Welcome to My Crazy Quilt. . . .

110 West 80 St-4R, NY, NY 10024In mountain tradition, my Southern grandmother created free-flowing art that warmed her family on winter nights. She pieced scraps of twill, denim, corduroy, children’s outgrown clothes, men’s shirttails, worn-out dresses, and cotton sacking into the “memory gems” of life.

Like her, I toss aside perfection for small, unpredictably shaped patterns. This blog  is my verbal crazy quilt.The color and richness, my garden of perfect moments.

cropped ptg Hen Party 10-31-04_peKeep scrolling or check out the category dropdown on the sidebar: Characters, Creatives, Musings, Places, Poems, and The Daily Post. Or for a quick read, visit my portfolio.

For tidbits on southern lifestyle and culture, writing, humor, and recipes, drop by the Random Storyteller Facebook Page. Please comment and share your own “good stuff.”

Fortunate Fall: Wings of Desire

Daily Post Prompt: Worldly Encounters

byzantine angelsAn extraterrestrial asks you to recommend one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about.

Damiel, an angel, perches on buildings that tower over Berlin. Seeing the world only in black and white, he listens to a stream of human thought—hopes, fears dreams. To be with a trapeze artist, he plunges to earth, surrendering immortality. Damiel tastes what it means to be human amid the rich colors, sounds, and textures of the city before the wall fell.

What is it to be human?

What is staying alive? To possess

A great hall inside of a cell.

What is it to know?  The same root

Underneath the branches. . . .

What is it to sing? To receive breath

From the genius of creation.

What’s work but humming a song

From wood and wheat. . . .

What is the world to the all powerful?

A circle spinning.

And to the children of the earth?

A cradle rocking.—Waldo Williams

Worldly Encounters“>

Birdwatch . . . Leap of Faith #TBT

turkey vultureMarch passed, blurred gray with rain. The backyard trees, still winter stark, hung heavy with a dozen birds roosting in dark clumps. Turkey buzzards. I grabbed some binoculars; the birds’ shrunken heads were red, with small, hooked beaks.

After a drizzle, the buzzards flapped their black-brown wings, shaking off the damp. Then they took off and soared. The underspread of their wings caught silvery gray in half sunlight.

I walked outside at dusk and stared up. The invaders clung high in the trees. Hissing, I heard hissing. The neighbor said they would not snatch my cat. I quit looking at the backyard. I quit mowing. In April forsythia forced tiny yellow starbursts. The buzzards disappeared. Suddenly the trees fringed light green.

I hung four baskets of Boston ferns from porch hooks. They swung gently.

One morning I yawned and went to get the paper tossed carelessly at the edge of the gravel driveway. I wore an oversize “Welcome to Huntsville” T-shirt. Mrs. S, my across-the-street neighbor, always met the day with her rocker pulled up to her glass storm door, watching. My pink T was no shorter than a mini skirt. That was decent enough to scooch down for the paper. As I came up, one of the ferns trembled.

A tiny brown bird dithering in the fronds darted to a low-hanging branch. A slightly larger one, its head capped with red, chattered from atop a bronze trellis leaning against the porch. I didn’t know about birds. I didn’t care. My father hovered over field guides to American birds. His lifelong dream was to find a birdfeeder that defied squirrels. He never did.

A_small_cup_of_coffeeThe birds fussed every morning when I took morning coffee. I lounged uncomfortably in the resin wicker chair. I couldn’t get used to its stiff woven arm. The tattered weaving of my wicker furniture rotted long ago in the basement. Still, I claimed my hour on the porch. The no-name birds could keep the rest of the day’s 24 hours. I thought about watering the fern with a turkey baster. Perhaps a safe enough distance. But I shrugged off the notion. If the fern dried up, I could get another at Home Depot.

I lost track of time. Pollen lightly dusted the porch gummy green. I didn’t feel like hosing it off and sipped coffee at the dining room table. Early one morning, high-pitched chirping broke my coffee-musing silence. The babies had cracked their shells.

baby wrensI dragged my chair to the closest window and pulled back a sheer. I stood on the saddle seat for uncounted minutes.

The mother bird swooped in time and again. The chirping lost urgency. I tossed some laundry in the washer. Usually, I carefully measured to the proper line in the cap but now dumped in some liquid detergent. I ran back upstairs, but the nest was still. I yanked the pacing cat indoors. A fresh, wind-whipped rain washed away the pollen.

Calico catEvery morning I forgot my coffee and stood on the chair. After a few days, I set a stepladder on the porch, about three feet from the nest. Once I sneaked out barefoot after the parents had flitted away. I slowly climbed two ladder steps and peeped between some ferns carelessly parted by the parents. Three feathery-fuzzed babies wobbled and stretched their necks and opened their beaks, with throats wide, ready to swallow. I climbed another step. They ducked and huddled.

The birds waited for feedings between longer stretches. I watch them at the window. The boldest took to standing, beak up, beady eyes glittering, and breast puffed. He postured like Washington crossing the Delaware, so I named him George. He looked through the jungle of ferns. He flapped defiantly.

George took his leap and the others soon after. I found my faith and mowed the yard.

For glorious birdwatching and learning, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Adirondack chair_Greg HumePhoto Credits

Turkey vulture/Tim Mccormack-phyzome

Cup of coffee/Julius Schorzma

Baby birds/Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, USA

Cat/Serena (“Whispers”) Flikr

Adirondack chair/Greg Hume

Zinsser on writing memoir well: “think small”

randomstoryteller.com papers on floorSince his death on May 12, William Zinsser dominates my thoughts. Reading his book On Writing Well transformed my writing in college. Later works continued to teach.

Zinsser dropped many great lines. This one rings true as I write slice-of-life pieces: “be yourself, speak freely, and think small.”

It appeared in the essay “How to Write a Memoir” (The American Scholar, Spring 2006). Among the nuggets:

“Writers are the custodians of memory. . . .”

“When you write your own family history, don’t try to be a ‘writer.'”

“The strongest memoirs are those that preserve the unity of a remembered time and place.”

“. . . readers won’t connect with whining.”

“Remember that you are the protagonist in your own memoir, and the tour guide.”

“Go to your desk on Monday morning and write about some event that’s still vivid in your memory. . . . Keep this up for two months, or three months, or six months. . . . Then, one day, take all your memories out of their folder and spread them on the floor. (The floor is often a writer’s best friend.) . . . see what they tell you and what patterns emerge.”

In Writing about Your Life: A Journey into the Past (2004), Zinsser stated he did not find his voice until he wrote On Writing Well while in his fifties. This generous teacher and author remained current, embracing new forms. His popular blog, Zinsser on Friday, won a National Magazine Award in 2012—when he was 89.

To learn more about William Zinsser, visit his website. You’ll find him on saxophone, improvising with Arnold Roth on piano.