the best-laid plans

SGS.in new house

Near the start of the year I made a commitment to make my literary projects a priority. I said so publicly, and I meant it. And then a professional opportunity too good to pass up emerged. Tomorrow will be my first day on the job as executive director of the Teche Center for the Arts. I will bring to bear my experience as a senior administrator, writer, editor, marketing communicator, poet, gallery co-founder, and arts champion within the dynamic community in the heart of Cajun and Creole culture that I call home. This community and I have embraced each other since I first started coming here in 2011 to research my novel, The Road to Indigo, now in revision. Luckily, my commitment to seeing my novel through and getting it into the world is not at odds with my new work. The two complement one another. Perhaps my book launch will take place at the Teche Center for the Arts in the heart of where the novel takes place. Perhaps it is all a best-laid plan, one better than I could have planned.

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ROAR

I thought I was writing a poem in honor of the teacher who was arrested for speaking during a school board meeting. But, really, I wrote it for the girl who witnessed the teacher removed, accosted, and arrested for exercising her right to speak. What will she remember about that night? How will it shape who she becomes?

ROAR image

ROAR

The tight-knit circle sits high on the dais and schemes

a fat pay raise for the leader, yarn connecting them green.

Teacher Deyshia stands and pulls at the thread, the knit/purl

pattern unraveling, her clarion call heard the world over.

 

Teacher of the Year poses a question the greenback circle

doesn’t mention. Thirty-eight thousand more a year, dollars ear-

marked for a magnate with rank-and-file salaries stagnant. Where

is the prize for those who cultivate fertile minds, who face kids

at desks for seven-hour stretches in rural Louisiana school-houses

resembling sewer plants? Brown-haired girl, you sit beside Ms.

Deyshia, your open gaze takes in the strong-arm man who shackles

the teacher and attempts to silence her for speaking what no one else

 

would: To you, I say, do not dismay. May you grow in strength

and stature. May the teacher bolster your resolve to stand

for truth. May her sacrifice make your world safer. May you tug

at threads of rotten fabric and let it disintegrate into the nothingness

 

that it is. May your voice roar.

 

 

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Where Do Your Treasures Lie?

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I return to The Road to Indigo with the fresh energy of a new year and a renewed commitment to my writing life. Tin House Fiction Workshop in Portland accepted me on the strength of an excerpt from my novel, The Road to Indigo, and I returned last July to the Pacific Northwest for the first time since I moved to French Louisiana, where my novel is set. I came away from Tin House and novelist Naomi Jackson’s workshop with laser observations and solid suggestions for how to shape my novel into what it wants to be in the world.

At the start of 2018, by the light of a Super Moon, I wrote a list of what I wanted to release, put it in a burning bowl, and dumped the ashes in a pond. I also wrote a list of things I wanted to increase/manifest in 2018 and held it under the moon’s light. On that list is a promise to myself and my novel:

Finish revising The Road to Indigo and secure an agent and/or publisher.

  • Write more poems and send them out to journals.
  • Apply for writer residencies.
  • Apply for grants to support me as I finish revising my novel.
  • Edit books and write/edit magazines on contract.
  • Read a novel a month (I signed up for the NPR/NYT novel a month discussion group, which I found after I declared a novel a month. First up: Jessmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing.)
  • I’ve signed up through a poets’ group to blog about anything literary once a week. This is my first post.

About this time last year, I planned a blog called, “The Humble Flaneur,” its content flowing from what I learned from my wanderings. While my primary focus has shifted for now, these thoughts about finding treasure in the seemingly ordinary are timeless and relevant.

“What is the nature of the search, you ask? Really, it is very simple…so simple that it is easily overlooked… The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

–Walker Piercy’s character Binx Bolling* in “The Moviegoer”

*Binx “battles despair with a constant call to the immediacy of the present,” per Billy Sothern in his essay in the luscious and illuminating Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit (speaking at Tulane this spring!) and Rebecca Snedeker, who say of his essay, “This list of Sothern’s own (New Orleans) treasures is a testament to his conscience and his wanderings and an invitation to everyone, of this city or any city, to count up the stations of their own journeys home, the dusty miracles of the backstreets, and the stories to be told. Where are your treasures and your milestones, what mud is on your shoes, toward what shrines are you traveling on your pilgrimage?”

Billy Sothern implores, “Do not sink into the everydayness of your life. Fight despair. Find treasure.” Right on, Billy. That’s my aim for the fathomable future.

 

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Starved Horse Shows Full Range of Human Nature, Sanctity of Life

Not long after I wrote this story about Trooper, he passed from this earth surrounded by those who gave him their all and a chance at life. I am posting this story to keep his spirit alive, so that others who read his story will speak out for abused animals. The people who are responsible for Trooper’s death are still out there. If you live in Southern Louisiana and know anything about who did this to Trooper, please call your local sheriff’s office. You can report what you know without giving your name.

May no animal suffer as Trooper did. 

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Trooper with his biggest fan, Rebecca Kopp

~

They came to name him Trooper, the skeletal horse found stumbling along a highway near St. Martinville, Louisiana, ten days ago. Horse experts who saw him knew his smooth coat came from life inside a stall, his legs suffering from mud rot from standing for the better part of a year in his own excrement. He waited without food. A motorist who saw him called law enforcement. They brought the wracked creature to the St. Martin Animal Shelter already overrun by dogs and cats in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Shelter Director Michelle Brignac stayed in the field with the emaciated horse for seven hours, putting out an SOS to the area volunteer fire department after he went down on the ground. She posted pictures on Facebook.

That evening, Sept. 5, Rebecca Kopp, a riding instructor with experience rescuing horses, agreed to take him and do everything she could to rehabilitate him at the stable where she worked in nearby New Iberia. His fate was tenuous. She helped him out of her own goodness and was willing to pay for his needs out of her own pocket until she was urged to start a GoFundMe campaign for Trooper.

 

“Camp Rebecca Kopp is in full swing!” she posted on Sept. 6. After a veterinarian left her the stable, she camped out all night in the field with the horse to monitor his temperature, intravenous fluids, food intake, elimination, medicine, and most importantly, keep him up on his feet. If he went down, he wouldn’t have the strength to stand up again, lactic acid would build in his atrophied muscles, his joints would continue to swell. She, her colleagues at the stable, her husband, and friends made Trooper a makeshift sling hoisted by a tractor lift to keep him aloft. Blood work and fecal samples showed he was only mildly anemic and had no underlying medical conditions other than starvation.

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Trooper put in the first makeshift sling.

“Someone starved this horse and it didn’t happen overnight,” Rebecca wrote the first day Trooper was in her care. The person who starved Trooper and dropped him off on Smede Highway near Cade, Louisiana, has yet to be identified. People now close to Trooper believe that the horse was trailered to the highway, turned loose, and left to die. “Whoever did this didn’t want to be bothered dig a hole big enough to bury a horse. And who wants a dead horse on their property,” one person said.

On Sept. 6, Trooper fell to the ground outside the stable and he remained there for several hours. The vet came, and six people helped get him back on his feet. He went back in the rigged sling in the field and they set up an open-air tent to shield him from the sun, the weather mercifully “cooler” in sweltering Southern Louisiana. Rebecca pitched a tent next to him in the field and checked on him through the night. A resident donkey watched over them, ensuring no coyotes came close.

A Sept. 8th’s morning FB live update showed Trooper grazing, walking on his own power, with Rebecca upbeat and narrating his tenuous progress.

She posted pictures of him in his blue blanket, sun rising behind him, saying, “These pictures are important to me. Thirty-six hours ago I didn’t know if Trooper was going to see another sunrise. He was TIRED. But by some miracle–and prayers, tears, vet attention, and a whole lot of determination–here he is. Another glorious sunrise shines down upon him. This horse (in his poor condition) shouldn’t be alive, yet here he is, fighting for every day. We could learn a thing or two from his determination.”

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Saturday morning and evening FB live updates were positive. Sunday he was doing so well that Rebecca abandoned “camp” and slept at home with her family. Monday went well with Trooper doing his “bucket” checks for food in the barn hallways and Rebecca saying, “He’s such a sweet soul. I can’t wait until he’s healthy.”

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Sign outside Trooper’s stall.

And here’s where I want to talk about human nature. Trooper’s case displays the whole range of human nature, from the monster responsible for this innocent creature’s suffering to the angel who sleeps on concrete to tend to him through the night and then does it all over again, watching for what he needs, what he is telling her, what she needs to do to keep him from slipping from this earth, minute by minute. Think about what this horse has experienced at the hands of humans, from long-term cruel starvation to fierce, loving, round-the-clock care. He stands there in the field and lets his newfound allies prod him, hoist him up with brute yet gentle force, walk him, straighten his arthritic atrophied ankles, knowing most likely for the first time, a loving human touch, even when it hurts. He falls. Each time he gets up–with help, as best he can, he stands. Someone gave up on him a long time ago. Yet, weak as he is, he has not given up.

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Tuesday morning’s FB live showed Rebecca sitting on the ground with Trooper on the ground behind her. She calmly asked if anyone could come help her get Trooper up again. The St. Martin Animal Shelter staff went. So did I. By the time I arrived they’d just gotten Trooper back up on his feet in the field and were rigging up the sling. When I put my hands on his neck and head, he stopped grazing and stood still, as if he was soaking in the love flowing from me to him. He didn’t move until I did. It’s as if he felt the love and knew it was part of his healing.

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Rebecca catching some sleep as Trooper looks on.

Rebecca borrowed a camper and stayed in the field with him overnight. Wednesday morning saw him standing in his sling in the field, doing well, Rebecca taking a nap under the canopy as Trooper looked on. In a Wednesday morning writing class I teach to adults at a VITA program, we used Trooper as a topic for writing a mini-essay about whether steps should be taken to punish animal abusers. One woman wrote, “We are all here to love. Every living being feels pain. The person who abused him should go to jail.”

Helping hands abound. After Trooper fell due to uneven ground outside the barn, Rebecca’s husband, Tom, came to build a cable for the sling to slide across the stall for Trooper, where the ground was more even and soft. Tom was sick that day, but there he was, creating something to support the weakened horse–and help his wife, Trooper’s caretaker.

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“He lets us help him, never fights us. We couldn’t do this if he did,” she said.

Trooper gained in strength on Sept. 7, and Rebecca let him out of his makeshift sling to walk freely and graze. The truth is Trooper’s life still hung in the balance.

Rebecca knew that the first two weeks were critical to his chances of making it through alive. She was there for him, even though she had young children at home and a husband who worked far away at times.

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Troopers Troops, supporters who followed his progress through Rebecca’s FB updates watched every morning and evening with trepidation. Last night Rebecca posted an ominous message. “Bad night. May have to make some tough decisions in the morning.” A co-worker took a picture of Rebecca sleeping on the cement floor outside Trooper’s stall. Rebecca had asked Trooper’s fans for prayers for his miraculous strength. He’d been found hanging limp in his sling with no strength to stand on his own. They had to cut him out of his sling and lower him onto the ground. He wasn’t responsive. Rebecca had stepped out to shower and change clothes. When she got the call about Trooper, she rushed back. The vet came and administered fluids and medicine to help with inflammation in nerves. They decided to sedate Trooper to allow him to rest and not struggle to stand. “Mr. Trooper, when he gets an idea in his head, he’s going to do it (try to stand up).” Several people helped him up again.

“He teeter-tottered on his feet, couldn’t get a foothold, knuckled over on both legs. A rough go. Most people stayed til 3 a.m.,” she said. He didn’t go down again. “Euthenasia is always on the table in a case like this. I didn’t have to make that decision this morning. He’s standing up, eating. It’s hour by hour. I set myself a time limit to be fair to him. If he’s not better by the end of the weekend we’ll have to make a tough call–to be kind to him. Hopefully he’ll keep trucking on, being Trooper, being the super horse he is,” she says.

They’ll reevaluate him regularly as to where he stands, with the hope he’ll get stronger. His age–mid to late 20s–is working against him. He doesn’t heal as fast as younger horses. Falling is hard on his ravaged body. “We’re approaching that critical two-week mark (as to whether he’ll heal and live). But if we don’t see strengthening in his leg, there’s not a whole lot more we can do. It’s the muscle weakness. It’s not fair to his mind, body, organs to keep going through this,” she says.

Yet, this morning, he was back “to yelling at me this morning for feed.” Rebecca believes Trooper will tell her when and if he is ready to give up the fight. She’s watching him carefully, alert to the signs and will do what is in his best interests.

“You know me, I’m a dreamer of the impossible things. I will keep trying til it’s not right anymore for quality of life. I’ll let him tell us how much further he’s willing to push. We’re okay for now and hoping he’ll continue to pull through.”

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Shelter director Michelle Brignac on seeing Rebecca’s difficult update posted: “They are fighting right now to save the life of a horse that someone threw away like garbage. We love you, Trooper. We love you so much that we prayed and angels were sent to help you, to show you love.”

Rebecca gains much strength from Trooper’s and her supporters who visit, post messages of support, and from those who support the his GoFundMe campaign.

Her latest update today is hopeful: “He’s locked out his ankles, meaning he’s bearing weight on both ankles. Someone’s listening to our prayers. This is progress I didn’t expect to see today. These little things are what carry me through.”

Trooper has shown a whole community the full range of human nature. May his life teach us to be kind, to love all life, to seek justice, to never give up.

 

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The day Trooper and I met.

–Sandra Sarr

September 15, 2017

 

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I Came to Dance

Greetings, readers. It is good to be back after a long absence. It appears I’m on my own road to indigo, having moved recently from the Northwest to Southern Louisiana.
“You’re living your novel,” one friend observed. She’s right in many ways.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the Louisiana Book Festival. A workshop leader gave us a prompt and I wrote through her whole session, hearing nothing more spoken in the room. My writer self was so starved for expression. Out of my pen came this:

SGS peeling paint.scars
I scrape at the scars on the old Louisiana cypress house, its boards of peeling paint beaten by sun, wind, rain, and decades of neglect. I pound the loose white paint then scrape, chips littering my lashes and dotting the sheared-to-the-ground nandina, sacred bamboo someone long ago put around the porch. I scrape down to the raw wood sometimes unintentionally inflicting new wounds I will need to sand and caulk and prime.
This is my house.
My wrist burns after hours of raking a double blade across the grain of plank-after-plank, ribs that shape my shelter. The job is too big. It’s been two days of scraping and my workers need to move on to other jobs. We reach up into the soffits, swerving blades beyond points of roofer nails poking through boards.

I first saw this house online. It was May, the usual month I came to stay in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, during the past four years. Only this time I decided I wanted to stay. For months, I sat in my Tacoma, Washington, writing room scouring the Internet for real estate sites displaying new listings. I looked out at the grey rain and dreamed of Louisiana, its sunny fields of swaying cane. I saw myself at Café Des Ami, where one could never grow old dancing at the Zydeco breakfast. I even sent my Louisiana friend to look at a couple of promising houses. None, she said, looked like the pictures online. Bad aluminum siding, dangerous neighborhoods, cheap fixtures, she said. And when I came in May to look for myself, I could see she was right. I stopped research on my novel, the original reason I came to Louisiana, and spent hours, days, weeks cruising Southern highways, back roads, and websites, looking at each structure asking, “Are you my home?” like the children’s book protagonist asking things unlike itself, “Are you my mother?” It was exhausting.
Then one day I found it. I found my home on an obscure website, its long-leaf pine floors glistening, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and window seat lining one wall, pillars leading from living room to dining room that looked large enough for a state dinner. There was a huge front porch and stained glass windows growing lotuses. And the front door? Carved oak with an oval beveled-glass window flanked by side panels with smaller oval windows, a rectangular transom window crowning the trio. In the kitchen were original glass-fronted wood cabinets, burnished brass hardware, granite countertops, and a swinging paneled door leading from the kitchen to a light-filled dining room.
SGS.in new house
I shut my laptop and called a realtor recommended by an LA 31 brewery owner I’d met the day before. Miss Katina greeted me on the porch opening the door with a key she’d gotten from Miss Dee, a realtor friend and listing agent representing the bank-owned house. The listing was so new that there wasn’t even a lock box on the door yet. I’d asked my realtor to bring an inspector. We looked around and I made an offer on the spot.
The truth is, the house was a beautiful ruin. Blind to its scars, all I saw was pure beauty. Walking its floors for the first time, I knew it was mine. My offer was accepted and for the next two weeks I fought hard to put the deal together. Faced with repeated rejection due to no fault of my own, I reluctantly let go. And when I did, a door opened. I owned a house in Louisiana.

No longer a beautiful ruin, exactly, now it’s akin to Cinderella at the ball, her promise glistening as she dances something new into being. Under crumbling paint awaits prized cypress. These scars are beautiful. They are mine. Together we heal, this house and me.

Today, a young visitor from France asks me, “Why did you come here? To dance?”
Yes, I came to dance.

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The Road to Indigo, a poem by Margaret Simon

I am sitting on the porch of Bonne Terre Cottage in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, with Margaret Simon sipping mint tea and talking about writing and life. Margaret wrote a poem for me after our visit last year.  It shares my novel’s title.  I share it with you here.  (You can view her original post and listen to her read the poem.)

Reflections on the Teche

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Me with Sandy Sarr at a local restaurant. Me with Sandy Sarr at a local restaurant.

I enjoy connecting with new people online. I met Sandy Sarr through a mutual friend. Our friend thought we would like each other because we are both authors. So I friended Sandy on Facebook, and we read each others’ blogs. But meeting someone face to face, the old fashioned way, is so much better.

Sandy has spent the month of May in Louisiana for the last three years. She comes to meet people and to work on her novel, The Road to Indigo ( her working title). We had brunch together on Saturday. Jen was right; we connected easily and immediately. Sandy is about to complete an MFA program and has been writing her novel for 3 years. This project led her to Louisiana to meet many different people. She has some wonderful stories, some of…

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Tria Reed: The Writing Process Blog Tour

Photo: © N. Hope

Photo: © N. Hope

I am posting Tria’s contribution to The Writing Process Blog Tour since her Website is geared for other purposes.  Now, here’s Tria!

My thanks to Sandra Sarr for inviting me to participate in The Writing Process Blog Tour. I met Sandy in a writing critique group years ago and continue to be amazed at the breadth and beauty of her writing. You can read her responses to the questions I answer below elsewhere on her blog.

Sandy has an MFA in creative writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts and is revising her first novel, THE ROAD TO INDIGO. Her poem, “Sestina for a Young Widow,” was nominated for a 2012 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Intro Journals Project award. Another poem, “Matinal Oceania,” represented Washington State in YARN’s 2012 National Poetry Month’s project, Crossing Country Line by Line. She writes for Arches, the magazine of the University of Puget Sound.

What am I working on?
I’m writing a novel set at the end of the seventeenth century in the region we now call the Columbia River Basin. My stone-age heroine, Umari, travels through a treacherous rain forest inhabited by slave-taking bands to save her people, the Grass Seed Eaters. Only the blessings of the Great Water—an ocean far north and west of her desert homeland—can save her kin from starvation and drought.

This tale offers not only an excursion into an ancient era but also an allegory that portrays a transforming spiritual process. In order to survive the journey, Umari sheds layer upon layer of painful memories and beliefs until, at last, she abides in her sacred essence—the fearless love-power pulsing inside her.

This book continues the spiritual themes I explore in essays and poems on http://www.spontaneousmeditation.org.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
My novel stands in the long tradition of inspirational tales—stories that portray humans grappling with that most basic question: Who am I? The book’s stone-age setting, lyric writing, use of universal metaphors, and portrayal of our true nature as love make it unique.

Why do I write what I write?
Thirty-three years ago, I experienced an awakening—an upwelling of spiritual energy—that has flowed inside me ever since. At the time, I had no teacher or tradition, but I recognized this flowing force as both love and peace.

This force took me into a deep stillness, but my mind was active enough to be curious about the process unfolding within me. Aided by an academic background in comparative religion, I looked for similar experiences recorded in the world’s religions. Eventually, I combined my personal introspections with this research in a brief memoir, a short story and two epic poems. I presented these writings through informal readings and one-woman performances at healing centers, churches, national conferences and in private homes. My desire is always to communicate the closeness, power and beauty of our true nature.

How does my writing process work?
I’m a café writer. I treasure my mornings spent sipping tea while allowing spontaneously arising images or words to carry me into a scene. From this experience of literary “free fall,” come the most surprising results!

Photographs—bold, clear and colorful—also play an important role in my writing. In the 1990s, while I was performing my two epic poems, I illustrated them with dozens of photographic slides. I spend countless hours looking for just the right picture to illustrate my words. These photographs are so important to me, I sometimes rewrite a phrase—even a cherished one—so I can pair it with a breath-taking image.

I’m grateful to the photographers who’ve provided me with the images that support and ignite my writing. I’m also grateful to my husband, my literary buddies and my critique group partners who help me see what I fail to notice in my own writing.

***

The Writer’s Process Blog Tour continues with paranormal romance author, Jeanette Raleigh. Her series, WHEN WHERE AND HOWL takes readers on a hilarious journey with the antics of a were-mouse who falls in love with a werewolf. The first book in the series, Moon Struck, is currently free on Amazon. Blessed with an amazing imagination and mature writing skills, Jeanette creates fantastic tales filled with reality, warmth and wit.  To learn more about Jeanette’s writing process, please visit her blog: http://jeanetteraleigh.wordpress.com/

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