At Dublin Airport, Plane Delayed

trinity-libraryI notice the women first—not because they’re beautiful in a conventional sense, but because they’re striking in a way that’s difficult to grasp, a way that I’m compelled to work out on paper. They are three seemingly plain middle-aged women who are not well-dressed. They wear no make-up and have terrible hair, but they’re mesmerizing in their wholeheartedness, the way they speak and laugh, the way they use their hands and don’t care about their hair. They pull out socks they’ve bought and are greatly amused by them. They stretch them out on their hands and laugh. One puts hers on. The socks are toeless. She slips her sandals on and her badly-pedicured toes show. She wiggles them to the delight of her friends.

They’re companions to a man in a wheelchair who has the look of an Irish poet. His longish white hair’s a mess and he’s wearing a rumpled poet shirt, baggy poet pants, and a dreary poet jacket. He’s cranky and grumbles at the three women. They hand him his notebook and pen, and console themselves with chocolate. One of them opens her duty-free perfume and shares it with the others. “It’s very light,”she says. “Oh, yes,” the others coo. But I can smell it from15 feet away. They’re radiant with enthusiasm for the ordinary.

The poet doesn’t see it.

He concentrates on his notebook through thick glasses. Pen in hand, he writes nothing. He clicks the pen on. He sighs. Clicks it off. He finds no inspiration in the drab half-empty airport waiting gate, or his companions. Time passes. The three women chatter and smile. They haven’t spoken to him since he growled at them.

Bored children dash past, laughing. He’s not amused.

Now the poet pulls out a small computer. Types slowly. Frowns. Closes it.

Still no inspiration.

The young woman next to me dozes.

The Americans at the end of the row rearrange their papers and carry-ons.

Female airline workers at the gate try to look busy, but they really have nothing to do but wait—like the rest of us.

The young woman next to me wakes up and coughs. Not a good sign.

Other passengers talk, make use of free wifi, snack.

Stewardesses and pilots arrive. Good sign.

Finally, an airline assistant comes to push the poet’s wheelchair. She’s young and attractive so he attempts to be peasant (and relevant). The three women wave as he leaves. They’re relieved to be rid of him. They follow at a distance chattering and laughing.

The poet remains oblivious to his muses.

The Birth of a Book

“Life, Death, and Beyond Smiggle’s Bottom” is out and available now. Many people are impressed by the fact that I actually wrote a book; they say that’s the hard part. But that’s not how it feels to me. I would be happy to sit in my room forever, making up stories, concocting my own world peopled by characters of my own design. But, alas, you have to play a part in publishing it, see to all the details in that process. Every time I look at something I’ve written, I want to “fix” it. I see things that I could have done better, things I should have cut out, things I should have expanded, wording that could be more poetic—or less so. I’m terrible at catching spelling mistakes; I need someone else to do that (someone beside my well-meaning computer). I could revise until the world warms to a melting point and beyond. (This being more of a worry these days than things freezing over.) So at a certain point, I let my (literary) babies go, and stop looking at them.

The worst part for me, however, is marketing. I lack the Kardashian gene. I have bouts of confidence crisis. I suffer from stage-fright, shyness, geekiness. Social media makes my head ache (unless I’m reading heart-felt or humorous antidotes; looking at photos of your garden, vacation, dog, or cute children). My preferred super-power is invisibility.

Perhaps the reason I am this way is a result of my past. You might know me, or think you know me, or not know me at all. You might like to know me or you might not want to know me, but you might be interested in some of the characters I’ve known/invented/embellished in “Life, Death, and Beyond Smiggle’s Bottom.” How’s that for marketing?

“Life, Death, and Beyond Smiggle’s Bottom” available now!

Here’s what my early readers had to say:

At first, this book seems to be about death, but it is really about life—the life of an extended family in northern Appalachia. It is also about the internal life of the narrator, who is fascinated with her family but who is also in touch with a parallel world, where strange beings like “the invisibles” live. This hybrid work of memoir and made-up stories is filled with characters—I mean characters, quirky people—who will populate your mind as they populate Smiggle’s Bottom. It is an unpredictable, absorbing, eye-opening read, accompanied by helpful photos.

—Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of Violent Outbursts

. . .

Harm’s Way

When I was a kid there was little crime in my small hometown. Houses and cars were left unlocked, bikes unchained. Children as young as five (even younger) roamed neighborhoods unchaperoned. Older kids built hideouts in the woods, hiked along railroad tracks, swam in the river. Beer was accessible to teenagers, but drugs were for sick people. We had a sheriff but he had no police force. If anything serious happened, the state police had to be called. They were rarely called upon as everyday misdeeds weren’t reported or even spoken of: men who assaulted wives and children, teens that raped girlfriends or sisters, petty thieves (dealt with by family or victim), and brawlers. Drunk drivers, when caught, were driven home by the sheriff.
Mining accidents and disasters occurred. Occasionally an abandoned mine collapsed and swallowed a house. These were considered acts of nature even though nefarious men and corporations created the illegal conditions for these events. Residents wouldn’t dare provoke these companies and risk job loss or, worse, the company’s departure. But they left anyway—when it was no longer profitable for them to remain operational. Workers went “on relief” and awaited the not-so-distant future when frackers would cause even more lethal damage, and meth-amphedimine would plague the hills.
Every once in a while, a hunter would find a human leg or head in the woody mountains. These were presumably strangers as any missing resident would be noted, missed, and discussed. Perpetrators were never found.
Still, we weren’t afraid. The bucolic setting, starry night skies, and day-to-day reliability of experience established the conviction of safety in those days.
I was uneasy with the ersatz tranquility of my childhood, unable to accept the pace. I was bad at interpreting societal cues, and fighting a longing I didn’t understand. Despite deep connections to small towns, country life, and especially those starry nights (which you only get in the Planetarium here), I somehow feel more secure in the city. I’m not comforted by stillness and nature. I accept city rules; relish the embrace of tumult, the swirl of ideas, the Possibility that inhabits risk.