My Grandfather’s Guitar

My grandfather’s guitar sits in a corner of my study
untouched, gathering dust.
When I was young and he was already old, it could pull notes straight from the air
through his fingers and into my ears.
I can hear them, though he is gone and his instrument’s gone quiet.
When I was young, not even ten,
he’d pick it up and start to play and then I’d go still,
stuck to one spot until he was done.
My grandfather’s guitar in his hands made magic, but I was too young to understand
that music is magic made real for a moment.
A fret and a twang and he’d made something that didn’t exist before
and wouldn’t again.
I sometimes imagine myself back there, wearing muddy tennis shoes with tangled hair,
just listening.

I can hear it, but no song ever sounds the same twice.

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New Year, New House, Same Me

I’ll be honest – I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution that I’ve kept.  I believe that we should always strive to be more kind, more honest, more engaged, more fulfilled, and just happy, but for me, setting goals because the calendar’s turning over feels a little, well, artificial.

It’s 2017 – twelve days in – and I’m sitting in my same chair, writing on my same laptop, using my same brain, in my new (old) house.

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I know that this house will become a project not just for 2017 but for life.  And I mean that in a couple of ways.  Graham and I will spend this year (and the years to come) making this charming old farmhouse everything it was ever meant to be.

And that is my hope, not resolution, for now and for always, for all of us in 2017 and beyond.  That we appreciate ourselves for who we are.  That we set the path for who we will become without fear or doubt.

That we embrace our flaws and build beautiful things with them and make our lives everything we want them to be.

I wasn’t perfect in 2016, and I expect I’ll be the same ridiculous person in 2017.  And I’m pretty okay with that.

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But as I look ahead, with my same eyes, I am excited and a little scared, and hopeful, always hopeful, that I will keep working and writing, that I will keep singing and dancing and having fun, that I will learn and try and fail and succeed, and that I will do my part to make this world everything I believe it can be.

Censorship Isn’t the Solution

It came to my attention tonight that To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been temporarily removed from Accomack County school bookshelves after a parent complained about the use of racial slurs in both.  Here’s one of the articles I read, if you’re particular like me and you’d like to verify the facts for yourself: Virginian-Pilot Article.

Yes, folks, censorship right here in my beloved Old Dominion.  We’re starting the holiday season off right with some good old-fashioned book banning.

I don’t mean to be cruel or dismissive.  I understand a parent’s concern for the welfare and safety of a child – I’m not heartless.  Both of these books address painful topics, even for adults, and it’s important to be sensitive to how children might feel when they read such ugly, hateful words.  But read them they must, because erasing the history of racism in the United States doesn’t change the fact that it happened.  Glossing over our nation’s past in the classroom, or worse removing it from the shelves altogether, doesn’t help our children.

Books aren’t, and were never meant to be, safe.  Literature helps us confront the darkest parts of ourselves.  Stories should challenge us, inspire us, and arm us with knowledge and perspective as we live every day in this world.  To be uncomfortable, to be sad, to be happy, to be angry, to be frustrated while reading is to learn, and learning is a beautiful, difficult, maddening, absolutely and vitally important thing.

Nasty words in books don’t hurt us.  The world hurts us, and books help us process that pain.  We shouldn’t, must not, deny children that opportunity.

Thanksgiving 2016

I am thankful every day – for amazing family and beautiful friends, for the choices I have the privilege to make, for opportunities and new days and sunsets and ice cream and adventures and wine and every good thing in my life.  I’m not happy to be thankful.  I’m happy because I’m thankful.

And today, I’m happy to celebrate at home in the mountains.  But, you know, it’s good this holiday only comes once a year, because it’s not even noon and I’ve already eaten more than my weight in delicious things and I don’t know if I could handle this much thankful every day.

Happy Thanksgiving from our (smoky) little corner of Virginia!

Graham

Today is Graham’s birthday.

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I went to bed last night feeling like I live in a country I no longer recognize.  I was sad.  I was shocked.  My fellow Americans have elected as our leader a man who clearly views women as inferior, as objects, as fun little toys meant for his amusement.  To me, and to many American women, and humanity as a whole, his election is a frightening reminder of the ugliness and hate that festers in this great and proud nation.  He is a dangerous man.  He will be a scary leader.  And I am terrified.

As the gravity of this reality hit me last night, Graham wrapped his arms around me and reminded me that he loves me, and that I am not alone.  This morning, he made the coffee and sat with me as I stared at the wall.  Today, he will check in on me whenever he gets the chance, and he will send me interesting articles to read and funny pictures to lift my spirits.  Tonight, he will head to the grocery store so that I can spend the day with my thoughts and my blank pages and write until I feel whole again.

He will spend this day, his birthday, making me feel loved.  That is the kind of man he is.  He is kind and thoughtful, he is patient and respectful, he is empathetic and full of love and all the other good stuff that makes us human.

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Graham is a good man.  I’ve been fortunate to have many good men in my life, and he is the best of them.  I am encouraged by the strength of his character and his tireless drive to do right.  I am heartened by his genuine smile and lifted up every day by his gentle spirit.  The depth of his heart and all the love that it can hold inspires me and gives me hope for a better, brighter, happier, kinder future.  Because he is a good man, I know that my country is not lost.  It is there, in the steadiness of his temperament, the power of his convictions, and the goodness in all that he is and all that he will become.

This beautiful soul is my guiding star, and today is his day.  I am proud of Graham, proud to be his wife, and proud to call him my husband.  Happy birthday, wonderful man!  I love you.

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Something for the Writers

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month.  I won’t be officially participating, but I admire those who will be, and I’m in awe of their bravery and confidence.  Hats off to those wonderful, crazy few starting the journey today.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  I used to write stories for my parents (scrawled in pink crayon with illustrations and morals at the end) that I’m pretty sure they’ve still got tucked away in a box somewhere.

I’ve wanted to be other things, too.  I’ve wanted to be an actress, a singer, a lawyer, a teacher, a librarian, and sometimes all of these things on the same day.

But more than anything else, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  Even before I really knew what it meant, I wanted to be a writer.  And what does it mean, to be a writer?

Being a writer is lonely hours with a laptop or a pen and paper.  And sometimes not so lonely hours, too, because being a writer is creating new best friends every day, bringing to life on a page people you wish you knew (and some you wish you didn’t) in real life.

Being a writer is rejection and ridicule, from agents and publishers, from people you’d like to interview for a great story, from random strangers who ask what you do but really mean what (can) you do (for me), and (never, in my case, thankfully) sometimes from friends and family.

Being a writer is incredible, exhilarating achievement, because writers create something from nothing and build new worlds and new people and new life out of coffee and thin air.  It’s amazing, inspiring magic, no wand required.

Being a writer is simultaneous risk and reward, madness and genius, dark places and illumination.  Being a writer is powerful and humbling, and to walk the path of the written word is brave and bold (and crazy, and scary, and fun).

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, because I’d rather live a thousand lives than just one, and I’d rather open doors than close them, and I want to create those beautiful, heavenly little things called books, because they make life better.

So, to all those taking the first step in a journey of a thousand today, good luck, and enjoy, and make sure you’ve got plenty of coffee very close by.  And to those thinking about it, dreaming about it, and wondering when’s the right time to start, why not today, and why not now?

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The Privilege of Catching Up

Where did I leave off?  Bristol, I think.  Yes, when last we met, I was all about Bristol.  That’s been more than a month ago now.  I’m ashamed of myself.  Bad writer, very bad writer.

And no wonder I’ve been so moody these last few weeks – too many words and ideas floating around in my head with no place to go.  Bad writer.  Very bad writer.  Very, very bad.  I’d give myself a time out, but that would be counterproductive.

Not that it’s an excuse, but this last month has been busy and stressful and full of surprises (good and not so good).  We’ve had quite an adventure, trying to buy our dream home and sell our current home at the same time.  So far, the process has been nerve-wracking but successful, and with whatever luck we have left after a full month of small miracles, hopefully everything will work out and we’ll move into our own little Virginia farmhouse by mid-December.  If that happens, we’ll be among the less than 100 official residents of the historic village of Aldie, VA, and we’ll be the newest stewards of an 1820s charmer sitting on a Civil War battlefield that I suspect has lots of stories to tell us.  I can’t wait to sit and listen.

My point is, I’ve not been writing, but I’ve not been unproductive.  Life gets in the way sometimes.  This process, though, has been illuminating for me.  A little introspection goes a long way, and in this long and trying slog of offering on one home and preparing our current home for market, I’ve been thinking.  I’ve been thinking a lot, actually.  My mind hasn’t really stopped.  And most of what I’ve been thinking is this:

I am so lucky.

I have the privilege to choose between my current beautiful home and another beautiful home.

I have the privilege to focus pretty much all of my energy on buying and selling, since I don’t have a job with set hours and demands.

I have the privilege to sleep in and take some time to rest when everything becomes a little too overwhelming.

I have the privilege to catch up on all of the things I’ve fallen behind on since this whole crazy whirlwind roller coaster ride started.

I am so lucky.

I can’t believe how much I’ve let everything get to me.  I feel like I’ve looked Fortuna in the eye and spit in her face.  Do you think she’d prefer chocolates, flowers, or wine by way of apology?  Or, perhaps, she’d just like it if I get back to celebrating my life instead of focusing on the many reasons I need more coffee/wine.

I am so lucky.  And I won’t forget again.

*I realize I didn’t include a picture in today’s post.  So, for the purpose of completeness, here’s one of our Annie-dog relaxing, since she’s the only one doing much of that these days.

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Heaven is Music Everywhere: Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion

I grew up in music.  It’s how my family communicates, celebrates, mourns, and loves.

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I lived my childhood in an area of the country famous for its country music history.  I’m as formed by music and mountains as I am by the cells that build my body.  Music is in my blood.  My soul was nurtured by the sounds of guitars and drum sets and fiddles and banjos.  What I’m getting at here is that the one thing that makes me who I am, more than anything else in my life, is music.  My roots run deep and firm and, well, musical, in the brushy, misty mountains of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

As they say, it’s Bristol, baby.  Or, more aptly for this post, it’s (all about) Bristol, baby.

You might have been to music festivals, but you’ve never been to a festival quite like Bristol’s Rhythm and Roots Reunion.  Bristol cemented its place in music history in 1927 with the Bristol Sessions, essentially the founding of modern country music.  Since then (and even before), Bristol and the surrounding area has been a gathering place for musicians and music lovers to come together, collaborate, and celebrate.  That’s what Rhythm and Roots is all about.

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Once a year, Bristol, a city that spans Virginia and Tennessee, closes State Street and its side streets for several blocks.  It sets up stages, brings in vendors for arts, crafts, and food, and invites musicians from all over the country to play for a three-day celebration of music and mountain culture.

There’s music everywhere.  There are stages and musicians tucked into every corner.  There’s a band in almost every bar and restaurant.  From Friday through Sunday, once a year, Bristol becomes a little piece of melodious, lyrical, pickin’ and strummin’ Heaven.  And it’s not just country music.  You’ll find Americana, folk, classic rock, rockabilly, alt rock, bluegrass, jazz and ragtime, and even some Celtic flare.  Music is a universal language, and Rhythm and Roots offers something for everyone.

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Ed Young of Ed Young and Friends, a three-person band featuring guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and upright bass, and Ed’s bluesy, deep baritone.

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Randi Denton, lead singer of Indighost, a rock band with a sound reminiscent of 1960s psychedelia.

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Blair Crimmins, front man of Blair Crimmins and the Hookers, an energetic Dixieland, jazz, and ragtime band.

I love Rhythm and Roots because it captures the spark that makes music what it is.  Music is more than just sound waves.  Music is important.  Music is culture.  Music is identity.  Music is home, and as long as you never lose the music, you’ll always carry your home with you.

I’ve done cartwheels across State Street that carried me from Virginia to Tennessee, and I’ve stood many times in two places at once.  I’ve spent some of my most memorable days in the green room and on the stage of Bristol’s impeccably restored Paramount theatre.

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I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for seven years.  I’ve done my time in fast-paced, competitive jobs.  I’ve commuted three hours each day.  I think I fit in well enough here, now.  But it’s not home.

Home is where the heart is, and my heart’s tucked safely away in the mountains where I grew up.  I might have left them, but they’ve never left me.  Every time I go to Rhythm and Roots, I’m grateful all over again that I grew up in the land of biscuits and gravy, Johnny Wood and fishing, flatfooting, porch sitting, moonshine, and music.

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*Some links, for anyone who’d like to learn more about the festival or the bands I’ve mentioned here: Bristol Rhythm and Roots ReunionIndighostBlair Crimmins and the Hookers

Three Years Married

My husband and I have been married for three years today.  Graham is my best friend, my partner, on occasion my therapist, and the love of my life.  If soul mates are for real, I’m certain he’s mine.

Our wedding was beautiful, every detail exactly what we wanted, and the perfect expression of our personalities and our love for each other.

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But marriage is more than a pretty white dress and fond feelings.  Neither of us came into this thinking that we’d have a fairy tale ending.  Marriage is hard.  It’s a brutal, non-stop boot camp that teaches you how to love another person.  It’s not easy to share your life with another human being.  It’s not easy to be selfless when someone else’s goals need attention.  And don’t even get me started on money.  That’s ground we cover with our combat boots on.  Marriage takes work.  It takes commitment and effort.  Every. Single. Day.

And it’s worth it.  It’s worth it to have a partner who supports you, who laughs with you and cries with you and sings with you and drinks wine (only seldom to excess) with you.  It’s worth it to know we will always come home to each other, no matter how awful the day or how far the distance.

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Graham and I are happy.  We might not be happy every minute of every day, but we’re happy with each other and happy with our life together.  We don’t get it right every time (who does?), but we always try, and every day we learn a little more about what makes our marriage work.

We talk.  About everything.  All the time.  We talk about politics and philosophy and photography and writing.  We talk about work and projects.  We talk about our insecurities, and we brag about our accomplishments and our talents.  We talk about our house, our pets, our cars (more about his, because it’s a piece of crap).  We end every argument with a long conversation about why we argued and how we can work together to move forward, and what we need from each other.  Ours is a verbose relationship, and that means that we don’t hold anything back.  We talk, and we trust.

We do stuff.  We dabble in our hobbies together.  I’m Graham’s photography assistant (I’m a glorified lens-holder).  He’s my sous chef (he’s basically the dishwasher and garbage man).  We make a point of exploring new places and seeing new things together.  We go adventuring together (he plans and I fret…it works).  We encourage each other to learn and grow and not get bored.  We engage each other not just as romantic partners, but as real people with real interests.  He’ll hold my hand while I see the tigers at the zoo, and I’ll hold his (but close my eyes) while he looks at the snakes.

We don’t fight fair.  Bear with me on this one.  Graham’s a logic machine – at his worst, he’s a pedantic, intellectual snob who will rip apart an argument for the sake of doing it.  I’m an emotional tyrant – at my worst, I always know the most hurtful thing to say, and I’ve got a temper that would frighten Donald Trump.  And it’s okay.  He’s smart, savvy, quick-thinking, and willing to stand up for himself when he knows he’s right.  I’m passionate, committed, and I won’t back down when I believe in something.  I’m fire and he’s ice.  We balance each other, and we understand that neither of us is perfect.  We know that we can’t love each other halfway.  If we always tiptoed around our differences, we really wouldn’t have much of a relationship.

We apologize.  I’m scary in an argument.  He’s detached.  We know this.  We really, really know this.  But we both know when to quit and say we’re sorry.  Admitting when we’re wrong and owning up to it isn’t always easy (it’s never easy).  But being together is more important than winning.  You can’t build a life together if you act like adversaries keeping score.  “I’m sorry,” said honestly, gracefully, and with conviction and respect, are the two most important, powerful words in a marriage.

We are grateful.  For the good times and the bad times, and the boring times, and the exciting times, and the arguments, and the apologies, and the adventures, and all of the times we’ve come through for each other when it matters.  Life throws curve balls.  Plans fall through.  Things don’t always work the way we’d planned.  We still have each other.  We never forget how important that is.

Growing up, I always said I’d never get married.  Marriage meant a lifetime with one person.  Marriage meant compromising myself and my dreams for someone else.  I just couldn’t imagine loving someone enough to make that kind of commitment.  Now, I can’t imagine my life without my husband in it.  Our marriage makes me stronger, kinder, braver, more patient, more ambitious, more motivated, and just better.

Graham is my North Star.  He’s the fixed foot of my compass, and his love will carry me through anything life throws at me.

I love you, Grahambler, every second of every day.  Thank you for going on this journey with me.

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