I’m happy to share that my first full-length book of poetry, Second Sight, is now available through both Kelsay Press and amazon. If you are interested in magick and folklore, especially of Southern Appalachia, then there are some poems for you in this collection. After researching traditions and interviewing those who have lived in Appalachia for most or all of their life, I turned my findings into poems, along with sharing some of the “second sight” moments of my own life. Below are the words of the talented folks who were kind enough to read my collection and share their thoughts. Whether it’s my book or someone else’s, I encourage you to give the gift of art (in any shape or form) this year. Art heals, speaks on so many levels, and makes a unique and thoughtful gift during the holiday season.
Rosemary Royston’s personal narrative weaves poems of intuition, motherhood, and a woman’s second sight. Voices of old Appalachia mingle with her current life experience, portrayed in powerful images and sounds. Second Sight is a first-class collection of poems on Appalachian tradition, with sprinkles of superstition, and a depth of humanity with glimpses of intuition that drive a poem to the heart of knowing. Royston’s poems meld past with present, penetrate into the gift of second sight.
—Mary Ricketson, author of Lira, Keeping in Place, Mississippi: The Story of Luke and Marian, Shade and Shelter, Hanging Dog Creek, and I Hear the River Call My Name
Rosemary Royston’s poems speak in the tongues of rural folks in a way that only a linguistical conjurer could have managed. She takes her readers on a tour through Appalachia and its cultures— showing the reader creek bottoms, retold Garden of Eden stories, and her grandmother’s medicine cabinet. Royston is an eloquent wordsmith who tenderly crafts each word, each line, and each stanza. This collection of Royston’s is honest, timely, and beautiful. It is a love letter to Appalachia and rural people everywhere who often don’t get their stories told in such a powerful and compassionate manner.
Rosemary Royston compiles and surveys mountain and country wisdom in her book, Second Sight. Bible verses that can cure life-threatening injuries, herbal remedies, and the acknowledgment of the known but the unseen remind us of old ways. Maiden, mother, crone speak as the poems move through the modern world — strong words learned at an elder’s knee. Second Sight provides a treat and a balm for those who listen to the wisdom from “the blue hills of God.”
—Jane Hicks, author of Blood & Bone Remember and Driving with the Dead
I’ve had a lifelong obsession with pocketbooks. As a child, I was always curious as to what women carried in their handbags. I suppressed a deep urge to open and rummage through them when they weren’t looking. I wanted to know what they carried and why they felt it was necessary to tote these items around all day, every day.
I was too young to have any essential items to carry. Yet I recall one of my first purses that was gifted to me by a church member. It was a white and made of fabric — an elegant envelope purse. On the front, in red letters was the designer name, GIVENCHY. I used the purse so much that there was a greasy finger stain on the front where it snapped shut. Even though I could not pronounce GIVENCHY, I knew it was an indicator of status of some sort. On some level I understood that as a woman I was expected to have a handbag, and to fill it with things. (Sidenote: I’ve never since owned a Givenchy anything ;.).
As I moved through puberty, the need to have a handbag increased. In fact, it became a necessity. Where else does a teenager put her pads or tampons? Her lips gloss? Her driver’s license? Keys to the house, the car? It is at this point in life where a woman realizes she does not have enough (if any) pockets in which to store the things that she must carry. How I’ve envied men, who walk out of the house or office with no bag yet still manage to get around in the world doing many of the same things I do. Men’s clothes have pockets and it’s the norm for them to fill pant pockets with change and a wallet, and use a shirt pocket to hold a small notebook and pen. Men are able to easily opt out of a handbag. I once closely observed a co-worker of mine who managed to get by without a purse 90% of the time. She used her phone case as her wallet. It bulged with all her cards and cash, but she was purse-less! A rebel! My admiration was deep.The only drawback was that she was always locking herself out of the office, since she kept forgetting or misplacing her keys.
I put a lot of time and thought into what the functions of my purse are and what it should hold, not to mention how it looks. The contents of my purse have varied as I’ve moved from teenager to young woman to mother to mid-life. As a young mother, I grew to resent the expectation that my handbag was the place to hold the items of others: sunglasses, sippy cups, toys, a dirty pacifier, a balled up diaper. At times, my bag became hodgepodge of sorts, filled with other folks’ items along with my own. At one point I intentionally downsized my purse so that when others asked me to carry their items I could hold it up and say: no room.
And the pocketbooks I love the most, the ones I find most lovely on an aesthetic level also have no room. These are the handbags of the 1950s. They are often handbags that can only be carried on the elbow or by hand. They are not practical for a modern woman by any means. Believe me, I’ve tried to stuff in my smallest wallet, cell phone, and keys, and the purse will not shut. This makes me sad, as I’d love to carry around these vintage bags because of their beauty. I especially love the sound of the clasp as it snaps shut. I love “kiss” locks with their round, shiny metal locks. But my admiration of these purses led me to question the purpose of these slender bags.
In the 1950s, a woman most likely carried gloves, lipstick, keys, and some cash. She had no need for the wallet I have now, with its many slots and pockets, because a woman in that decade could neither open a bank account nor own a credit card in her own name – she needed a husband for that. This means that women carried far fewer credit cards. She likely could use the small wallets that tend to come with these bags. Many of the 50s handbags I’ve owned come with a soft, flat wallet and/or a small kiss lock coin purse. A few even have a special pocket for lipstick, and many include a small comb and mirror. The focus of these bags is appearance, not practicality. The contents of the purse supported the expectation that the woman look a certain way, while also communicating fashion sense, wealth, and status.
When I began to see these purses for signifiers of status and the expectation that a woman always be well-groomed, I began to feel conflicted. While I loved the artful designs of them, I resented the fact that they were an item to be consumed by women in order to fit into society. Purses became not just a place for carrying essentials, but an item that followed the whims and twists and turns of the fashion world. More importantly, they informed a woman on how she should look – and what she should wish to obtain. The handbags even provided the tools to keep her well-groomed. A woman could not get by with just one handbag, either. She needed multiple bags, since handbags were accessories that complemented her outfit. A handbag for shopping was much more understated than the bag she would take to an evening dinner with the spouse.
Therefore, I looked at my collection of bags with new insights, and I decided to repurpose them and in the process make a statement about being a woman and the expectations projected on her by society. The handbags I’ve chosen to repurpose often already had an imperfection of sorts, such as a tear or stain, or significant signs of wear, as I would loathe to alter a bag that was in pristine condition. Therefore, the handbags I’ve altered have two purposes: one is to highlight an element of being feminine that society expected women to conform to, and the other is to give the bag a new reason for being.
The first bag pictured is a patent leather black and red zipper purse. Its extremely slender structure does not lend itself well to carrying more bulky items. The collage on the front represents the 50s expectation that a woman be both beautiful and a great cook and entertainer. Her dreams were dictated to her by the slogans and messages thrusted on her through media outlets, and are highlighted by the images and slogans. Inside are cookbooks that upheld the woman’s place as the ever-happy entertainer and stellar cook, all while looking great.
The next handbag is one that came into my possession with wallet, comb, and mirror all tucked discreetly inside. I really wanted to hold my collection of colored pencils in this bag, but they simply would not fit. The bag is too narrow. But the lines are beautiful, and I decided to make this what I call a travel purse. Inside the handbag are postcards from a trip, held together by a clip earring (also a trend of the 50s). The outside is sparsely decorated with a postcard on each side (one Hopper reproduction, and the other a famous photo of a couple in Paris). For the souvenir, there’s a skeleton key chain from Las Vegas.
The next lovely purse is one of my personal favorites. It has hung in my various homes due to its simple beauty. However, it came to me with a big scratch on one side, and it is on this side that I’ve placed a collection of brooches. Brooches represent yet another thing of beauty – a thing to be owned but that is not a necessity. Much like these fashionable handbags, brooches convey a message of status or preference. The marred side of this bag is decorated, the flip side is not. The bag has been repurposed to hold patterns for women’s clothes – yet another way that we consume and share status or aesthetic tastes through our clothing.
Finally, the final bag fits more with the theme of repurposing than it does with society’s expectations of a woman and her looks and place. The binoculars that were once held in this case are long gone, and I found it with just the lids for the binocular lenses knocking around. I can actually fit my phone and wallet in this one, so it could easy be what is called a “statement” purse and it can be worn on the shoulder or as a cross-body. It has been decorated with a travel theme – from magnets to stickers from Alice in Wonderland to an old birthday card. Interestingly enough, the vintage birthday card has a set of binoculars on it, so it was meant to go with this repurposed binocular case.
Of course, the best way to view these is in-person, as each purse has new contents and additional details that are not captured in the photos. I’m interested in your thoughts, especially if you are a lover of vintage bags, or if you carried one in the 1950s — what were your feelings about your bag? The “need” for one? The expectations of being a woman in that era? Send them to me!
How are you getting through these scary times — times that find us wrestling with an evil virus and significant (and necessary) political unrest and calls to action? If I ponder too long on the surreal times we are living in my brain starts to warp. My unconscious reaction (I’ve just realized it, so now it’s conscious ;.)) has been to return to a favorite playtime from my childhood: dress-up. Back in the mid to late 70s, my mom provided me and my brother a wonderful brown box called the “dress-up box.” This sturdy box had an odd waxy exterior to it, with a lid that was easy to pull off and on. When afternoons dragged in the summer or winter months, out came the dress-up box. It was here that my current love of vintage nightgowns was born. Of the many treasures in the dress-up box, one was a silky bottle-green nightgown that had a wispy layer of sheer material over the skirt and a lace bodice. Of course, it was way too long and I’d stumble down the hallway, tripping over the slippery material with the straps falling off my little shoulders, but oh did I love this nightgown! I was QUEEN! Other treasures that my brother and a selection of young friends and faux-cousins all put on at some point included an Army shirt, red pointy heels that were meant for no human to actually walk in, some of Dad’s cast-off oxfords, a kimono, yellow house dress, many plastic necklaces, and variety of costume jewelry in loud and cheerful colors.
It seems I’ve returned to this childhood practice to brighten up my mornings as I get ready for work. I’ve pretty much given up lipstick, my favorite makeup, since masks rub it off and there doesn’t seem to be a point to wearing it, as when I do see people I’m masked. I’m trying to learn how to do eye shadow, but part of me doesn’t care. But since I’m an avid thrifter, my closet has now evolved into the dress-up box of latter years. Today I took a picture of my outfit, giggling with delight at my semi-Betty Draper look: a vintage green & white flower dress with plastic embellishments on the neckline ($3), wonderful mules from Italy ($4) that I’ll only wear for half the day (I brought my flats), and pearl earrings from a wedding I was in long ago. Who will see me? Not many people – probably just my colleague who is in the office next to me, offices that are above a stairwell flanked by locked doors. Meetings are online or by phone, so this dress-up is just for me – to lift my spirits as I walk through these traumatic times. I challenge you to find something you loved as a child and return to it – incorporate it into your day, because the childlike joy you experience will be so worth it. Now, go “dress-up” or break out the crayons, the finger-paint, the Lincoln Logs or badminton set. I promise, it’ll be worth it!
I read an article this morning on how to avoid the pandemic stress from engulfing me. It had a few good pointers, but they were all focused on ways to move out of the stress. While I agree with the steps shared (you can read the article here), it omitted the value of just letting the grief, anxiety, and (let’s be honest) rage, pour over. I know that as an introvert and empath (not to mention one who battles depression), that I’m super in-tune to all the feels out there in our world. And this does not even include my personal life: changes in how I “go” to work, my baby boy now a high school graduate with no traditional celebration or family gathering, my daughter off at her last semester of college that may or may not have in-person classes in the fall. Changes in the economy that change my husband’s income. Immunocompromised family and friends. The fact that my favorite writing event, Mountain Heritage Lit Festival at LMU had to be canceled for this summer, meaning I’ll miss my most dear community of friends and the new ones I always make, and the great writers I meet and learn from. It’s crushing. When I’m feeling all of these emotions, advice to write down a gratitude list seems juvenile and ineffective at best. Don’t get me wrong, it has its benefits. I’ve done it. But I have to be in another state of mind and emotion to do so and gain the benefits.
So I let it roll over me. The tears, the confusion, the rage, the lack of control (while also re-realizing any version of control I thought I had was an illusion). That’s a lot to take in. But a good bit of crying and/or solo time is a huge balm to dealing with all my emotions, and I think every list out there should include such. To ignore or suppress our grief and shock of the state of our world at the moment would be detrimental. So cry. Go chop wood. Yell. Dance. Listen to loud-ass music. Make art. Do something every day to acknowledge and release the pain, and then do something that brings you joy. That’s my map forward. I hope I can keep steady on it. Today will include reflection, and when work is complete, time in the garden. Love to you all.
On my trip to the post office, one of the few places I go to during this pandemic, I noticed the corner drugstore had Passport Pics Made Here on its marquee. What a strange time to advertise travel abroad, when we are safer sheltering at home.
I also noted that the new Popeye’s eatery had not just one but two rows of cars circling it. There’s something to that – the fact that those eager to eat at a new dining facility in our small town are patient enough to organize in a double line. I hope we (as a world) can mimic that cooperation as we move through these stressful times. I’ve never eaten at a Popeye’s. Not that I’m not a fan of eating out. I am. In fact, I’ve been astonished by how much food a family of four who is home almost 24/7 consumes. To get a break from cooking and dreaming up meals (and I have to give credit to the husband who does 99% of the cooking and 100% of shopping), we’ve ordered off and on from local restaurants. It makes me happy to have a break from cooking and cleaning, and it also makes me happy to support local businesses who’ve been slammed by this pandemic that touches everything – bodies, economies, psyches.
I started the pandemic stay-at-home/work-from-home process quite upbeat. I’m an introvert. I am blessed to have a home in a rural part of north Georgia with a pond and four acres to wander around on. Spring gifts are abundant: the patches of purple lobelia in the grass, the Japanese Magnolia pink and cheerful, and a dogwood that seemed to want to comfort us: her blazing white blossoms held on for weeks, stopping us all, from ages 18 to 55, each time we looked at her through the kitchen window.
For a time to be sheltering-in, I have it good in more than one way. I have a job. My family has remained healthy so far. But the hit to the economy has hurt us all. My husband has taken a part-time job at the local grocery store, as his main income has slowed to a crawl. My daughter is too far from her Athens office to go in, and my son’s part-time job has also slowed considerably, not to mention that he is also a Type 1 diabetic. High risk. So the worries are heavy. I do not believe things will return to as they were. In fact, I’m preparing otherwise. As Elizabeth Bishop writes in “One Art,” “the art of losing isn’t hard to master,” but of course it is. She knew this as she crafted her famous villanelle, and we all know this from personal experience.
For a few years I’ve been wearing a fitness tracker. It’s one I researched and spent money on because it met my needs and it was aesthetically pleasing – not just a typical black band with a digital printout. I took it off this week. I was too attached to it – checking my exercise, my stress levels, my hours of sleep. While helpful at times, I realized that I knew if I listened to my body and worked it like I should, I would be fine without this lovely attachment. At first it felt odd. The skin underneath is paler than the rest of my arm. My arm feels lighter, like a small weight has been removed. At first I felt “off”. But now I’ve grown to like the feeling. I guess this is akin to the Christian practice of Lent, where one gives up something they like for an amount of time. But I plan on giving up my tracker for the foreseeable future. For me, letting go of this device that I really didn’t need after getting into the habit of daily walking, is a way to symbolically let go of a thing I was attached to. Yes, I still like my tracker. It’s pretty. But I’m not allowing it back on my arm. I’m practicing letting go and living in a different manner, because my gut tells me this is a necessary approach to the current pandemic we are in, and will benefit me as things shift once again.
Yes, it’s a baby step. A letting go of a device that is somewhat frivolous. But because of my psychological and physical attachment to it, it is a valid step. It allows me to practice being (as in existing) in a new way that was first somewhat uncomfortable. I’ve grown to like it. To take pride in trusting myself to get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day, to trust that I know what my stress level is without checking a device, to trust that upon waking I know if I’m rested or not, regardless of hours slept (or not).
I’m embracing this tiny change. And as we move forward in the world – a world that will not be the same — I am having a somewhat smoother time imagining how I can evolve. What life will be like? How will we pay the bills? How will we float above the fear and anxiety of this collective trauma? How will we honor and allow the bad days and feelings to wash over us, but not pull us down? Giving something up that I wanted and thought I needed has helped me put a toe over that threshold of the unknown, with my own agency and intention leading the way. May it be the first of an evolution that, in the long run, will help me live each day with an eye of gratitude, patience, and creativity.
My friend Denton Loving published his list of books read in 2017, and reading his inspired me to do my own (Thanks, Denton). While I failed to keep my blog as updated as I would like, the good news is that I never stopped reading, even with all the challenges and joys daily life allots. So below is my list, and today I start my 2018 list! Happy New Year to all!
Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
The Girls, Emma Kline
The Unbearable LIghtness of Being, Milan Kundera
How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
MicroFiction, Jerome Stern, editor
The Folded Clock, Heidi Julavits
Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso
I’m Supposed to Protect You from All of This, Nadja Speigelman
Fast Girl, Suzy Faror Hamilton
So Sad Today, Melissa Broder
Evacuation, Wendy Ortiz
Birds of Opulence, Crystal Wilkinson
Inertia: A Study, Melissa Helton
All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner
Department of Speculation, Jenny Offil
Paint It Black, Janet Fitch
i hate to see the evening sun go down, William Gay
Remember the days when you paid a small fee and CDs showed up in the mail? Sometimes they’d pile up, with little time to extract them from their nail-breaking plastic wrap. I was not familiar with Chris Cornell until a few years ago, when another writer waxed on about Soundgarden. I decided to give the group a try. Didn’t grab me. But shortly after, I stumbled on an unwrapped Out of Exile, Audioslave, hiding among the CDs I’d moved around with more than once. Things changed.
I was unaware that Chris Cornell was the lead singer of both groups, and for reasons I cannot yet articulate, I prefer Audioslave to Soundgarden. I cannot tell you Cornell’s long and rich history – that’s not what this post is about. It’s about discovering a voice that provided both relief and connection, and the sadness that there will be no more vocals from that source – a relationship, a life, that has ended too early.
I grew up with funk, hip-hop, and rap. My first concert was Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters. After that, Fat Boys and Whodini. Then, the ultimate: Prince (still reeling). Obviously, my musical background was not pure rock and roll. I played catch-up in college, starting with Steve Miller, on to Zepplin and another favorite, Hendrix. I scoured the vinyl my husband owns, which ranges from The Beatles, Waylon Jennings, Molly Hatchet, to Mother’s Finest (and all of Prince). Newer rock simply had not made it into my repertoire, and that writer whose admiration for Cornell’s vocals and lyrics prompted me to listen for myself.
Hence, the synchronicity of finding that unwrapped CD in my own dusty collection – particularly during a time when the CD player lies dormant, my cell phone my source of music. I may have been about ten years late in discovering Cornell’s voice, but that became a moot point. I listened. I balked at what I’d been missing.
The connection we make with voices and lyrics is, in a large part, personal. What makes me like the songs on Out of Exile ? Cornell’s voice. It’s the vulnerability that it exudes – an excruciating balance of the masculine and the feminine, mixed with the authenticity and rawness of his vocals against screaming guitars. He soars and slays, and offers no apologies for what he conjures. His vocals were/are a vehicle for the fragile self that battles with the stuff of life. May he rest in peace, and may all of your tomorrows shine.
In my year of women, I’m reading books written only by women, and I had a fun juxtaposition recently. Because I’m constantly drawn to memoir, I downloaded Cat Marnell’s, How to Murder Your Life. I read this book, though, after reading A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman. Both books are about drug use, but along different lines. Marnell chronicles abuse alongside what it’s like to be a beauty editor for a magazine (all that swag!), and Waldman documents her heavily researched use of micro-dosing to treat depression, along with delving into laws, discrimination, and some myth-busting around LSD and other drugs that society has deemed inexcusable. It was somewhat like a roller coaster ride to read these two back-to-back: Marnell is very fond of the exclamation point!!! And she does not hesitate to use it! Often! I had to adapt to this, but grew to appreciate the candor (along with the horror) of much of what she survived. I also got a glimpse into the world of magazines and fashion that I’ve never seen. I related more to Waldman, though, because I, too, deal with depression and PMDD, and reading her book made me reconsider my biases and beliefs when it comes to LSD, and allowed me to see how a small dose of such could have extremely positive results (but too bad, as it’s illegal and we’re all out of luck until the laws change). Waldman adds to the memoir structure by including a good deal of research, which really adds depth to the subject material; she moves between the personal and society-at-large very well. I recommend both books, and enjoyed the juxtaposition of reading them back to back.
Current reading is Sharon Old’s Stag’s Leap (thanks to my pal Julia who gifted me a copy). I’d had this on my list for a long time, but am happy to have a physical copy. Because I’m impatient and live in a rural area, I still download a good number of books. However, when I love one, I must own it. Therefore, a shout-out to a book of essays on depression (and so much more) that I read at the tail end of last year that was quite powerful: Melissa Broder’s, So Sad Today. It’s on my iPad, but now I must have a physical copy for my bookshelf.
Here’s to more sunny weather (and warmer) and, just as importantly, to good books!
Today’s post is about a woman I should have heard of, but have not. She is, for a large part, the reason why women have the right to vote, which was a 72 year battle that ended on August 26, 1920, with the passing of the 19th amendment. It just so happens that August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S. (Yet another fact I did not know.)
In light of the recent event where Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from civil rights activist Coretta Scott King (a silencing that he did not extend to his male counterparts, and a silencing that inevitably backfired), I think recognizing Alice Paul’s contribution to the equality of the sexes is very timely, as there’s still progress to be made (for example, how women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man). Interestingly, Alice Paul was raised as a Hicksite Quaker. The Hicksite Friends “endorsed the concept of gender equality as a central tenet of their religion and a societal norm of Quaker life” and it is obvious that this belief in equality influenced Alice throughout her life, worldviews, and activism.
While Paul led a comfortable life, she did not sit on her heels. After spending time in England and witnessing the suffragist movement there, Alice went from being “reserved” to being a “militant suffragist.” While in England, Paul joined up with the Pankhurst suffragettes, whose motto was “Deeds not words,” and this often meant the breaking of windows, heckling, and the use of other means to raise awareness of the suffrage movement. There were arrests, hunger strikes, and imprisonment. While in prison, Paul saw the following quote written on the cell wall, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” a phrase that appears to be attributed in similar forms to both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The phrase was also used by Susan B. Anthony (another activist for women’s rights who was a Quaker and whose name is much more familiar).
While there was some fracture in the various strategies among suffragists groups to attain equality for women in the U.S., Paul eventually formed the National Woman’s Party in 1916. This group was often deemed “unpatriotic” for picketing during wartime, and the women were often jailed. They even marched on Pennsylvania Avenue during President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration (unfortunately, that march ended with physical violence against the women). After being imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, Paul and her comrades went on a hunger strike. The conditions of the Workhouse were unsanitary, the women were often beaten, and public outcry led to their release. At this point, President Wilson “reversed his position and announced his support” and in 1919, the House and Senate passed the 19th Amendment. It was then ratified in 1920 (thanks to Harry Burn’s mother, who asked her son on the Tennessee assembly to support the amendment).
Did Alice Paul stop with the 19th Amendment? No. She pushed on. She persisted. And, to this day, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), rewritten in 1943 as, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” has yet to be ratified. Many Southern states have failed to support such. It is obvious that the need to persist continues. Silencing someone for gender, sexual orientation, skin color, religious preference, etc. is not acceptable. While McConnell may have stopped Warren from reading King’s letter with his sexist rebuke, he only amplified the need to persist, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”McConnell’s sexism led to a timely reminder to women and other disenfranchised groups that persistence can, and does, pay off.