Murmuration

Soyez comme l’oiseau, posé pour un instant

Sur des rameaux trop frêles,

Qui sent ployer la branche et qui chante pourtant,

Sachant qu’il a des ailes!

(Be like the bird who / pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight / feels them give way beneath her /and yet sings / knowing she hath wings)

–Victor Hugo

When I was a young girl, I spent many summers abroad in France, my grandmother’s country. I remember how exciting it was to count down the days until the trip every year. I would wish for time to speed up, even through Christmas, just to get there! Each summer, we would spend a few weeks in Paris, then Is-en-Bassigny, and then finally, Roquebrune-sur-Argens, which was my favorite. Built into the mountainside just off of the French Riviera, Roquebrune offered beautiful views of the Provence from its great heights.

My most favorite part about the townhome we owned in Roquebrune was my bedroom window. Situated at one of the higher points in town, I could see for miles out of that window, and I spent untold hours in the evenings sitting on its thick ledge of the 300 year old house. This was a nightly occurrence for me, because I loved to greet the starlings as they danced their murmuration across the sky in the evenings. Appearing over the horizon like a great, black ribbon, they would dive and turn, undulating through the twilight to an erratic dance of birdsong as the sunset burned orange and ember behind them. Eventually they would come closer overhead and completely dominate the sky with the moon rising behind them. Then as gracefully as they came, they flew beyond our town and out of sight. I was entranced each time, as if every night was completely new to behold.

It has been 16 years since I last sat in that window and watched the birds dance their nightfall ballet. I think back to those memories often though, despite the time. Some people imagine a pristine beach as their happy place, and I imagine the starlings at my window, and I can seem the just as vividly as they looked so long ago. It’s no surprise that I should then dream of them, from time to time…

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The Thread

“I existed from all eternity and, behold, I am here; and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end.”

–Khalil Gibran

Lately I have found myself quite often turning to the works of Khalil Gibran. There is something in his writing, the way he experienced life and emotion, that speaks to me and pulls at my heart. I find understanding and comfort in his poetry. A kindredness in how he felt and saw things through a similar lens in, even if he was far more talented than I could hope to be. Whatever it is about him, I love nothing more than to disappear in the beauty of his work. Some days I feel very Gibran in so many ways.

Given the Gibran saturation, it’s no surprise that he should creep into my dreams. This dream is a little more “out there” even for me, but I would feel remiss not sharing it. So it was, the other night, I found myself roaming a limitless white space when I came upon a single red thread…

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The Blue Serpent

“Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.”

–Gautama Buddha

When I was a little girl, just barely 7 or 8 at the oldest, I met a snake at the local wildlife center during a field trip. I had seen snakes before, and had been told they were dangerous. In fact, many a serpent met its end at the mercy of my grandfather’s garden hoe. My grandmother often spoke of snakes in terms of the biblical snake in the Garden.

“Never trust a snake,” she would say in her thick, French accent, “they are all bad, even if they don’t poison you, they will squeeze you dead! Always stay away from the snakes.”

So at that moment, as the handler came up to me and offered for me to pet the snake, I gazed at it with a little fear, and a whole lot of wonder. That moment may have every well been my first act of rebellion. I remember thinking, just before my fingers shakily reached for the snake’s coils, that it must be so smiley, and oh, how my grandmother would be so upset!

And the surprise that it was not so was even more delightful. Fingertips touched smooth, cool scales, instead of slime. So soft, almost like velvet, with the exception of the slight ridges of each scale. And even more, it did not poison me, or squeeze me dead. Right then, in that moment, I knew that one day, I’d have a snake of my own.

And very soon, that knowing moment will come true. But before then, a snake came to me in a dream …

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A Summer of Wanderings

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

Augustine of Hippo

Since I was 5 years old, I’ve traveled almost every summer. Most of the summers of my youth were spent in France, but as I got older, I tried to get out into different parts of America as well. In my teens and early twenties, I managed to hit up every state on the East coast from Florida to Maryland, and then westward into Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, and eventually, Nevada.

And then it all stopped.

I could get into all the whys and hows, the excuses and the arguments. But the end result was the same, regardless of how it happened. For 9 years, travel was not an option, and my house was more cage than home.

Then the tumult and chaos of last year happened, and I was travelling again out of nowhere. Savannah (multiple times), Charleston, New York, Augusta, and, at the end, Oak Island. All were whirl-wind trips of only a couple days here and there, but all were meaningful in some way. A part of me that was suppressed for so long was returning.

This year, with my life officially in restart mode, I was able to pull off some longer trips, both alone and with Liam as my little travel partner.

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Brave

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

–Nelson Mandela

This is a post I started over a month ago. In truth, it is nearly 11 years over due in many ways. This story, this journey, is one that I have never told in its entirety. Before, I have only given it in bits and pieces to a select few people. Now, it is time for the telling, so that I can truly let go of some internalizations that I have held onto for over a decade.

This will not be a beautiful piece like I normally strive for. It’s ugly at turns, and raw. But a very real part of me that has been 11 years suppressed. This is my cancer journey.

When I was 21 years old, I was told that I had pancreatic cancer. I had to come to terms quickly with my mortality; far quicker than I think I was emotionally prepared for at the time. But I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to be brave. For my family, my friends. Above all, for my mother, who was not handling the situation well at all.

As strange as it was, I was not entirely surprised that I was sick. For months, I had been having dreams…

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Mourning in the Digital Age (pt. 1/3)

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

–Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dirge Without Music

Winter has always been a season of loss for me. The three most impactful deaths in my life all occurred in winter, after all. On a historical and spiritual level, the season is inherently tied to death to begin with, given that for our ancestors, a harsh winter could spell doom. So I suppose it’s only natural. Lately, as I think back to those three I’ve lost, something has struck me in how I’ve processed each one, and how the digital age has changed how I’ve mourned them.

My first exposure to death, true death, was the loss of my cousin Sammy at the age of nine. I know that prior to his death, there were a couple of pets here and there that had crossed the bridge, but my grandmother and mother kept me insulated from what death truly was. It was an abstract concept to my child’s mind. People and animals lived, and then they went away. Less a feeling of loss, and more an absence, and I was already used to people being absent in my life. In that hopeful, childlike way, I thought little about the difference, and overlooked that while absent people may return, the dead do not. At least not in any conventional way…

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Reflections on a Past Life

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

— Charles Dickens

I sit here on a suspiciously warm February night, finally taking time to write down all of the reflection and introspection that I have been diligently undertaking over the past few months. My house is a wreck; boxes stacked everywhere as I try to combine two homes into one. To merge all the “stuff” from a past life into a new one that has barely taken wing. Yet, here I sit, because I can’t stop the thoughts from overflowing with every box I empty, every dish put away. By the by? I might have an addiction to coffee mugs and someone needs to help me. It’s normal for one girl to have over 50 mugs, right? Right?Read More »

The Ballad of Gary Lee

Every woman is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself.

-Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Not long ago, I shared with you the rediscovery of some old family photographs, including the memento mori of my great-uncle, Gary Lee. In that box of photographs, news clippings, and letters, I found not just the only pictures to exist of this little soul, but also a family story, and a dark secret. This is possibly scandal enough for the likes of Savannah, much less a little one-light town in North Carolina. You know Mayberry? Alright, well think even smaller and you get Broadway.

It all started in the late 1920s with my great-grandparents, Holton and Hermie…
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Memento Mori

At sunset, the little soul that had come with the dawning went away, leaving heartbreak behind it.   -L. M. Montgomery

The hurricane brought with it all of the expected hardships: wind, rain, flooding, downed trees, power outages. For me, it also brought a unique opportunity to look for old family photographs as I attempted to stave off the mounting cabin fever. And so it was, with the kiddo safely ensconced with his grandmother, I set out to my maternal great-grandmother’s house to raid the attic. Though I only had to run across the street, the relentless rain had me soaked in 10 seconds flat. I didn’t care; I was on a mission.

I was dead set on finding a specific box of photographs that I had not seen for some 20 years. Spurred into action by a friend’s Instagram post on the subject, I knew I had to find one photograph in particular: a 1933 photograph, hand painted in delicate blue and pale pink hues. I had no hope of knowing whether the pictures would still be there; the house had undergone a few renovations and cleanings since I last laid eyes on the dusty cardboard box which I now sought.

(warning: post contains morbid imagery after the jump)

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