I have a special, fun, fabulous talent I use to annoy my friends and irritate people: I can “sing” my part of conversations to the tune of Gordon Lightfoot’s classic, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Once I get going, it’s almost impossible to stop:
“How are you doing? I am doing well, and I’m very much happy to meet you!”
“Please give me a six-piece box of nuggets, and a large Diet Coke would be lovely!”
Seriously. I can do this all day.
But the Edmund Fitzgerald was more than the 70’s greatest earworm: It was an actual shipwreck off the coast of Whitefish Point, Michigan, not far from Mackinaw Island. You can learn all about the tragedy at one of my favorite museums and parks, The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
The museum sits on what is known locally as the Shipwreck Coast, but you can’t tell it by the beach just beyond the building. It’s a quiet, rocky shoreline and you can slip right into the water if you care to. Or you can find a perfect seat of driftwood, carved by one of the kinder gods of the lake, as my son did a few years back. Pack a picnic, a journal or your e-Reader and sit awhile: When a god gives you a gift, it’s rude not to enjoy it to the fullest.
Back when I was a fitness instructor and teaching Oriental/Middle-Eastern folk dance, I invested in a week-long dance workshop in Manhattan.
We danced all day, each way, working our ever-lovin’ tails off. I slogged back to my hostel--Leo House, a lovely little facility run by nuns-- exhausted and overwhelmed by my first trip to this biggest of cities.
One evening, in this state, I found myself in the hostel courtyard, next to one of the scariest Virgin Mary statues I'd ever seen. (I mean, seriously—look at her!) Not one to let fear or common sense stop me, I began to talk to Mary. I had journal and pen on hand, and rambling aloud moved to rambling on the page. I took down my hallucinatory imaginings of what she'd say. Within minutes I'd fleshed out a scene in which Scary Mary gossips, complains and tells my heroine how to fight dirty. From this scene only a sentence fragment made it into Stone Kissed—but without it, there might have never been a novel.
I've since learned this is the best time and way for me to draft--early in the morning or late, late in the day, shields down, before my conscious mind gets a chance to wake up and say, "This is crap.”
When people ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” We cringe. The answer is, we just don’t know. Author Jenny Crusie has a well-developed and joyful theory about the “girls in the basement” of your mind that will tell you everything if you’ll just open the door and go listen. But otherwise, most of us will tell you, “They come as they come.” And we pray that they just keep coming.
Once upon a time, there was a world before the digital camera. We took our photos on film. You had to hand-crank the film forward in order to take the next picture, and sometimes, when you got close to the end of the roll, you’d accidentally crank it back a couple slots—or catch an extra picture beyond the end of the row.
If you made this error, you might be able to take a picture over a picture—a double exposure.
I took these photos some weeks before the beloved first dog of our marriage, Dido, died. Several weeks after that, we relocated, so it took me months to get to a photo counter and have this picture developed. I’m not one to fret over heaven for dogs or rainbow bridges, but I do love this picture of her “spirit ascending.” It turns out we were able to bring our ghost dog with us, and we couldn’t be more grateful for double exposure.
Do have any fun or funky photos lying around (or even scanned in to your computer)? If so, feel free to post them in the comments and share your own ghosts.
So, this month I jumped head-first down the rabbit hole of genealogy research, snuffling like a truffle-hunting pig through the family search sites and newspapers.com (where, for a yearly fee, you can search through millions of pages of archived newspapers from around the globe). In the middle of this wine-soaked process, I discovered my great-great-great grandmother, Ethel. Ethel and 3G-Grandpa lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma during and after World War I, where she was a very active member of her church. She hosted the Ladies Aid meeting at her home every weekend, ice cream socials, and dances. She even went to the national church conference in St. Louis as a delegate one year.
But unlike most of our family, she didn’t stick to the traditional Catholic and Presbyterian modes of worship—oh, no! Ethel was a Spiritualist, a member of an exploding number of people who believed in communicating with the beyond, through Tarot readings, seances, trance states and the like. Famous spiritualists in her day included the godfather of all things occult, Aleister Crowley, and Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle.
Ethel’s congregation didn’t meet in a church: They gathered each week for their lectures at the Tulsa city hall. And when she went to the national spiritualist conference, she and hundreds of others were greeted by none other than Mayor Kiel himself. Furthermore, Ethel’s group was one of three Tulsa Spiritualist congregations listed in the weekly church section of the paper. All across America, spiritualist groups were common enough to be almost mainstream.
But, then as now (and perhaps even more so then) they were also reviled on a daily basis for doing the Devil’s work by various ministers and congregations. Anti-spiritualism sermons were featured in almost every Christian denomination. If this bothered 3G-Grandma Ethel, I don’t know. But it didn’t stop her from hosting Ladies Aid.
I make a lot of assumptions about my ancestor’s character based on snippets from newspaper ad sections: I like to think she was a little rebellious, even as she filled her role as housewife and mother to three. I like to think she was creative and open-minded. And I like to imagine that one of these days, when I spread out one of my own Tarot decks, Ethel will have a message or two for me from the Beyond.