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Monday, September 27, 2010
When Mary Ellen gave me my copy of Rosemary’s book, she was unaware that Rosemary conducted Zona Rosa Workshops. I learned about the all-girl Savannah group from Jingle Davis, a writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and a friend of my brother, John, who also wrote for them. There are also coed Zona Rosa groups. In 1996, there were only three, but over the years, they have popped up and blossomed all over the country.
I attended my first meeting in April, 1997, accompanied by Jingle, who was thinking about writing a piece about it. My darling Mary Ellen died of lung cancer on Christmas Eve of 1996, so she never got to see me grow in the group. She had, for years, encouraged me to write, insisting I had talent of which I was unaware.
Back to the meeting. I walked into Rosemary’s house, which smiles at you when you enter, and I was paralyzed with fear. What was I doing there? Who did I think I was, here among these accomplished women, some of whom were published authors?
Susan Johnson, one of the original members of the group, is a woman of stature and a somewhat forbidding nature - until you get to know her. She made me shake in my shoes. Over time, she opened up to me and made me feel very much a part of the group. She is now emeritus, and I miss her. As for the others, they made me a little nervous but didn’t scare me!
Rosemary was the first person to tell me that my natural genre is poetry, but it would be a year before my work led her to that analysis. I attended the workshops regularly and had some private sessions with her.
My brother was dying of kidney cancer, and I was responsible for my invalid mother, so over time, my attendance grew spotty, but I never thought of myself as anything other than a Zona Rosan. My brother and mother died in 2000, three months apart, and I went through a dreadful mourning that stripped me of my confidence as a writer, but I kept going to meetings, sometimes skipping because I felt like a fraud, sitting there with nothing to present, taking up space and breathing air that a real writer could be using.
In 2002, when I felt ready to put my writing energy back to work, my darling Clint had a knee replacement that led to a cascade of health issues that eventually killed him six and a half years later. There were periods when he was a death’s door only to rally. There were infections and toxic medications and a ruined immune system. He was a functional alcoholic with cirrhosis and had no platelets to help his blood clot. Each time he had another operation, there ensued transfusions. His knee was infected, removed and replaced three times.
My writing took a back seat - except my paper journal. I had a nervous breakdown and spent 10 days in hospital about eight months before Clint died.
For two months after his death, I was unable to write a single word. Then I began my blogs, and the words began rolling out of me. And here I am today, back at Zona Rosa and building strength every day, taking control of my work and feeling strong and empowered.
© cj schlottman
After referring to Zona Rosa in my last post, I decided I have more to say about it. We are a sisterhood in creativity - all forms, not just writing. Our members are talented visual artists and musicians as well as writers. We are a sundry and heterogeneous group of wide-ranging interests and strengths. We are woman at her finest, and I am proud to be a part of it.
At our last meeting, I asked members of the group who follow my blogs to leave comments when they read my posts. For some reason, I rarely have input from them in that forum. I asked for constructive criticism, not just attaboys. These women have keen eyes for good work - and for work that can be improved. I can learn from them, have been learning from them for years.
So, a week later, when I got a e-mail from Ujjvala, with some suggestions about a post I published on September 14, I was delighted. I must confess that I am only now rereading the post and making the suggested changes she so thoughtfully sent me. They are spot-on (pardon the cliché). I have made the changes - and a few others - with many thanks to Ujjvala.
When I attended my first meeting of Zona Rosa, I did so at the urging of my then best friend, Mary Ellen Coleman. She was an editor and gave me an uncorrected reading copy of Rosemary’s landmark memoir, Fatal Flowers - On Sin, Sex, and Suicide in the Deep South, written in 1980. I read it in one sitting. It’s raw honesty tilted the Deep South on its ear and drew unwarranted criticism and wrong judgment down on Rosemary. She had already published a volume of poems entitled A Sexual Tour of the Deep South. Since then, she has published many work - poetry, fiction, volumes about our group - just a few examples.
Rosemary’s example of writing down her truths, no matter how raw or uncomfortable, made me the writer I am today. I don’t know how to sugarcoat my feelings or the things I see around me. She taught me to distill my work to its most dense and powerful form. I owe her a great debt.
There is no way to measure the atmosphere of trust and safety at Zona Rosa. It is my writing home.
I am at a loss for words. Me, at a loss for words. I cannot understand why my life is so out of control right now. It it seems more in control than say, a week ago, but I still feel pressure to do things that are not writing related. However, I am taking proactive measures to regain some control.
I hired a maid to come every Saturday and clean up the mess I leave each night when I come home, take a jasmine bath and go to bed, sometimes too tired to sleep well. When I get up in the morning, I glance at the dust balls and the dirty kitchen floor and the glasses sitting in the sink begging to be washed. I have time to deal with them, but it takes two cups of coffee and some alone time to wake up. So, I dress and wave at the mess as I leave for work.
This week I am off until Saturday when I am on call for hospice, which will mean I will miss my Zona Rosa meeting in Savannah that day. That fact is painful to me. The ongoing writers’ workshop led by my mentor, Rosemary Daniell, has been an oasis for me over the years, a safe place to present my work and receive nonjudgmental feedback from a group of talented writers, not to mention Rosemary herself.
But, for the first time in weeks, I have time to sit and write, let the words that have built up inside me flow out onto the keyboard - and into my paper journal as well. It is a good and liberating thing.
I will publish this small post first, then write another. Long posts can sometimes be offputting, and this one is really a “Hello. I’m back.” Glad to be here.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Yesterday, when I received an e-mail from Katie Gates telling me she was planning to pass the LOVELY BLOG AWARD award on to me, I was flabbergasted! Then I began to obsess about what I should publish for today - something either profoundly funny or deeply moving seemed to be in order. The thing is, right now I don’t feel profoundly anything - except overworked and underpaid and really angry at my Friend-Boy, Eric. Although, like Katie, I did not receive the LOVELY BLOG AWARD icon, I am none the less proud and excited about it. Pretend it is on this page!
I know, I know. No one wants to hear me whine. So, I’ll try not to sound whiny, even if that is what I am doing.
If you wish, you can click on “Living Through It” for background on who I am and where I am in my life. It tells the story of the first year of living without the love of my life. Clint died on June 8, 2009 at 6:33 PM, in the capable and loving hands and arms of those of us who loved him so. The photo of the Red Sweater is one of his collection of cashmere sweaters he slept in during his last years. He was always cold. Now I sleep in it.
So, in addition to being a 62 year old writer, I am an RN, a hospice nurse. I went back to work in July, just a little over a year after Clint died. I took a part-time job doing home care only 10 hours a week, a job wit no benefits, with the understanding I would be offered a full-time job when our inpatient facility opened. That offer is still on the table, and as soon as we have a full complement of inpatients, I will be given the opportunity to apply for the full time job, which consists of 3-12 hour days per week - and it come with great benefits. I love home care, but I need more structure, more time to write.
Why don’t I have time now? Fair question. Our census has been high with many deaths and subsequent admissions, and the home care manager asked me to work full time for a few weeks until things settled down. I was delighted - at first. The money is good, I love my job, and hell, I’m a widow only responsible for herself and two dogs, Belle and Honey. (Their photos are on “Living Through It.”
So, where’s the rub? I work for a huge health care bureaucracy, and the payroll computer is confused that I, who was hired to work 40 hours a month, am clocking in more than 40 hours a week! So, it kicks back half the hours, and for the past two pay periods, my check has been short over forty hours. Ouch. The first time it happened, I let it slide because my manager assured me it would show up on my next check. Only, the same thing happened again, and now they owe me over 80 hours in pay.
I can handle this. I am not a struggling single mother with child care issues and school supplies to buy, but I do need the money so I can stay out of my nest egg which has taken a beating along with everyone else’s that is tied to equities and bonds.
However, last Friday, when I learned that once more my check had been shorted, I went to my manager and told her that, after two weeks notice, I wanted to fall back on my original job description - 20 hours a pay period. I said I was working too hard to get no benefits and not be paid in a timely manner. She agreed but said she needed the extra time from me because out census is so high. I stood my ground, and we came to a kind of compromise, I think. I will probably work 20 hours a week, two ten hour days and maybe some call.
This post is not nearly so interesting as I had wished, but it is what I know right now.
Maybe a little about Eric will give it some life. He is my Friend-Boy, to be differentiated from a Boy Friend. We are friends. He is brilliant and funny and very Metro, a rarity here in the Deep South. He is well traveled and knows art and music, and he is completely out of his mind. There is a reason he has had three wives and is divorced. He has big ole bats in his belfry, and I am accepting of that fact. I just don’t want to get involved in an intimate relationship with him. Even if I did, I’m not ready, still feel very married to Clint, but Eric has started talking sex and making passes at me. Hell, the other night, he grabbed me in the parking lot of our club and pulled me over to his car and put his hand up my skirt and started squeezing my butt. I’m terrified we were caught on the security camera and may be invited to not be members any more.
Then, the next day, he called me - at work - to ask if it were as good for me as it was for him! Started making jokes about my multiple orgasms and how the paint job on his Mercedes is ruined. I told you he was funny, but he is also a pain in my ass.
Sex for us would be relationship suicide, but I can’t make him see that. He can’t help it. He’s a man, and it’s in his DNA. He thinks if we don’t do well in bed, we can just go back to being friends. Shit. I’m a little nuts myself, but even I know better than that. So, after I refused his advances on Thursday night and was unavailable to go to dinner with him on Friday, he sent me the following e-mail: will be out of pocket all next week, have company and the next will be in nyc.will call in a couple of weeks when things are more manageable ps...don't call me. i will call you when i am if ever available again,,,,,,,bonne chance.
Then he started sending me annoying texts - in French. He lived in Montreal for several years during his medical education. Yes, he’s an MD. I can get by in French - having an education and some travel under my belt as well, so I have been responding in kind. Here’s a small example of the prattle we have carried on in a foreign language.
Him: “Tu devrais etre tres content. Ta vie est vide.” (Translation: "You must endeaver to be happy. Your life is empty)"
Me: “Triste, peut-etre, mais non vide." (You will pardon my French, I am sure). "J’ai moi meme.” Translation: Sad, maybe, but not empty. I have myself)"
What is this, tenth grade? For you young readers out there, don’t think groan-ups in their sixties can’t act like fools. Eric and I are doing a mighty fine job of it.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
I still feel very married to Clint, and I think I’ll be this way for a long time. Friends have suggested that I ask someone out. One friend actually recommended that I try an on-line dating service, the idea of which gives me a stomach ache.
I don't want to date anyone. I still want Clint. The idea of kissing lips other than his makes me shudder. His kisses were velvet, his lips soft and gentle, his tongue silken and giving, even when he was probing my mouth with it. I will never again be kissed like he did.
When we made love, his embrace was tender, sensuous and expecting. He was not a bear hug kind of man, though he was a strong lover. He always thought of my pleasure and ways to give it to me. He was never demanding in bed, because there was no need. The way he played my body brought to me great desire to please him. And so it was with this man, my man, my great love.
He was relaxed and easy to be with, a calming and empowering force in my life. It was only after he died that I came to know that I had drawn so much of my emotional strength and endurance from him. He was, indeed, my rock. (Oh, God, did I just use a worn out cliché)?
My self-confidence is coming back, but it is a slow process. I have had success at work in spite of a boss who is doing everything she can to see that I fail. The challenge has kept me sharp and determined. I love my work, but I need structure in my life, and Hospice home care is far from organized. By its very nature, it is fraught with making, then changing, appointments. There are emergencies during the day that throw off the most carefully planned timetable. I need a schedule, and I will have one when our inpatient facility opens. At that time, my job description will change, and I will work three 12-hour days a week, all in the same place. No more driving from house to house. And I’ll have a new boss, a woman I greatly admire for her knowledge and her sense of fairness. Meanwhile, I am grateful to be working. The money is good, and I have been working 40+ hour weeks, though I was hired to do part time outpatient work.
If Clint were here, I would be okay, knowing I could leave my job and come home to him, even if he were sick. I still miss him in an intense way that is hard to describe but is much like an aching hole in my core where he used to live. I’ve been weeping lately, more than usual - while driving, while writing (like now), while feeing the dogs....................
Honey and Belle are the family I come home to, and I thank God with all my heart that they are here. As I type, they are both on the bed with me, fast asleep, their presence a great comfort to me.