl she had taken in, over and over, since 1966. Her taterhead. Her baby had survived—and she was so proud of me. The feel of her rough country hand on my shoulder, her finger tracing my eyebrows that she was so fond of from birth, her voice in my ear . . . these things are all I have left now. They now whisper in the wind, just memories I’m imparting to you on a computer. But, laws. You should have seen them in color.
I’ve never been loved like that since, and I expect, I never will. It made me fearless. It made me impenetrable. It made me witch.
And now, even though some might think they knew her better, I know she grieves with me. Grandma knew what it was to hide herself from the public eye—and she knew that what might seem, at first glance, to be evil can be very, very good. I promised to hold her secrets. And forever I shall. But I can still hear her, I still can taste her bravery in my mouth and I still know where she stood on “what tweren’t right,” and let me tell you: there wasn’t any gray area for that woman. She told me stories of bigotry in Alabama and how she subverted its spread, tales of love so wrenching there were not words for their demise and spun stories of “heavenly” grace that most Southerners would only comprehend in the abstract. We agreed. On everything that mattered.
But here I am. Without her. Struggling to stand again.
My story is about to be released in the news, and I suppose, that was inevitable. But before it does, let me say:
I loved teaching. It made me high. My students loved me and I loved them—and something truly magical happened in those rooms, cornered against Fitzgerald and Matheson and grappling with old dead white men. We . . . found our voices, albeit them innocuous to academia and the numbers on standardized tests. I loved them: Christians, football players, Muslims, sorority girls, outcasts, hippies, every one. We forged forts and valleys and ideas and memories. Sometimes, they would go on to be teachers, themselves. Sometimes, they went on to be lawyers. Always, they looked back and said: “It was Camelot.” Every single class.
And while this should have been enough, shoved up against my impeccable annual reviews, it wasn’t. Not when they found out that I was, am, a country witch. No one has bothered to ask what this means—although none of my students seem to care. After all, folks like me are in the Bible, advising and prophesizing and generally decorating the whole shebang. Either way, they knew me to be “good.” And this, in their estimation, was all that mattered. Well, that and teaching my arse off.
And they came damn smart close to loving me as much as Grandma did.
I remember one review, about five years ago, in which my supervisor lamented: “I wish we could take whatever you have and bottle it.” Ironic, really, when you finally understand that “whatever [I] had” was of a magical nature. Although, I suppose that in the end, they did try to bottle it.
My grandma would have their hide for that. After all, I had done my best, had won awards, had incited multiple students to go on for their graduate degrees and had overall sweated over their fields and prayed for rain. In the end?
Here’s what I remember: desks scooting closer, books adorned with scribbles of thoughts and questions, eyes brimming with pain over a love over two-hundred years-old, arguments fueled by ancient rhetoric, frat boys grappling with concepts of justice, football players saddling up next to Dickens, ESL students following me to the elevator with hope. I can draw this for you, all day.
But you should have seen it in color.
I was Dr. PD. And it was Camelot. You will read a bit about what happened in the news soon, and for those of you who didn’t know, I’m so sorry if this upsets you in any way. What you need to know, if you find yourselves angry or confused, is really simple.
Yes, my darlings. I am, have always been, a country witch. And everything anyone has ever told you about what that means should have also told you that we love you. That we love a “Great Spirit/aka God/aka Goddess” just like you, honey. That we have ethical boundaries, believe in the power of love, count on faith and walk on dirt just like you. I may burn because of your confusion, but know this:
While I do, I will be blessing you. The “me” you loved is still here. Being a witch does not mean that I am evil, or bad, or vengeful. It just means that the sky blessed me once with a little extra something. And somewhere, deep inside you, the truth is there.
For Auburn University: You broke my heart. And you were worth it.
For my readers, I promise you: I am back. Being outed on this level was the impetus to my healing, finally, of my identity. I am no longer in the closet. I am the Southern Fried Witch, turning and spinning and loving out in the backwoods of Alabama. And I am, also and indelibly,
Dr. Katharyn Privett-Duren (Seba)
“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.”
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
“Mommy, now do the voices.” Jake, age five
I don’t know how old I was when magic tripped across symbols upon a page and flipped in the air to land in my heart. I do know that it made me hungry for something my birth had forgotten and that I felt certain that the moment was somehow a tragedy, as if I had found a hole that would never be full. I was right.
The day I found Stephen King, I felt both victorious and ashamed. After all, I had been raised on the elite of literature (Black Beauty, The Sword and the Stone) and now, I had strayed to the “horror” section of the library like a bastard child. And was fed, heartily. I remember asking my mother if I could check out Carrie (at the time, I had eaten through the children’s section and had nothing left). She was too busy, or tired, to double check the cover. And my fascination with the “other” side was born.
But–this is not the subject of my post tonight. Indeed, I have read voraciously my entire life (after all, I hold a doctorate in literature) and that, my friends, is neither here nor there. I suppose it gave me a foundation or platform on which to perform, to rethink, to consider, to rebel against and with all of my Southern upbringing. I suppose that–at times–it saved me from the abyss of my own blackened mind. It gave me . . . empathy. Hope. A healthy cynicism in a conservative, Christian land. In the time before the glitz and suddenness of Facebook, it afforded me a sincere lack of ignorance to a stranger’s plight. And still, this is not the subject of this post.
But this is: an outed witch in a land of Christian dogma, I have been thoroughly and quite unceremoniously fired from my job as a teacher. The fact(s) that I have won awards for my teaching, have copious letters from former students affirming my positive influence upon their lives and (apparently) the current desperate need for qualified teachers at my former institution have had no bearing upon a political dean and a nasty little witch hunt. Regardless of all logical reasoning (and legal sense): I am currently and effectively fired. All of which is unfair, somewhat illegal and wholly unethical: but, there it is. Aside from a thick and convoluted lawsuit upon the institution that deemed me worthy of a doctorate, I am without recompense. (Yes, yes. There were “uncool” factors that pushed this action along–but still. Even those are not totally to blame. This one lies squarely upon the heads (ahem) of university bias. I know better than to blame the actors and let the director walk.) And still . . . I am not yet centered upon the subject of this post. Let’s try harder.
I think that losing the job had something to do with gaining my soul back.
A long time ago, I lost my love for reading. After hundreds of memorized books and comprehensive examinations, I couldn’t bring myself to read again. The words had been stripped of their heart-thump and laid to rest alongside theoretical propositions and critiques in French, German and high-falootin’ New Englanders. Not much was left standing of the salt and meat that had fed my frame as a child. Be warned. Upon passing through the Ivory Gates of Academia, they beat the living shit out of your passionate heart and leave it bloody on the steps of “who you know” and “publish or perish.” I’ll be damned if even then you won’t know your ass from a hole in the ground unless *they* approve it and call it “ass.” Or “hole in the ground.” You lose your way. But worse, you lose . . .
And so, I stopped reading. Even magazines. Damnable things would slip up on you, arguing for “right interpretations” of recipes, sewing, whatever until everything smelled, tasted and sounded like dogma. Dry, no salt, intensely dense and tall without sauce. Like sex with an audience and perfectly shaved legs when all you long for is some sweaty, inappropriate screw against an oak tree. Y’all know what I mean. Reading had become . . . a duty.
On the phone with my spiritual student (and her very pregnant belly), I remembered.
The most magical moments I ever shared with my children were while reading. Bedtime stories became this liquid translator of my heart to theirs, all messy and with “voices” and those “eyebrows up, eyebrows down” places. Runaway Bunny. Like Butter for Pancakes. Strawberry Girl. The Velveteen Rabbit. Analogies and euphemisms snuggled up against the push and pull of time while my child snuggled closer and closer, safe, against sleep. There was a “letting go” that had to happen. Y’all know what I mean. That tiny slip between the footing of the daily world and the stars of the story world as we walked toward dreams, unafraid and totally our most base selves. Like that. Totally like that: losing our mom/dad selves in their wonder and innocence and finding truth there unlike anything we could put our hands on in the light of day. And this thing, this wondrous transference of reality for something more real had been buried within my chest for so long that, when it shivered, it drove me to my knees.
“When I say to a parent, ‘read to a child,’ I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. ” — Mem Fox
I was starving. The flesh of my soul was hanging from my proper bones, gnawing at the cardboard of academia and an approved life. Yes, I have the doctorate. Yes, yes. I know the theories. But I had forgotten:
Everything. The way a new book smells like the one you left behind, so many lives ago. Sawdust and ink, lost amongst electric bills and frozen dinners. I had forgotten the magic of reaching out with the typed word and finding the carve of springs and caverns, oceans and broken hearts. My first love, thrown into boxes. I had followed them to a finish line of sorts, but left them as only markers.
And I’m sure this post seems like nothing. Perhaps it is only the ramblings of an aging woman who has spent too much time nursing idealism and sharpening an oyster knife when the water has turned to sand.
But I remember something else. I was seventeen–a huge pain in the ass–and had moved back in with my Grandma. No one else would take me. One night, after drinking too much and smoking too much and acting a complete eighties bonafied fool, I came home very late and tried to tip-toe down the hall. Grandma (who never slept until her chickens were safe) called out from the hall and asked me to lie down beside her in the dark. And I did. Whiskey on my breath, thinking about some hot Alabama boy I can no longer name, I did. And, there in the dark, she did the unthinkable and the totally uncool. She said:
“Once upon a time, there were three little bears . . .”
I am forty-eight but I still remember the last time a story weaved itself into the air, up in wispy webs, down into my heart. Transference, complete.
“Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.”
Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon
And the older witch loved the little girl she had been, somehow forgiving all of those who had hurt her along the way. For none had hurt her as badly as she had, herself. So, she picked up a book and told herself a tale of living and dreaming and starting over. It began with . . .
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
“In retrospect, this seems to summarize all the insanity of that time. Guy is standing on top of a burning building. Helicopter arrives, hovers, drops a rope ladder. Climb up! the man leaning out of the helicopter’s door shouts. Guy on top of burning building responds, Give me two weeks to think about it.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Leave it to me to get exactly what I asked for . . . and then be confounded by the answer. How long had I whined: I don’t want to teach anymore . . . I want to stay home and grow things and write things and cook things. Long enough that the echo of it is still haunting me. And: I cast for it. Stood right there in my corn field and threw my hands into the night sky and did what any real witch would do. I simply said: GO. Not: go, but only if it’s a Tuesday and I am wearing polka dots. Not: go, but around this corner, then stop here. No, no, no. I know better than that. Energy truly understands only one command and everything else clusterf***s the system. And so, I knew that real magic meant real risk.
Does this mean I didn’t sit my ass down and think first? No . . . I’ve learned (especially in the last two years) to think very long and hard about these things. To not be so damned impulsive, so ludicrously careless. As an Aries, it’s no wonder I was almost fifty when these lessons finally sunk in to my bones. It was wondrous for me to find that the thinking part was a magical process, in and of itself! If it was worth doing, it could wait until the time was right . . . reminds me of waiting for a good wine to “peak,” a process that can and does often take decades. My favorite moment from Sideways (a movie I both detest and adore, strangely) is thus:
How it’s a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline. Sideways 2004
And this is all true. Except . . . if it’s taken in, all that sunshine and love and work, right into the blood stream of just the right human on just the right day, where it continues to breathe. Demise, halted. Life, continued. This was where I was, that fall eve. Uncorking a wine that I had crafted . . . and I drank the whole blessed thing in bare feet under the stars.
But, as we do, I then went about the earthly business of washing dishes, crafting stews, mending ends and (depending upon the day) fighting with/having sex with my husband. Like you do. Time marched on. One day, I won an award where I worked–an event that my numerous students celebrated–the next day? I was done. (As a Southerner, I know the rules about discussing the ins and outs of this on social media. Let’s say that it was inevitable, considering the evolution of our department, and that I had a little *push.* Can’t thank that moment, enough.) Was it fair/ethical/legal? Nope, nope, nope. But laws, was it ever fortuitous. And the wine was alive in my blood.
Now, I’m not saying that I haven’t ached over this loss/gain. Some days, I wake up and sob, blame others, rail and rant like a chicken without a head. But, others? I remember that this is the risk I took that day in the corn. The muggle in me wants justice. The witch in me is dancing nekkid in victory.
Let’s hope the latter whoops the former’s ungrateful ass.
Because this is what I asked for, and ultimate justice is a life lived well. Bogging my old heart down in revenge and gnashing at the result only resonates as a lack of gratitude to my Big Momma, Mother Goddess and constant teacher. Because in the end?
I reconnected with old friends, rejuvenated my passion for my husband, found out what I was made of and grew a backbone. My Tribe became stronger, my time became more meaningful and . . . I started reading again. (A big deal. I gave it up after my doctorate.) As a bonus, I am now reconnecting with the Pagan community after a long hiatus of discord and fracture–a necessary step that I had resisted for way too long–in hopes of leaving a healthy legacy for my son and Tribe. And, finally after dreaming for five years, I have started a business that feeds my soul and my table.
But more than anything: I am becoming again. Nothing major or earth-shattering, just this slow, purposeful awakening into the baby Crone I have always seen just around the corner. I finally know where my lines in the sand lie–but more importantly–how to clearly mark them out for others before it’s too late.
In the end? I found myself. The road led all around the world and landed right smack back at my own front door. And I am so glad to be home.
I guess many of us think of magic as if we were watching a cinematic, special-effects topography of our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth, really. It’s more about what we are willing to lose, how serious we are about the gain and how present we are willing to be when we get what we asked for–or at least, that’s what I have reckoned. Because this is the exact and direct result of my cast, I know better than to blame Karma or Fate. Those two have already had their way with me, and we’ve recently had a cup of coffee and reviewed one or two things. Funny, isn’t it? How some folks refuse to own their own “magical children” when they arrive, all bruised and battered at the front door. I used to be one of those folks–but no more. I know all too well the consequences of refusing responsibility.
And, recently, I have finally learned the benefits of drinking my own wine. There are moments, notes of sun and pain, laughter and work, spice and fruit. It is magical, all on its own. So Mote It Be.
(Somehow, my Southern voice didn’t want to play today. Not sure what that’s about. But I’ve learned to listen to my gut.)