The Story of Life as we Know It

We write the story of our life one thought, one daydream, one word at a time. I'm on my 50th draft of a story called "Barry" and it's very much a work in progress - red pens and Post-it notes everywhere. The older I get, the more I enjoy the revision process, asking "What if?" and "Why not?" So what's your story?

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Art of Bruising Easily

Before I learned to give myself transfusions of hemophilia factor at the age of nine, every stumble into a coffee table or accidental tongue bite meant a frantic trip to a hospital emergency room.  “You can do this,” my mother whispered as I struggled to tie a tourniquet with one hand.  A buzzing florescent light in the doctor’s office exam room cast my arm in putrid green light.  When my father reached for a roll of cloth tape to secure the needle, Dr. Brady raised a hand.

“He has to do this on his own,” he said. “He won’t always have someone to assist.  Let go and let him fall a few times.  It’s like riding a bike.” I had never ridden a bike, so it was a poor analogy.  A bubble formed under my skin, an indication the needle had infiltrated and precious serum was entering soft tissue rather than my bloodstream.  Eventually, after awkward probing, I succeeded.

“I knew you could do it.” My mother patted my arm near my Band-Aid. “You can do anything.” There were many things I couldn’t do as a hemophiliac, but she chose to ignore them, focusing instead on my successful steps toward maturity.  A few of my first attempts at our kitchen table were disastrous, but eventually I mastered a technique.

Whenever I’m faced with a daunting task, I hear a whisper: “You can do this.” I also like to picture Dr. Brady flying over the handlebars of a bicycle.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Worth remembering? Or, more valuable to forget?

As we age, we often lament how much we forget, but some memories are best left behind.  Why is it I can't remember where I ditched my reading glasses last night but I can immediately recall the injustice I felt when someone was rude three months ago?

I'm a fool for always thinking I can do it all.  Funny how frantic multitasking and jamming more on my calendar crowds out the great memories but keeps the bad ones top-of-mind.  Ironically, when I cancel the appointments and slow down long enough to savor silence and nature, I forget the injustices and swell up with gratitude.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Feast in the Midst of Famine

I'm a major foodie, a food adventurist. I plan vacations around culinary experiences. An hour's detour to savor an exquisite risotto?  Worth it.  I pretend the only openings in my calendar are during the lunch hour so I can mix business with pleasure.  "There's a new place we need to try downtown."  Of course, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, or at least tied with Christmas (if there's a standing rib roast) or the Fourth of July (if the spare ribs are tender and caramelized on top).  While I savor all the flavors of God's creation, someone nearby is hungry today, someone who has only more of the same to eat, day after day after day. 

Time to clear a shelf in the pantry, to take some groceries to a shelter.  I've heard the expression, "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels," all my life, in my vain, appearance-obsessed culture.  But truly, "Nothing tastes as good as sharing food with someone hungry."

Thank you God for a whole day set aside to say "Thanks."  Don't let me stuff myself so full I can't see the people around me who need something to eat.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Remembering Granny

My maternal grandmother, Gladys Lowery Shows, passed away this past Sunday at the age of 93.  Her funeral is tomorrow in a rural Mississippi cemetery.  This is what I plan to share ...

We spend our lives searching for evidence of God. Surely unconditional love is proof here on earth. Granny felt that love for her family. Unconditional love does not mean unaccountable; she held me to a high standard because she believed in me – but I also knew no matter how far I fell, she would love me. Guaranteed.

Her love was obvious, evident in everything she did. The door to her home, like the door to her heart, was always open. I could not get out of my car before she was there at that door to greet me. She had been watching for me. Visits from family were like Christmas to a child for Granny. Remember the let-down you felt when Christmas was over? Granny felt that when the time came for me to leave. She was at that door again, lingering. How many times I wanted to turn around and drive back up that street and go inside her house and tell her, “I think I’ll stay one more day.” I never did. The world was waiting – work, and all the noisy distractions. Somehow everything seemed suspended when I crossed her threshold – life was slower at her house, spent mostly at the breakfast table, sharing.

I could go and on about her many characteristics I loved, especially her phenomenal cooking that flavors so many of my childhood memories, but I’ll share just two experiences. The first is when I was eight or nine and on crutches – which was my normal – and I managed to get locked inside the tiny pink tile bathroom on Lillian Highway. Granny was the only one home with me and she stood there in the hall by that pink flamingo picture and jiggled the door and stuck her face by the knob and coached me from having a full-blown panic attack. “If I have to break the window I will, Barry,” she said. And I knew she would, and that calmed me. Somehow she managed to jiggle that lock open from the outside.

The second experience was after my Papa’s funeral here in Bryant Cemetery. We went back to Aunt Imogene’s to eat and there was a huge crowd and it was the typical paper-plate-on-your-knees buffet with folks sitting all over the house and yard. I managed to spill my iced tea but before I could get out of the chair Granny was on her hands and knees cleaning it up. She was the new widow – the one I should have been waiting on. Anyone who knew Granny knew she had a servant’s heart. Her eye was always on the sparrows of her family.

And that is evidence of God’s Unconditional Love, all the evidence I need. Thank you Granny, for being His faithful servant messenger in my life. You’re the best.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Tastiest Treat in Hershey, Pennsylvania: A Generous American Spirit

We spent this past weekend in Hershey, Pennsylvania, at a lacrosse tournament for our fourteen-year-old son Joe (sixteen-year-old David is in Piedra Negros, Mexico, on a mission trip with our church). The tournament provided a spectacular “Field of Dreams” setting in the middle of a cornfield surrounded by rolling hills, stone farmhouses, red barns and white silos against a vivid blue sky. What a great place for a chocolate factory (I guess there’s no bad place for a chocolate factory). But the tastiest treat in Hershey? Learning of Milton Hershey’s philanthropic spirit. The man supported five local churches during tough economic times and invested his fortune in a school for orphans that has gone on to create industry leaders for more than 100 years. What a sweet legacy. I will enjoy my next Hershey bar even more than usual.

Though our record was 2w/3l for the tournament, we tied two of those losses and went down in “Braveheart” face-offs against great opponents from Maryland and Pennsylvania, states where lacrosse is part of the high school program (it is still considered ‘emerging’ in Alabama). We received a warm welcome everywhere we went. Southerners do not hold an exclusive on hospitality. Sunday evening and most of Monday we tooled around Old City Philadelphia. I must admit I expected this to be a “tourist” check-list, perhaps benefitting Joe’s up-coming freshman high school American history class.

Thanks to an engaging guide at Independence Hall, I became the history student inspired by stories of our founding fathers and the courage it took to create our nation. Please excuse any lingering Fourth of July sentimentality, but pulling off a revolution isn’t easy. Their stories deserve more attention than I’ve given them since I was a high school freshman. I fly my flag proudly on holidays, sing The Star Spangled Banner at ballgames (louder than my kids would prefer) and even sport a flag tie when the Fourth falls on a Sunday as it did this year. But I let all these great stories fade from memory.

Today I read a blog post comment by Gail Hyatt ( recommending HBO’s video series on John Adams. I confess I have David McCullough’s epic biography neatly tucked on a shelf in my library but I haven’t read it. This afternoon, I’m looking for these videos to share with my family. Some of our favorite nights in front of a television were spent watching Band of Brothers. So now it’s on to founding fathers.

Who in American history most inspires you?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Who do you ask to read your writing?

Yesterday, for our Saturday date night, my wife asked to see Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a visually beautiful film that fell flat for me, though I felt strong connections to aspects of the story. After my first trip to Paris years ago, I returned home intent on quitting my job, selling my house and moving to the City of Light to become a sidewalk painter by day and a smoky-bar-jazz-pianist by night, and to write great novels in between (I actually had a woman come to my door two days after I got home to ask if I would consider selling my house – talk about ignoring a sign from God).

I probably own this film's entire soundtrack on CDs of 1920s French jazz. Most of all, as a writer struggling with how to gain feedback on my first novel, I can relate to the protagonist Gil Pender’s dilemma: Whose critical opinion of my manuscript should I trust? Ernest Hemingway tells Pender (paraphrasing), “Never let another writer read your work. If it’s bad, they’ll enjoy telling you it’s bad. If it’s good, they’ll be jealous and tell you it’s bad. Writer’s are very competitive. All writers.” I’m afraid it’s true that I’m competitive in other aspects of life, but in writing, I like to think I'm different. Isn’t there room for all voices?

Who do you ask to read your work? That's my wife who reads everythinmg I write with a red pen in hand (I do the same for her). Is it fair to ask friends for critiques? How do they say "no," even if they don't want to read something? Worse, how do they tell a friend they hate something they wrote?  Is this a dilemma for anyone else?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Thyme Saturdays

My wife and I enjoy a Saturday morning tradition of shopping at a wonderful Farmer’s Market at Pepper Place in downtown Birmingham (Alabama). It’s quite the scene, with jazz musicians and a virtual Westminster Dog Show (some weeks there are more breeds on display than vegetables). I’m a notorious grazer, circling and sampling cheeses and sausages and, well, anything someone puts on a tray alongside the aisle (I actually once mistook a bowl of coffee beans for Raisenets and nearly chipped a tooth). This gathering at a marketplace is an ancient practice that builds a strong sense of community. We see friends and make new ones, fascinating salt-of-the-earth people across the table, purveyors of pepper jellies and pickle relishes and mustards and birdfeeders. Meandering between tents, I’m keenly aware how much I value that spicy variety of life. Such bounty, so many flavors painted in vibrant colors, pungent smells mixed with laughter and conversation, all here for the sampling, all free, every Saturday morning.

What Saturday morning traditions do you enjoy?