musings on art, musings on creating

the messiness of emotions & “Hamilton”

I cry. Not heartbroken, but I cry. Tears rise up, choke my throat, cut off all but a whisper. They drip, drip, drip down my cheeks, land somewhere near my collarbone, and I try to hold on. I’m driving, and I’ve already cried too much this trip. Traffic and stoplights demand my focus, and all I can do is wade through the unimaginable.

Only, it’s not my unimaginable. My life has held no tragedy. I am wildly privileged in that my family loves and accepts me. I haven’t gone hungry. I haven’t struggled to learn, to earn, worried about student loan debt or a job.

But these words, they rise up, rise up, rise up, inexplicable. I scream them, sob them, allow them to shake me to the core. I appropriate these words: the accents, the cadence. The speed with which I have managed to make them tumble from my mouth is close, but not enough. I practice.

Hamilton is not the first piece of musical theater to make me cry. I can’t remember what was. Emotions well with overtures. That’s what art is supposed to do: make people feel. Anger, heartache, glee, terror, delight.

Trying to codify how Hamilton swirls emotions feels as impossible as Hamilton itself. Who’d’ve thought a rap musical about a forgotten Founding Father would eat at the public consciousness? How do I listen to the whole album without tears?

Even whispering the words to myself, a fist squeezes my heart. No song finishes without some rallying cry.

“I’m not throwing away my shot.” “Rise up.” “How do you write like you’re running out of time?” “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” “I will never be satisfied.”

It’s just the first act, with its triumphant tale of bastard orphan rising to Treasury Secretary. The quiet and raucous, horrifying downfall and death that litter the second act bring their own sadness and forgiveness.

More eloquent and elegant people write about the transcendence of Hamilton, its ubiquitous grasp, reaching out farther and further and beyond. Our history, our present, perhaps and hope for the future.

All these things, the hard work and joy and sorrow of searching for the perfect word and grasping at quicksilver emotion. Hamilton is a rallying cry and an admission of defeat. It makes me sit up, buckle down, tell my story. And it makes me so very aware of how hard that is.

Maybe that’s why I cry. Maybe it’s just so damn good. I’m telling everyone I know this story. And I burn.

apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda for borrowing so many of his lovely words just now.

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fiction, new from the book

new from the book: Chapter 2; October 30, 1857

read Chapter 1: Late October, 1857 here

William thought about turning back the whole ride over to Brockwayville. He thought it, dithered and pondered, but did not once turn the reins. Ambition pushed him forward. Pride, too. Without him, their little endeavor would be as cold in the ground as Black Hen. William puffed out his chest at that.

He deflated quickly, looked around to be sure no one saw. No one thinks highly of a man too proud of himself. Only twenty-one and nothing to be prideful about, anyway. William had enough sense to be able to laugh at his own self. Want to get it outta the way before she does, if I even catch a glimpse, he thought.

Uncle Junior at the livery stables gave him a beauty that morning. The kind of horse a man felt like taking when he went a-courtin’. Guess he was, in a couple of ways. William admired the horse with the sunlight rising through the trees. Some trees, anyway. Fewer than there used to be, said mama. Fewer than there were before he went Cincinnati last winter. Lord, but he saw some women there. His mind drifted pleasurably. William hauled up short, reminding himself of his vow.

No more women. Less liquor. No more trouble. I went to Cincy. I had as fine a time a poor man could have in a city, and kept Mama from hearin’ most of it. There’s something to be proud about. William threw out the kind of fine laugh he’s known for, startling the horse. She settled right back down, though, and only gave him sort of a look.

“I know, girl,” he said, patting the mare’s neck. “Penelope’s the only female fer me. Human, at least, anymore. I promised.” He’d come back from the only debauchery a man who’s been helping support his family could. The boys been determined to be men for their mama since they’s born. Cincinnati sure was fun, though. Playing around, learning, burning with ambition.

He’d come back to Brookville, spotted Penelope Clarke, and promised her he’d not feel another woman’s breasts, nor any of the other fun bits, ‘less they were hers. Well, excluding patients. And, well, he’d not precisely made that promise to Penelope, out loud, in person, or any other way. “Wouldn’t do to discuss delicate things with a delicate lady.” William said that last bit aloud.

The horse snorted. “That’s last of the flies, I suspect,” said William to her. Reassuring the mare.

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fiction, new from the book

new from the book: Chapter 1; late October, 1857

new opening, new tone, better story. still looking for a title.
warning: racially charged language, swearing

Henry swung in a wide arc over the creek, whooping and hollering. He left go and fell through the water to land directly on his ass. He came up sputtering, like the water was deep enough to drown, which it was, but it was not precisely deep enough that he’d gone under.

“Damnation, that water’s cold.” He raised his voice to be sure it carried to the boys waiting on the bank, making a fuss of splashing and wringing out his shirttails. No one bit. They knew he’d take the bet before they made it, and he knew he’d wrestle any one of them. No one suggests Henry wouldn’t grab that timber pulley rope and jump the crick without expecting him in the air ‘fore they’re done.

All of them had tempers, as anyone would tell you all the North Fork boys had. Barely did Charlie need to roll his eyes towards John before Henry jumped him. John couldn’t challenge both to shoot a running rabbit before they were arguing over whose shot killed it.

Most everyone thereabouts had a temper or some gumption or something that made them come to the hills and ridges and hollows of Western Pennsylvania. Sure, people started settling Brookville at the turn of the century. Henry’s momma had come with her daddy near as soon as anybody else, but even fifty or so years later with the trees coming down and more than a handful of doctors or barbers and lawyers and newspapers in the town proper, it was on the frontier of the East.

They sent their share of lumber and game down the North Fork and the Redbank to the Allegheny at the junction of the three rivers in Pittsburgh, and made men rich. Or they came for the land, and some said there was maybe coal in the hills, too. No matter why or how, people came from all over America and tried to have a life and family.

Eyes down on the rocks, Henry reached out a hand for a friendly pull up the bank or his gun, didn’t much matter which. “You fellers had best not’ve run off with my boots.” He grabbed air.

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musings, musings on creating, musings on people

where we live & stories we tell & who we are

Spring does not often come early to my neck of the woods. Early May and the trees are only just gently feathering their leaves into the world. Mystical pockets helped along by Mother Nature’s alchemy remind us how unfurled but not quite fully formed leaves look. April’s showers linger in humid air.

Occasionally we’re treated to a day as hot as late June. Instead of grumbling, we revel in the sweat. Thankful to put away down coats and heavy scarves, everyone seems to have grown taller. No one hunches against the cold wind but beams upward at watery sunlight instead.

Birds chirp and chatter, building nests, mating, and laying eggs. Dogs decide to bask in sunlight and dewy grass, wet up to their bellies from exploring all the smells winter dulled with ice.

Gumption returns, too. Projects and improvements that lay fallow all through the cold get started and finished. Minds grow warm again with use, looking for new new new, fresh and happy and not yet slowed by summer’s heat.

My brain whirs and chirps and hums along, excited as a bird, looking for new projects and new ways of thinking. Thinking of a life to build and the lives all around me. Passion projects come and go, but the passion for a project stays and stays.

In the brief moments between reading in bed and sleep, in between discussions and dissertations, while knitting and sewing, and chopping, cooking, baking, cleaning and painting, I think about this place I live. I think about the lives led here and the one I’m leading here now. I think about the stories we tell and the ones that need telling. The little ones, the true ones.

I think a lot about writing. That itchy feeling in my fingers that comes just before the thoughts coalesce. The snap I feel with an ah ha moment. That choked up feeling I get when I read something so true, see something performed so right. That’s the story I want to tell, I tell myself.

I drive around with the windows down. Thinking. Thinking about this place and who we are. I sing along and I wonder. I wonder who we are in this little corner of Western Pennsylvania. James Carville famously said our commonwealth was Pittsburgh on one end, Philadelphia the other, with Alabama in the middle. It resonates because it’s true.

But it isn’t, not exactly. Our foodways are rather less lush, our words shorter and more to the point, our ways and feelings held far closer to our chests. We mistrust outsiders and won’t exactly be inviting a newcomer directly to our homes before she proves herself. You do your work, and why are you complaining because we all have to work hard to get by. Your life’s no harder than mine.

We think of ourselves as Northeasterners, and I never thought I held that distinction more dear to my heart than when I had to talk Midwesterners out of thinking Western PA is part of the Midwest. I’ve been thinking, though, and reading and pondering, and letting my mind whir and chirp along. We aren’t Northeasterners here, either, not really.

We’re rural people, and forest people, and hill and holler people, even if we do try to fancy it up and say holler but spell it hollow. We’re crick people, which means creek, and river people, and we’re pickup truck people, and we’re a people still in a place that hasn’t had an industrial boom since they finished cutting all the trees down in 1900. We’re still here, but not exactly stuck here, though we’re stuck here, too.

I’ve been trying to figure us out, as one does, to be objective but not condescending to the same people I went to high school with, and not pandering to the people who left to get a job different than the ones left here. What I keep coming back to, what I keep feeling a kinship with, is that we’re Appalachian people.

I’ve tried it out a few times, with people who have lived here and gone away and come back and people who have never left, and no one has liked hearing it. Every single person has instinctively recoiled a bit. If we can’t mock West Virginians and Tennesseans and Kentuckians and all the rest, they’ll be mocking us, seems to be the mindset.

Then we talk about it for a bit, we really think about it, or maybe I push it a bit, and, shit, if we aren’t Appalachian. Our hills and ridges are technically part of the range, if evened out from the peaks further south.

We don’t do kil’t greens, but we do do wilted lettuce, which is the same damn thing. Our seasonings are all salt and black pepper and vinegar. Spices are foreign and expensive and why don’t you have a slab of meat with that? Now, not that we haven’t evolved, because we do have the internet and food blogs and fancy coffee…but if you wanted a cappuccino, couldn’t you have gotten one of those from Sheetz?

We get our taciturnity from our Scotch-Irish and German ancestors. Thank god for the Italian immigrants and the Eastern Europeans that came to work the coal mines and steel mills farther south, or no one would invite anyone else to a party. We’d just have one and be pissed only our kin came. That’s alright: we didn’t need them anyway.

We talk a bit funny, even if we don’t stretch our vowels out, and we don’t bother with the letter g at the end of words. We’re mistrustful of outsiders and the government as is the way of rural people the world over, but we’re pretty sure we’re right anyway.

If you haven’t lived here, and by here I mean on the same street in the same town, for generations, you aren’t exactly from here. Your grandfather was from here, but he moved your daddy two towns over, then he moved you back, but not into town, outside of town. I suppose you’ll do. Let me tell you a story.

I’ve been thinking, letting my mind wander driving around with the windows down. I’ve been waiting for those itchy fingers and knowing what story to tell. I’ve been waiting for some sunshine and gumption and heat and passion.

Spring has sprung. The green haze of the treetops grows less ephemeral every day. I think of sweat and toil, labor physical and mental. My brain whirs and chips and hums. I think of this place where I live. I think of the lives we have led here and do lead here and will lead here. I think of the stories we tell. I think I know the ones that need telling.

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musings on art, new from the book

finally ready – editing the book

about a year ago, I completed the first draft of a still untitled novel. It felt like I’d be ready to edit in a couple weeks and have things ready to be shown off impossibly soon. It’s been over a year, and the grammatical edits of that shaky draft are half-finished, buried in the depths of my desk.

The sun is metaphorically shining, though. I’ve been working on the “When Sheets Attack!” series, and sadly anticipating the end of some of my favorite television. That television was one of the things that nudged me along the path of a novel based on the history of my little town. I’m ready for re-writes now. Plotting will be changed. Facts will hew more closely to the historical ones, and focus has shifted. The fascination lies far less with the autopsy than the reverberations though the lives of the men involved. It is time the text reflected that.

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fiction

“When Sheets Attack! Part 4: Ridiculously Righteous Rage” {complete}

we get some answers. Do read “When Sheets Attack! Part 1,” “Part 2: The Cricket Conundrum,” and “Part 3: Sleeping Beauty Syndrome” first.

I smiled as I climbed into bed. With all my troubles sleeping and dreaming whilst I slept, I’d instituted a new bedtime routine. As much as I chafe to wander freely and live life free of encumbrances, a routine serves as balm for my soul. If I travel too long without access to a kitchen, I get twitchy in the manner of runners kept from a treadmill.

Only a couple of days in, and if the routine wasn’t exactly helping yet, I thought it was, which is all that mattered. I washed my face, I made my chamomile tea, and I climbed into bed with it, planner and pen ready to jot some notes on the day at the ready.

“oh, god, that’s hot.”

Predictable, really. Hot tea, cold night, comfortable bed, and me. And spilled tea.

I leaped up, shouting. To add insult to my burns, I kicked the corner of the bed with my tender, exposed big toe. I cursed, while Pepper picked one eyeball out of the nest of blankets in his bed. He blinked, put head back under the covers, and returned to his rest.

I took a deep breath and set about stripping the bed. I barely bothered to leave on the one light as I grabbed a dry set of sheets. Luckily, I caught all the tea with myself and my pajamas. The bed remained dry. I changed and dumped the cold tea down the drain.

I bounced into bed after turning the light off. No reading for me tonight I thought as I landed. Before I could be launched back into the air, something grabbed and held on tight. I struggled, failing a bit.

“Hold still, you horrible creature,” the nefarious sheets growled all around me. Continue reading

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fiction

“When Sheets Attack! Part 4: Ridiculously Righteous Rage” {incomplete}

in honor of International Women’s Day, I present the incomplete Part 4 of “When Sheets Attack!” Read Parts 1-3 here.

I smiled as I climbed into bed. With all my troubles sleeping and dreaming whilst I slept, I’d instituted a new bedtime routine. As much as I chafe to wander freely and live life free of encumbrances, a routine serves as balm for my soul. If I travel too long without access to a kitchen, I get twitchy in the manner of runners kept from a treadmill.

Only a couple of days in, and if the routine wasn’t exactly helping yet, I thought it was, which is all that mattered. I washed my face, I made my chamomile tea, and I climbed into bed with it, planner and pen ready to jot some notes on the day at the ready.

“oh, god, that’s hot.”

Predictable, really. Hot tea, cold night, comfortable bed, and me. And spilled tea.

I leapt up, shouting. To add insult to my burns, I kicked the corner of the bed with my tender, exposed big toe. I cursed, while Pepper picked one eyeball out of the nest of blankets in his bed. He blinked, put head back under the covers, and returned to his rest.

I took a deep breath and set about stripping the bed. I barely bothered to leave on the one light as I grabbed a dry set of sheets. Luckily, I caught all the tea with myself and my pajamas. The bed remained dry. I changed and dumped the cold tea down the drain.

I bounced into bed after turning the light off. No reading for me tonight I thought as I landed. Before I could be launched back into the air, something grabbed and held on tight. I struggled, failing a bit.

“Hold still, you horrible creature,” the nefarious sheets growled all around me.

“Damn!” I could blame no one but myself: in my haste I returned the sentient sheets to my bed. “You better have a rational explanation for grabbing me.”

I thought of the dream. The voices were so similar, could the sheets be the stranger in the stone bedroom of my dream? What worked once might again.

“I do not consent,” I said firmly. Success! I scrambled free, taking the duvet with me. The sheets gently held on to my ankle.

“There is no need to chill yourself, demon sprite of my dreams.” His tone had not improved.

“No grabbing, then,” I responded. Not only is it simply unacceptable to grab a person when she doesn’t want to be grabbed, but I have a particular aversion to it.

As a child, Mum wasn’t big on the idea of spanking me. She was still strict. I knew from a young age that inappropriate behavior would be tolerated neither at home nor in public, but especially not in public. At home, some yelling and time spent on a chair in my parents’ bedroom kept me from the delightful distractions of my own space and left me thinking of my bad behavior.

Making a scene in public was never something Mother tolerated for herself, let alone me. Possibly, it led to my own reticence today. She was never the type of mother that yelled or screamed or repeated admonitions to her child. That didn’t mean that she refrained from discipline. It only meant covert activities.

I was a ticklish child, anywhere and everywhere. From my head to my neck, along my spine and legs, especially on my feet, and even in my upper arms, the wrong {or right} touch could send me into convulsions of wiggles and giggles. Unfortunately, I never grew out of it. It isn’t exactly acceptable or fun to collapse into a heap of wheezing giggles at thirty, but such is life.

Mother can still send me into convulsions, but mostly of the get away, get off me, no I’m not in trouble variety. She had the glare down, and if that did not work, would firmly grab hold of my upper arm and take me to a private place for my dressing down. Somehow, her fingers unerringly found the precise spots to dig in without hurting every single time. It may not have hurt, but those bony pianist fingers of hers pushed through the tickling to disciplinary action.

The sheets had no fingers, but damn if they didn’t have my ankle in precisely the wrong hold. I lacked the patience to talk things through, cold, tired, damp, and still angry. I growled in return.

“No grabbing, then,” I repeated. “No touching, no stroking, and stay off me.”

“Agreed, poppet.” He seemed to have calmed. The sheets oozed away, giving me space as I gathered the duvet into a nest against the footboard of the bed. I felt safe again.

In their slithering, the sheets languidly propped up against my pillows, slowly sliding into the shape of a man. I stared: crumples and folds formed into a forehead and eyebrows, sloped over shoulders, and twisted into the cords of muscular arms.

to be continued…

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