I am sitting at my late grandmother’s gate-leg table shipped here to Los Angeles from Leavenworth, Kansas in approximately 1990 but never really used for writing until now. Her name was Elizabeth Whelan Baker and she parceled out the stories sparingly because her past in Purcell, Kansas was nobody’s business. I heard more than once when begging for a story, “You don’t need to know about that.”
Her gate-leg stood in a messy garage for ages as either a storage table or art table for the kids. Now all the kids have grown up, and one lives in Chicago, another in Los Angeles, and a third in Birmingham, Alabama. Usually I’m with the one in Alabama, but she’s boarding at her school, so that I can have time to write. How did this happen? I don’t really understand it myself. I’ve been given a sabbatical from the university, where I teach (UAB) which hardly seems possible or real yet.
So I’m beginning this blog to keep me on track.
That is the purpose of this blog.
Because I’m terrified of wasting the days and minutes and seconds of the precious time of this thing called a sabbatical.
Thinking of precious moments makes me recall the former places where I used to steal the time to write.
My first temp job in Atlanta where I had to answer the phone: “Dominion Mortgage Funding Corporation – May I help you?” I wrote a terrible play called “Cherry Bear Books” or maybe it was a called “A Prodigal Daughter Returns” – whatever – it was AWFUL. The only thing I remember about the job was a co-worker who showed me a picture of her daughter and said, “Did I shit her out or what?”
That job was before China. (And I will talk about more China in its own blog post.)
But after China, I had a temp job at another place in Atlanta, and I honestly can’t recall the name of it. It was a computer software place, maybe Delta Computers? I had to answer phones there and do filing, but I wrote nonstop there too, thinking I was being so clever, hitting escape when one of them approached. There I wrote a play called “Temp Troops” about faceless/nameless temps “WHO WERE PEOPLE TOO!” They were onto me and fired me (I would have fired me) but the manager gave me two weeks after I burst into tears and told her I was pregnant and moving to LA – I was. The manager called me “Vera” because I reminded her of Vera from “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” the weepy/spacey waitress. (The name fit me in an office, although I did also play “Vera” in “Ten Little Indians” at Knoxville Catholic High School for very tiny audiences. I learned then that our school could pack a gym for basketball game but not a theatrical performance.)
I also temped for SAAB, Gulf Oil, an architect place, and other jobs that I can’t remember the name of always stealing time to write on the job.
I remember getting make-up and hair tips from another girl at the architect place that I “could be pretty and professional” if I just put on a little lipstick. (I did but it wore off.) I hated that job. Some of the men were such guys, especially one, who sent me on coffee runs and yelled A LOT. I recall a lot of glass brick, too, which was the style then. I tried to describe the job to my dad when we were taking MARTA together somewhere, and he said, “You’ve got to understand when men are at work, honey, they don’t think about being sensitive. They’re at work.”
What I wanted to say to that advice doesn’t bear repeating.
My husband, Kiffen, was working at Rio Bravo Bar & Grill in Roswell, Georgia and at Charter Peachford after we arrived home from China. I remember he won a Halloween contest at Rio Bravo wearing my mother’s black dress from Mexico (from a football trip to the Sun Bowl) and a sombrero. He didn’t just win, he won first place as a Mexican senorita. He made lots of tips and no one suspected he wasn’t a woman. I brought my parents to Rio Bravo that same Halloween night and made us dress up like three Russian peasants, a nod to Chekhov and having just ridden the Trans-Siberian a few months earlier out of China. I remember my dad sat at the bar and talked to one his former football players with the Falcons in full Russian garb, babushka and apron and rouged cheeks. Kiffen won $25.00 which made us very happy. It seemed like so much money working these agonizing temp jobs.
Anyway, now, all these years later, I’ve been given time off.
A semester off to write, some of which I’ll do here in Los Angeles.
These are things I will be working on:
Hop the Pond – cutting, cutting, cutting this unwieldy novel for grownups
Are You There Vulcan? It’s Me, Millie-Graciella – adding, adding, adding to this middle grade novel
Beatrice’s Tornado – (a kind of Sarah Plain & Tall) – early chapter book that refuses to be squeezed into a picture book
Waiting for the Bears to Come – a messy short story
Mangoes on the Sabbath – an ancient messy short story
Welcome Home Daddy Mc and Glo-Glo – a story I want to write from a sign I saw a long time ago.
And two storybooks – Georgia Ivy and the Old Pump Organ and Ernestine’s Milky Way are currently in the pipeline with editors.
And just for fun thinking about ideas – I’d love to write a play about Harper Lee and her editor, Tay Hohoff. I’d love to return to my half-begun memoirs called Laurie Anderson in the Rice Fields, Blue Whales, and Pig Cake. But maybe they are long essays or maybe they all belong together. I don’t know.
Kiffen has bought me a chair and yellow roses and fixed up my grandmother’s gate-leg table.
All I do know is that I have time write.
The moors of Yorkshire 2014
Writing Desk Echo Park 2016
Somewhere in Lower Alabama 2007, maybe. (the other LA)
My late brother-in-law Jimmy’s life celebration with pig cake
On the moors by the Bronte Parsonage in 1983 with Sally Allard.