It just takes one person. One person. To make a choice and stand on it. That one choice can affect you for the rest of your life. Not only you. It can affect everybody around you, those you love and those you want to be with and be happy with, and everybody around the other person, from the smallest child to the oldest adult.
It can change your life.
It can take you to places you don’t want to go. It can cause you to make decisions you don’t want to make. It can take you away from people you need to be with and put you with people you don’t want to spend time around.
It just takes one person.
This is why I’ve had a hard time with Christianity. At least, the kind of Christianity that some people believe in, and I seem to have been around a lot of these kinds of people. God has a plan for your life, they say. God is in control.
It just takes one person—even when you know you are in the plan of God—to make a choice, a decision, to commit a selfish act—and you are out of the plan of God. And there’s not a thing you can do about it. And what can God do? We are his feet and hands and mouth in the world. And we can destroy his people and his plans. It just takes one person.
You’re not looking at the big picture, you say. You have to look at this over time. I ask, What kind of life is it when you struggle for forty years and you don’t find a way back into that right plan and you don’t fit in anywhere?
I just can’t picture a big God sitting on a cloud moving the lives of billions of people at one time, like chess pieces, trying to get each one out of the way of that one person that will stand in the way of his plan.
There’s free will in life. Christian or not, we make our own choices, we mess things up for ourselves, we mess things up for others, and there are second chances. There are lots of plans. I can picture that kind of God.
It just takes one person. One person. To make a choice and stand on it. To stand in the road of your life and block it. And there’s nothing you can do.
And so, you take the fork, you take another way because you have to, you mourn your old path and the people you knew and the plan you were in, and you go on.
I was just a little girl when I walked with my daddy to the far back of the yard where the rose bushes were then. They were his rose bushes. He wanted them only for one reason. Because of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. If your mother was living, you wore a red rose pinned to your collar to Sunday School on Mother’s Day. Same with fathers.
The grass was wet, the air had a May chill to it, and the warmth of sun melted in on top of it. I remember Dad’s crisp, polished suit and wingtips. I remember my flowered dress and scratchy petticoat and the dew on my white patent shoes. I wore white silky socks then with my dressy shoes. The skin of my legs showing between the socks and the cotton flowers of my dress was scarred, bruised, and scabbed because I was a tomboy. Dad clipped a rose for my dress, and that silky fresh bud seemed foreign to those skinned up legs.
But I knew what red was back then. I never thought there’d be a day when I wouldn’t wear red. Red meant love and life and taught me what family was. Red was safety and security and somebody who would always be there to love me. Red was a father who thought red was important. Red was a mother who was dearly loved and who gave in sacrifice to her loved ones. Red was the best color ever.
Now there is no red.
This is why I’ve got rotator cuff issues and impingement and bursitis and eight weeks of physical therapy.
From Resting Place: A Memoir of Grief and Healing:
“July 29, 2012
The back yard was stone-solid sienna clay when I bought this house in December, seven months ago. Fescue seeds had been scattered on top of it and covered with straw. Spring rains wet the clay and pounded the straw into it to mesh as part of the earth’s hardscape, and now the summer sun has baked it. Pottery, that’s what it is.”
In one year, I made this out of that:
I came away from the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference with two words I heard in Sunday’s panel. Sacrifice and persistence.
I know them well. They are what we do as writers.
We sacrifice doing things with friends or spending time with family, all of us to different degrees, but yet, there is always sacrifice of some sort. We may sacrifice a clean house, ample groceries, clean clothes, a mowed yard, or needed exercise. Or sleep. Sacrifice — giving up something in order to have something else with a higher value.
Persistence. Continuing steadfastly in some course of action even though there is opposition. We writers have persistence through shitty rough drafts, rejections, dejection, put downs, red marks, interruptions, pulls on our time. Even if we don’t have editor or publisher deadlines, we make our own goals and set our own deadlines and hold ourselves to them.
We are determined to carve out our time, leave the dirty dishes in the sink, turn off the phone, apply the butt glue, focus on the project, and keep the end product in the forefront of our minds.
Remember. Sacrifice and persistence.
Tears pushed against the backs of my eyes, bumping into the laughter. It hit me that this was more than just another writers conference where you go and sit for a long time and listen to speakers and then go home and try to apply what you learned. I felt a sense of community here. I sat on the couch in Room 203, drank a glass of wine, held a napkin with a W on it for Wessman (NancyKay), and picked out the cashews from the jar of assorted nuts. I shared, and I listened to the stories of others, and I heard us all saying the same thing. We have a fire in our guts to write our stories and publish our books.
This core group gathered in #203 has come together more than once. We have lifted glasses of wine not only in Oxford, but at other similar creative nonfiction events in towns nearby.
The 2013 conference was the third one in Oxford headed up by Neil White, the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction in the South, I guess. In 2008 Neil brought some of the biggest names in the genre to lead workshops and panels in the quaint and charming Mississippi town of Oxford, and Susan Cushman of Memphis and I were both there. Susan and I had met five months earlier at a Saturday workshop Neil put together. He’d invited Lee Gutkind, the so-called Godfather behind the genre, to speak. Lee, a charismatic man with tousled white hair, white scruffy beard, and a tiny round turquoise earring in his left lobe, told us he wanted to bring creative nonfiction to the South because it was the most widely published genre in the world—everywhere, but in the South. Lee has been to all the conferences.
The second Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference was in 2010, and Susan and I went back as co-directors, assisting Neil. Susan then hosted a creative nonfiction workshop in Memphis, and last fall I led a workshop in Clarksdale at the Shack Up Inn.
A handful or two of writers have been to two or three or more of these events all connected to Neil White. We have come from coastal Alabama; Georgia; Mississippi—Meridian, Jackson, Madison; Tennessee—Memphis and Nashville. Deep South writers. We have shared stories, both written and personal, because our written stories are personal. And we will come back to the table for more sustenance and inspiration. We are the core of the community of Creative Nonfiction in the South. And we are community. And we are at the center of something big.
We’re calling ourselves a tribe.
Room 203, after the final party
Tribe: an aggregate of people united by community of customs and traditions and adherence to the same leaders.
Dan, Emily, me
And this year there were new friends and new faces from all over: California, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Coast to coast, top to bottom, writers made their way to a little Mississippi town with a great big voice and a tribe. I talked to many writers, and they have that same earlier-mentioned passion for their work — deep, significant, intimate stories — true stories. The tent is now wider; the tribe is bigger!
Harrison Scott Key, winner of Creative Nonfiction’s Southern Sin contest says, “Neil White has put on maybe the Greatest Writing Conference in the History of Events Planning.”
We all left Oxford-town knowing it takes sacrifice and persistence to get where we want to go. We left saying stuff like “better than ever,” “does anyone want to be an accountability partner?”, “can’t we do it every year instead of every other year?”, and “sure I’ll give Clarksdale (CNF workshop) another go.”
Thanks, Neil White and Susan Cushman, and Carroll (wow!), Maggie, and Genie, and to everyone — attendees, speakers, workshop leaders, panelists, River Jordan for her fabulous historical rant — “go to sleep, baby, Nana’s got a deadline,” scorpions on the manuscript and pillow, and completing a book before a sure-death within six months after a mammogram (oh yes, it’s true, men, and I don’t open my results for three days after I get them in the mail and one time it was three months!) — photographers, shuttle drivers, Inn at Ole Miss staff, everybody, and the tribe. I love you all!