Thursday, November 29, 2012

Uncle Lou.

Friends, this week has been nothing short of crazy-busy. But in the midst of my busyness with deadlines and grading and whatnot, I received some rather astonishing news...I've been nominated, by Illuminations Magazine, for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. I'm as honored and thrilled as you might imagine.

During Thanksgiving last week, my sister and I ventured into our grandmother's attic for the first time in years. When we were younger (and my grandmother was more strict) we always begged to go in the attic, or for someone to, so we could discover the oldies-but-goodies inside. So, when my grandmother okayed it after we all cleared this year's holiday dishes, Marie and I were as thrilled as 12-year-olds.

I crawled around on my knees in that dusty attic for what seemed like an eternity, determined to find something more worthwhile than old curtains. I finally did--a boxful of old letters, photos and mementos. I handed it down the ladder to my mother, who was anxiously awaiting my descent, and everyone crowded around the kitchen table, eager to sift through family history.

It's funny...each of us found something particularly meaningful. For me, it was a letter that my great-uncle, Louis James Essey, wrote in the 1940's to a literary journal. Uncle Lou, who was one of my grandmother's older brothers, has always been one of my heroes. A self-proclaimed bibliophile, he worked as a journalist for the Charlotte Observer, never got married, wrote incessantly and didn't own a television. When I found the letter, yellowed with years and crumbly at the edges, I decided I would keep it. After all, Uncle Lou and I are both writers, and, more specifically, both poets. I brought the letter home to Charleston and it's nestled on my bookshelf.

I'm not certain whether Uncle Lou's poetry was ever published. I know he published countless essays, articles and reviews throughout his life as a writer, but his career as a poet is mysterious to me.

Still, it seems an interesting coincidence that I've now been nominated for the Pushcart. I can't help but wonder if Uncle Lou brought me good luck? Or, for that matter, if luck came from any of the other poets I've been fortunate to know throughout these years? Come to think of it, the nominated poem was inspired by Anna, my dear friend who passed last summer. Every time I write or read poetry, I think of all the poets I've met. Some of them are my personal friends, some have signed my collections...some are just out there, writing.

They make good company.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cooking by the Seat of One's Pants.

Over the weekend, I attended my friend Joy's annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner. It's one of my favorite things to do in November, mostly because it forces me to ...cook something.

In years past, I've had my plan well before going over to Joy's house. One year, for example, I made a pumpkin spice cake in the earlier hours of the day, complete with bunt-shaped pan. It was marvelous. But this year I was slack. I found myself laying around my house until 4 p.m., watching old Parker Posey movies, and suddenly realizing I needed to get dressed and go to Publix.

Hmm, I thought to myself in Publix, Should I just get something simple like a block of cheese and some crackers? Or should I really try to make something? I'd rather make something, but what?

I suddenly found myself in the magazine aisle, reading up on holiday recipes. I picked what seemed easy enough to throw together without even buying the magazine--a Southwestern cheese dip--and scoured the store for what I needed.

"This is good," said my roommate, Dana, awhile later, scooping up a sample taste with a tortilla chip.

"I'm not feeling it. It's not Thanksgiving enough," I announced. And frankly, I was less than impressed with how all I'd done was open up a container of queso and dress it up with some corn and cilantro.

"This is what I get for not having a real plan," I grumbled to myself. Undeterred, I went back to Publix, this time with the intent of somehow making sweet potatoes (that was Thanksgiving-y enough, right?)....but I had no idea how to cook a sweet potato. Or if I had the time.

"Is it considered a faux pas to use canned sweet potato?" I asked the Publix employee, a sweet-faced, teenaged boy who probably didn't know what faux pas meant.

"I don't think so," he hedged.

I finally grabbed what I needed, including a recipe on the back of the can that could be accomplished in thirty minutes. At that point, I had less than an hour until party time. Good thing I was already wearing my makeup.

In the end, my "quick" candied yams were gobbled right up. I feel satisfied that I went with my gut and nixed the cheese dip, although I'll probably uncover that and eat it later.

"You know what I love about going over to Joy's for Thanksgiving?" I later asked my roomies and neighbor. "It's an occasion for all of us to make food."

Since my sweet potatoes rocked, I'll probably make them again, maybe this week. And some other new things. After all, 'tis the season for kitchen adventures -- even at the last minute.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Table for One.

The holiday season is pretty much upon us, and it's actually the first one in AGES that I don't do I put it...a love interest. For the last ten years of my life there has been someone -- even if not a real relationship then at least someone I fancied -- and now, there is no one. It's so weird. I get to go to all these end-of-year functions, parties, dinners, whatever, all by myself.

Over the weekend I had a taste of the true solo adventure. Sunday morning I called one of my friends to see if she still planned on joining me at the Charleston Cup, the local horse race that my office got a bunch of tickets for. But she and her boyfriend declined. They'd been out late the night before and I realized I had to make the 30 minute trek to Hollywood (SC, not CA) on my own.

So I did. And the drive was pleasant. And the horse race was fun. I guess it's a little odd to be my only companion --my own driver, walking buddy...and the only person who pays for my parking pass. The funny thing about being single is that, even though I have gobs of friends, the feeling of being alone is always there because no one is obligated to you. Or, as a friend put it the other night, "No one cares if you stub your toe. Sure, you can call a girlfriend on the phone, but no one REALLY cares."

Whether that is a dismal, or freeing, prospect depends largely on the attitude one chooses to take, I've learned lately. I'm learning to embrace my freedom and not my loneliness. After all, if Robinson Crusoe and Henry David Thoreau and Emily Dickinson could do it, why not Denise K. James?


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Row, Row, Row Your Vote....

Now that it's Thursday I finally feel comfortable enough to tell all of you about my crazy experience on Tuesday, election day. Like many of my fellow Americans, I woke up intending to vote. But somehow things did not go as I had planned.

When I came into the kitchen that morning, Genessa was sipping coffee. "It's ridiculous that they didn't send us a notice about where to vote, now that Harbor View Elementary has been torn down," she noted. "But I found out where we go--Stiles Point Elementary, right up the street."

"Sweet. Thanks for telling me," I said. I got dressed and drove to Stiles Point, which was an absolute swarm of people, cars, voting representatives and mayhem in general. To make a long story short, I waited in that line, which wrapped up and down the Stiles Point hallway, for two solid hours. Granted, I had a really cool chick standing beside me, so we talked about everything from curly hair products (hers was a mass of spirals too) to the quest for true love (she was married so it was mostly about my own quest). Still, by the time I got to the front of the line, produced my drivers license and got ready to cast my vote, the news that I "was in the wrong place," was as frustrating as if I'd spent the prior two hours standing next to a smelly, yodeling, half man-half anteater.

"What do you mean the wrong place?!" I demanded.

"You are supposed to be at the OLD Stiles Point next door, not this new building," the nonplussed representative told me. "Sorry."

"I am NOT waiting another two hours--I don't have time," I announced, loudly enough for everyone around me to look at me. "I'm not voting, I guess. Unless you guys can make arrangements so I don't have to wait!"

They just blinked at me.

"FINE. I'm moving to Canada," I declared. I knew I was making a small scene but I didn't give a crap, frankly.

I plowed out of the building, ignoring the offers for Chick Fil A coupons and stickers. "I didn't vote!" I snapped at the goodie-peddlers. "So I don't GET ONE!"

I did make the half-hearted attempt to go to the "old" Stiles Point building across the parking lot, only to be greeted by a rude attendant who told me to "get to the back of the line" after I relayed my sob story.

"No way," I said, seeing how long the line was. "I'm out of here." And I was.

Safely in my car and headed to work, I realized that my voter registration card still had my old Mount Pleasant address on it. Inspired, I called the City of Mount Pleasant and asked whether I could vote in Mount P, given the fact that my card reflected that information.

"Hmm.." said the befuddled clerk after I ranted about how rude everyone on James Island had been. "Let me give you the director. He can help you. After what you've been through, there must be something we can do."

But the director was not willing to help. "Sorry," he said. "You cannot vote in Mount Pleasant. You have to go back to James Island. That's where you are living now. You should have gotten your notice about the switching of locations. What's your address?"

After I told him, he realized the problem. "We have you down for Apartment THREE, not B," he announced.

"Oh, perfect," I said. "No freaking wonder ...But I'm not going back home to James Island until 10 p.m. tonight because I teach on Tuesdays. Isn't there anything else I can do?"

"I can offer you opportunity to return to Stiles Point and cast your vote."

"OFFER ME THE OPPORTUNITY!?" I shouted. "Don't say that like you're doing something special for me...I could have done that anyway!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he replied. "It's the way the law works."

"Yeah, well, God bless America. Have a great day." I slammed the phone down.

So that was that. No vote for Denise K. James. I did, however, get an "I Voted" sticker gifted to me by Brian, my coeditor. When he told me he still hadn't voted at 2 p.m., I told him I was going with him and having a positive voting experience somehow, even if it wasn't my own.

And that's exactly what happened. We sailed into the designated Mount Pleasant building without any lines, he voted in the span of minutes, and handed me the sticker. Of course, it wasn't quite the same, but it was something.

"Now that the sticker is yours it should actually say, I tried to vote but couldn't," Brian joked.

I don't think I laughed. I was still too mad. But looking back on it now, it was a pretty amusing non-voting experience.

Hope everyone else's was better... regardless of your political party.