“When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, photo by Scott Olson

It is undeniable that all our lives are diminished by racism.  I have nothing to add to all that has been shared regarding this horrible happening.  I stand as another witness to a valuable life lost, no justice, rage, confusion, clarity.  I think of how much of the richness of life we all miss by othering, by not listening.

This morning, on my way to bake pies, I took in a radio program about the work of John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite who has worked as a peace builder in many countries. He has mediated conflict resolution in the most unimaginably violent situations, both at the grass roots level and also at the high ranking political level.

“… we kind of close our eyes to the depth and the history of what has come before and how much of a challenge it is to create the changes that people are talking about…”
John Paul Lederach

I look around my city and constantly think about the long reaching reasons many people feel like they don’t have a stake in this community or in their own life.  I challenge myself: how does my work work to change this?

I cannot not think about my characters: Courcelle, Glenda, Henry, Grandma Lili. I think about what they went through in New Orleans. The difficult lives their ancestors faced. I think about those who caused them suffering, where they found meaning, how they created lightness.

Tonight, Elwyn and I listened to the songs of Joe Carter, a singer, educator, and scholar of the Spiritual. Hear him talk about the importance of these songs and how they are interwoven with our humanity and our shared American story at On Being.

Joe Carter — The Legacy of the African-American Spiritual

Finally, I am led to Louis Armstrong playing one of these same Spirituals, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

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I Am Because We Are: I am due in 6 days

baby on scale
Photo by Betty Press from “I am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb”

Go to the Limits of Your Longing

God speaks to each of us as he makes us
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

– Ranier Maria Rilke
From The Book of Hours I, 59

I always return to Rilke. Rilke continually reminds me that we are most human not when we achieve clarity but when we fully embody the murky spaces of our lives. It is through the hard act of digging in the unknown that our soul deepens and reveals its true self. Remembering that takes a lot of the pressure off us perfectionists.

Parenthood. The murky unknown. My eyes almost burst feeling the word “Mother” come out of me. My midwife affirmed: birthing operates in its own time, outside of night and day. Outside of mealtime, sleep time, work time. Preparing for birth mentally, emotionally, and physically involves entering into this different way of thinking about ourselves in the world.

Mike and I watched a National Geographic video about the biological processes of the developing fetus, we’ve taken an in-depth birthing class, we’ve read much, and we’ve witnessed the visible changes in my body over the last nine months. But none of this education can explain the formation of soul in this new person we have created together.

I think about God speaking to our baby’s soul as Rilke describes during the creation of its body.

The how of it is confounding. Mike and I certainly have independent thoughts and separate bodies. We have contrasting kinds of brains that process the world very differently. Yet, in so many ways we are one. And now we have created another – distinct from us. I ask what makes you you and me me? How much of who we are is muscle mass, how much is the mind and how much is the spirit? All I can ascertain is that creating a child is so commonplace, yet so mystical.

Orange Maternity chagall
Chagall always gets it right for me.

One last poem. Far from finished, still in the reworking process.

To my child, for my parents

I look around my tender room and
Think of all the things
I want you, my child, to know
of me, of life
poetry art kindness

But then, I can’t help but want an easier
passage for you
Can’t you love science more than your mother?
Won’t you ask the questions
rewarded with money?

Tonight alone in my house
I cry the way blessed people do
I think of my parents guiding me
One foot in front of foot
You can do it artist,
you can make your world

In my thirty six years, I have made much
friends, pain, discoveries, films
a marriage a home

Now we have created you
with love, touch, biology
Tucked under skin
In a world so deep, I feel I should know it better
you are stretching me out
you are pushing us forward
When I scrub,
When I laugh,
When I write
Even as your father’s bow combs
the strings of his violin

my mother my father welcome me up
into parenthood
I pray I can usher you through
as they ushered me

Guiding one foot in front
Go create artist
I see you working. Look at what you’ve made.

-Nicole Eiden

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Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
Courcelle and I sometimes wrestle with the same demons.

My writing group friend Eden is so thoughtful.  When she speaks, you lean in.  Tonight, she mused over the different kinds of time and how writing time occurs in a timeless place that one must make.  I really value her feedback about the script.  She gets where I’m trying to go.

And now that I’m pregnant, I have new anxieties about the unknown. Everything is unknown, though.  It was unknown before.  It is unknown now.   And that’s where the marvel of it can be found.  I’m exploring this same fear of the uncertain in Courcelle’s character.  Maybe I should watch how she handles it all for guidance.

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“Just Ask” & “I want to write a poem that is barbed”

Strawberry Margarita Chiffon Tart
Strawberry Margarita Chiffon Tart photo by Jennifer Potts
It’s hard being brave. Marielle and I are trying to grow our pie company, Windowsill Pies. Recently, I have been perplexed about why I am even making pies and incubating this business when there are so many challenges to continuing. Finally I realized the reason: screenplays take a long time to write and I need a more immediate manifestation of my creativity. Having spent years in what feels like a dark room, chipping away at stone, sifting sand, hacking words until they take, I want to make something in the short term that is lovely and original. Pie.

Figuring that out was like stepping in the direction of my life. Committing to this new process isn’t distracting me from my main mission, but rather it informs my route. It stirs my creativity and creates joy. Not Sunday afternoon party at someone else’s house kind of joy but the hard work kind of joy. It seems that joy and challenge are inexplicable linked because now I am ushering myself out of my comfortable kitchen and into the uncomfortable place of finding a professional baking space, hearing “No” a lot, facing money realities, and looking at a long list of steps, half of which are beyond my comprehension. I need to “Just Ask.” Ask who? It is so hard to ask people for info/ kitchen space/ time. I’m scared of interrupting people. I am scared of being a nuisance. I’m scared of a “no.” My Jiminy Cricket says, “Ehh, keep moving, keep asking. Someone will give you a good answer.”

To quote a pie customer quoting Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

That said:
The older I get and the more I use Quick books, the clearer it is: God gave me certain talents that don’t include accounting. Doesn’t give me a pass on doing the books. Gotta take care of business. But I feel strongly that honoring and developing my talents is the best way I can serve the world. It is my irrefutable job to keep doing what I put was here to do.

That brings me to a Robert Frost quote:

I want to write a poem that is barbed.

A barb sticks. The barbed word is hard to hold. But you want to keep holding it because you can feel the prick and you know you are alive. I think that is what Frost meant. What I am sure of is that a barb is a very real object that does not live in the hypothetical.

I just finished Constance Adler’s 6-week writing course. It was an intimate creative writing workshop with five peers and Constance. My screenplay is getting better. I think I’ve created a few barbs; I started to draw little blood. I’m hoping it’s funny too.

Check out this witty video lecture by the artist James Victore. He articulates out loud a lot of these thoughts I’ve been having. Mr. Victore, thanks for saying it so succinctly. And thanks for making me laugh at the tailor-made time.

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We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves

a tree in late autumn by Egon Schiele
This is me standing on my screenplay. Or my screenplay standing on me.

I’m going back to the beginning. It’s such a difference to understand what makes a story matter and to create a story that matters. I’m in the dark spot of a long term relationship – the part where I don’t like you and I want to be by myself but I still have to love you. “You” being my blasted screenplay. I’m committed for the long haul. That’s the only way. I’m starting to get what my most recent readers have been saying: make us uncomfortable, dig deep, where’s the sex, there is an entire river of emotion running underneath every thing Courcelle does but…I could go on.

So story. We all tell them. You can garner a lot about what is important to someone by the stories they choose to share.

Exaggerate the essential and leave the obvious vague.
-Vincent van Gogh

I was touched last night by the film of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. How adept he was at making me laugh and care. The plight of teenage Eugene navigating his crowded Brooklyn household is situated into the larger world of an impending WWII and the Holocaust. All the stories play as equally real and compelling. And the wallpaper! Ahh, the 1940s – before America abandoned aesthetics.

Take in this TED talk by the filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, so ruminatively entitled “We Are the Stories We Tell Ourselves.” He gets it and can do it. No easy task.

When One Is So Far from Home, Life Is a Mix of Fact and Fiction

No one should hold that against you.
It’s a means of survival.
Sometimes I thought my best talent was
taking a skinny story, adding wings and a tail.
Dressing it in a woolen Bedouin cloak
with stitching around the edges.
Putting a headdress on it.
Making a better picture.
Your mother got mad at me sometimes
for telling a story differently but it wan’t a lie,
just a story in different clothes
with other things emphasized.
My own mother dressed up stories for 106 years
till that last winter she rode in her bed
like a boat, sitting up to sleep.
Maybe it’s our duty to be shaped
a hundred times by the same stories.
We think we’re telling them
but really they’re keeping us alive,
memory oxygen breathed out and in.

– Naomi Shihab Nye

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Go Towards What Gives You Energy and Away From What Sucks It Up

Lionel Ferbos
Still playing!

How do we keep learning?
How do we create a full life?
How do we commit to making choices that are in line with our values?
How do we continue to nurture hope?

How do we act from a place of love not fear?

How do we contribute?  Are we contributing enough?

Sometimes I am torn:
We are suppossed to save for retirement.  How do we do this while paying the mortgage?

As one gets older, it is harder to keep working towards a dream.
But what else is there to do?  We get older either way.

As for me, I’m sticking to it.

Lionel Ferbos has made one hundred years old.

Read about Lionel Ferbos in the USA Today
Read about Lionel Ferbos in The Times Picayune

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My emotions are too all over the place to think of a fitting title

Planes in the sky wallpaper
I am Mrs. Miniver.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

—from “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Mrs. and Mrs. Miniver
Greer Garson & Walter Pidgeon rising to the occasion.

Mrs. Miniver (1942) has long been a favorite. As a kid, the WWII morale booster facet of the film was lost on me.  I was drawn to the story because it was about a woman being smart and brave.

I’m looking for a little of that Mrs. Miniver spirit inside of myself right now.

I’m on the verge of adding a new career to my already full life.  I love good wallpaper. That’s a big hint about things to come.

Other Big News:
I’m sending my script off to dear Kris Lackey. Kris just moved back to Oklahoma after giving UNO years and years of noble service.  New Orleans misses Kris.

New mom and screenwriter, Maya Held, is also being entrusted with the script.   Friday is my deadline.

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Langston’s Birthday

I got my script back from Allison. Much to do. I’ve got to limit, focus, and develop an immense amount. I keep repeating:
The catalyst for change is Katrina. The vehicle is music.

Katrina required us all to improvise in the most elemental way. All rules were off. As Allison aptly stated, “Everyone had to engage in improvisation. It was a difficult place. And it was not like improving a standard.” Okay, maybe I’m paraphrasing. She sounded more succinct and commanding.

Yesterday was the birthday of Langston Hughes and the start of Black History Month.

Cab Calloway leads the band in this video. I wish I knew who was reading Hughes’ poem. I listened to a bunch of version’s of the song “Weary Blues” at all different tempos. In the versions with that are slower, I was struck by how the melody mirrored “St. James Infirmary.” You know that tune.

A video short I found of Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B.” The use of the reader’s white voice suggests the inner-conversation Hughes might have had regarding how to engage with the larger white community while being himself.

Awhile back, I went to a poetry reading at Latter Library. One of the poets, Jerry Ward, a professor at Dillard, grabbed me with his evocative, concise poems. I hunted down a book he edited entitled Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African-American Poetry. In the book I encountered the poet Etheridge Knight for the first time.

I keep coming back to his poem “Belly Song” because it utilizes some of the same images I’m exploring in my script: water and salt.

Etheridge begins the poem with a quote that might resonate with anyone who went through Katrina and came out on the other side.

” You have made something
Out of the sea that blew
And rolled you on its salt bitter lips.
It nearly swallowed you.
But I hear
You are tough and harder to swallow than most…”
— S. Mansfield

One of Knight’s most renowned poems.

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