Taking Inventory is a biography about my mother, whose life spanned decades filled with hope, heartbreak, loneliness, and adversity. Weaving together micro-essay and prose poetry, the book is set at the merger of her adulthood and my childhood. This mixed genre collection fuses narrative and lyricism while examining the ways her life influenced mine.
The triptych structure of the book moves backwards in time, exploring the relationship between my mother and the world she navigated, beginning with the final stages of her life, moving through a turbulent mid-life, and ending with the young woman affected by a world war, an alcoholic father, and a devoutly religious mother. In the essay “Late Night Ap·o·lo·gi·a,” regret and justification are intertwined to explore an imagined confessional, while another key piece, “A Daughter’s Nondisclosure Agreement,” allows my teenage persona to put my mother’s indiscretions on full display. “When I Kissed Her Today, She Smelled Like Coconut” and “I Was Someone’s Daughter Once” highlight the redemptive qualities that created the foundation of the mother-daughter alliance that is evident in “Ice Cream.” “Bumper-to-Bumper Bravado” and “whiteboard reality” relates the struggles of navigating the final stages of her life.
At some point, you realize your mother is not who you thought she was, but someone separate from what you made her out to be. My mother didn’t have the solutions, nor the answers to her problems—or her daughter’s. In many ways, Taking Inventory stands in judgement regarding the why, how, and what if in her role both as a mother and as a woman. It’s full of questions about motherhood, womanhood, and daughterhood—and ultimately about forgiveness.
Linda Joy Myers said, “It seems to me the best way we can manage complexities about ‘mother’ is not to remain in judgment of our mothers, no matter how hard that is.” This collection allows me to stand in my mother’s shoes, and to learn who she was, the whole person, a woman with her own life and her own struggles, and discover the woman I became as her journeyman.
The Corona Chronicles is a themed journal recording my experiences of quarantine and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, a narrative of the highs and lows of my reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic beginning in the first days after Americans became aware of the virus. It is well documented that journaling can alleviate anxiety and allow people to cope with difficult situations as well as make sense of daily life as the world embarks on a new normal.
My journal is part of University of Central Florida’s study of the reactions to sheltering in place, stay-at-home directives, and various levels of quarantine and social distancing where participants are encouraged to document on a daily basis and then reflect on their deeper observations as the world journeys through an unprecedented time. Participants are asked to consider their inner feelings and actions in relation to their community, school, work, church, and home using concrete details surrounding their personal experience.
The daily diaries are submitted to the university through an online portal designed to upload participant journals. The information may be utilized for academic articles, and possibly a book, focused on analysis of anonymous data coded from the journals, and focused on large-scale patterns of narrative and meaning making. It is also possible the university may find ways to publish an anthology of the writings, identifying the authors thereby giving them an opportunity for publication.
Journal: Musings of Pandemic Birdwatching & NestWatch
Every morning I drink my coffee on the patio and watch the birds land at my feeders, nervously consuming the bird seed I have put out for their pleasure. This journal documents the sightings of particular species and their habits, watching their activities with my binoculars, recording the times of sightings, and information obtained from various ornithology books and websites. I even record the bird songs and use a phone app to determine the species. Birdwatching has increased on a national level during the pandemic. Recording the world of nature around me has made a difficult time a more joyous experience.
I am also practicing “social distance bird watching” with my brother as he monitors two Eastern Bluebird nests on his farm in South Georgia. The journal includes a charted record of the nests documenting the laying of eggs, incubation, hatching, and fledgling through daily photos and data provided by my brother through messenger. This “NestWatch” project is also shared with my grandchildren in an attempt to keep them connected to nature and provide them with educational stimulation during quarantine.
Back Burner Projects
A hybrid collection of prose and verse including narratives, flash, short stories, free verse poems, and photography is a reflection on the eight years the author lived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The work attempts to show readers the other side of life in the Middle East and not the one imagined. The United Arab Emirates is home to over 200 documented nationalities who live and work together in a society that is extremely dependent on them. The collection centers around the harmony exhibited in the society along with the downside of a culture reliant on foreign labor.
Other Works in Progress
The Colour of Redd
Eighty-one-year-old Ruby Redd, a retired social worker living alone in Dogwood Plantation, faces the biggest challenge of her life—aging. The onset of macular degeneration ten years ago made her decide to move from her home of 30 years to a retirement home in the town of Baxter, Georgia. Living in Dogwood proves to be a little Peyton Place full of larger than life characters. Ruby gets to know Mack McKinney, a grieving widower, struggling to cope with the loneliness of living far away from his two daughters. Ruby and Mac’s love of reading brings them together giving them both the companionship they desperately miss and the courage to navigate the last course of life.
Ruby faces more physical challenges as her body begins to succumb to the aging process. With her mind sharp, Ruby fights for her independence trying to maintain her mobility and struggle with the loneliness of life inside the residence and feeling that life is passing her by.
Ruby’s children struggle with the emotions and challenges of watching their mother decline. How will they manage to split their time between their personal lives and nurture an aging parent? How do they make these last years comfortable for Ruby without stripping her of her independence? And now, there’s Mac, too. What if they have to split them up? What happens when one of them dies?
Ruby’s story is timeless and speaks deeply to each and every one of us about the struggle of retaining dignity as we age. The story is told with tenderness and grace leaving the reader with a realistic, and often stark, view of Ruby’s courageous walk on her final journey. It’s sure to capture your heart and leave you with the desire to see your own parents through this process with the dignity they deserve.
Laying Out the Dead
Holt stands at the foot of his dead wife’s bed arguing with his children about what clothing to bury her in, a nightgown or Marylene’s Sunday best. “Ain’t no sense in puttin’ brand new clothes ont her,” Holt told us. “When you dead, you dead. Don’t make no sense a’tall. She’s jest goin’ in the ground.”
The story is narrated by a young woman named Fancy who lives in the backwoods community of Fargo near the Okefenokee Swamp in rural South Georgia. Fancy is the area’s custodian of the dead, a trade she learned from her grandmother. She lays out the deceased for the family viewing—washing their bodies, changing their clothes, brushing their hair, closing their eyes, and the intimacies associated with preparing the body of the deceased. But Fancy discovers that caring for the dead is not the only requirement of the job—it’s also ministering to the living.
The cast of characters come alive as they navigate the struggles of living in poverty in a region dependent on the timber growing on the lands of rural Georgia.
Tommy and the Lollipop Garden
A children’s book about a little boy whose grandmother shares a magical garden with him, one that grows lollipops.