Kiffen went off to school and even though I was alone I found ways to distract myself from facing the project(s) at hand this morning.
I updated my dear friend’s “Go Fund Me,” which I find enjoyable and productive, but I also know it’s a ploy for me to avoid my own work, but here it is anyway. (Rebecca O’Brien Kicks Cancer’s Butt!)
I also thought – well, I’d better write my lovely and smart PMS/PoemMemoirStory editors to keep us on track with submissions, so I distracted myself with that too. (Our reading period is January 1-March 31st.)
And because I participated in a 12 by 12 (an online picture book group) and attended the amazing Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Bootcamp, today was the last day to give an update of 2015’s success, and so I had to write to them too, because they really kept me on track and writing with picture book drafts.
12 picture books in 12 months, which basically meant for me six revised picture books and six squeaky drafts. It’s a great group and it really and truly helped me stay focused in the whirlpool of teaching.
And then I began to revise the short story, “Welcome Home Daddy Mc and Glo-Glo,” which I did (and it’s in much better shape, though in time to submit to January contests?) Maybe. I don’t care I am going to submit it. I realize it’s a story about postpartum depression in the Deep South -a laugh a minute, I assure you. And then I teased out a chapter of “Beatrice’s Tornado” and changed the first few pages of my middle grade about Vulcan novel to first person.
And so we come to Laurie Anderson, my hero, who got me through China back in the yesteryear of 1987. My friend, Cyle, sent me her latest interview on BBC Radio. Here is the link.
And so finally I will leave with a Laurie Anderson story and something I’ve been playing with for a long time.
LAURIE ANDERSON IN THE RICE FIELDS
* This is a memoir broken up into sections named from some of the titles of Laurie Anderson’s songs and lyrics from her 1986 album, “Home of the Brave.”
What Fassbinder film is it?
In another lifetime I used to walk through the rice fields in Ningbo, China listening to Laurie Anderson’s album, “Home of the Brave.” The death of Lou Reed first made me think of my son, Flannery, and then of Laurie Anderson, which took me back to those lush green rice fields near the East China Sea. Laurie Anderson wasn’t married to Lou Reed in 1987. I didn’t even know they were married until Flannery saw them at a college concert at UC Santa Barbara around 2007 and told me, which seemed a kind of miracle.
Laurie Anderson is married to Lou Reed? Do you know how amazing that is?
He did not. But Lou Reed had been the soundtrack of Flannery’s high school life, and consequently, our family’s soundtrack, too, along with David Bowie, Gram Parsons, Rolling Stones, Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, T-Rex, Modest Mouse, Oasis, and many others but mostly Lou Reed and David Bowie.
When our youngest child, Norah, was six and experiencing a lot of David Bowie in the house through film, CD, and Flannery’s Ziggy Stardust Halloween costume, she asked, “Momma, is David Bowie God?”
I said, “No. Why would you think that?”
She replied, “Well, I’ve never seen God, and I’ve never seen David Bowie either, but he’s everywhere.” Flannery, sixteen at the time, assured her that yes, David Bowie was God and so was Lou Reed, too. The middle child, Lucy, fourteen, probably rolled her eyes at the rock ‘n roll catechism lesson, but Lucy will tell you that I always have her rolling her eyes at something her brother did or said, so maybe she simply shrugged. Maybe she said, “David Bowie is definitely NOT God, Norah.”
But my soundtrack in Ningbo in 1987 was Laurie Anderson, especially on long walks after teaching English to sweet, baby-faced eighteen-year-olds who called me, “Mrs. Kerry or Mrs. Kiffen.” It was our first year of marriage, and I had a clunky cassette walk-man, and I played Mozart and the Talking Heads, too, but it was mostly Laurie Anderson in the rice fields around Ningbo University in Zheijang Province. I stuck to dirt paths around the rice fields, which were wet swamps of verdant irrigation that stretched forever. During those walks, I’d see a water buffalo that frolicked like a great black lab in the rain as I listened to Laurie Anderson sing about Frank Sinatra’s smoke rings, white lilies, a big bald head sun sinking down in the sky, an island of only TV stars saying “Look at me, look at me, look at me. LOOK AT ME!” We had worked so hard to get out of Knoxville and into China, so why did I wonder what in the world I was doing in there?
I had so many questions then, but there are too many questions today even nearly three decades later. So I have to go back to that time in China before children, before I understood what it meant to truly love someone even though I loved my new husband, Kiffen, very much. We were starting a life in China. It was to be a great adventure, the beginning of our lives together – not simply a mortgage and a workweek and babies. That could all wait. We had no money but that did not mean we weren’t allowed to see the world.
And somehow the combination of Laurie Anderson and the high-spirited water buffalo eased my head as I roamed the rice fields cut off from the rest of world. It was as if Laurie Anderson could see into my soul and the world of China days dragging by endlessly, rice fields as far as the eye could see, and she was telling me to notice things, to be aware even in the isolation, especially in the isolation from everything that was familiar and safe.
Once upon a time, Laurie Anderson sang to me in those emerald green rice fields. Once upon a time, the entire contents of our lives fit into two Atlanta Falcons’ bags, remnants of my father’s latest football coaching job. And once upon a time, our son, Flannery, born in the Year of the Dragon, was a radiant child.
And then the monster came, and I learned to embrace the magical gifts of uncertainty and being wrong.