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Decaying Worlds – Inhabiting the Ruins of a Structure and a Soul

decaying-villa-4Recently, my husband sent me an article on abandoned places. These were once glorious, but now forsaken European castles and villas. Dying tokens of splendor and opulence captured by architectural photographer Mirna Pavlovic, who has a thing for deserted structures. She risks getting arrested, falling through rotted floors, or just plain getting cooties by climbing fences and ignoring “no trespassing” signs in order to get some truly incredible shots. Ones of beautiful homes that for reasons we can only imagine, have been ditched and left to slowly decay. Their murals,  marble and artisan carpentry are being encroached upon by the elements, until one day they will become part of the natural earth again.

“They are never truly dead, yet never really alive,” Pavlovic says of these villas. “Precariously treading along the border between life and death, decay and growth, the seen and the unseen, the past and the present, abandoned places confusingly encompass both at the same time, thus leaving the ordinary passerby overwhelmed with both attraction and revulsion.”

I love the duality she sees in these spaces. That the ghosts who visit while she snaps her pictures may tell a very different tale to her than to someone else. They might speak of folly, dancing, formality, and wing-dings. Or anguish, broken dreams, empty promises, death, hope, rebirth. Perhaps all of those things jumbled up into one, long Russian novel.

“Reminds me of the stories you write,” my husband told me.

And he has a point. It seems I cannot write a story without a double meaning or phantom of some sort. While Pavlovic focuses on place, I train my eye on people – emotion, memory, the senses. Picking apart and reassembling the interior mechanisms that conspire to make up a soul. Urging my imagination to recognize the spiritual components which make that soul eternal.decaying-villa-3It may seem counterintuitive, but I feel an inherent sense of optimism when I’m dreaming up characters who have been disavowed, betrayed, left behind to descend into ruin. From there, the only way is up. Thought by thought, step by step, decision by decision. Understanding this narrative is what gives life meaning. It opens our hearts to mercy.

So, I understand Pavlovic’s fixation.

The chronicling of this organic and at times supernatural metamorphosis is the sole reason I’ve never even considered giving up on being a fiction writer. Even when the frustration and fear of failure has been so great that it’s kept me up at night, found me tearing through my kitchen to cook up gourmet meals no one in my family really wants to eat, made me say mean things to my mother’s bird.

Because writing is so much more than a skill to me, or a way to do my part in keeping my kids ensconced in their expensive enrichment activities. Writing is an extension of faith, of compassion, of trying to leave behind something that will matter to someone else.

When I take time off from my stories for any extended period, I find myself averting my eyes from the ruined places and ruined souls that I would otherwise be exploring. Not because I can’t bear to look at them, but because I can’t spare the time. The hours in the day fill up with cooking and laundry and driving. And for a while, yes, the house looks better, our lives are more organized, our kids are always on time for their events.

Those intervals are important, too, and I’m not knocking them. Nor would I give them up.

But when they stretch out for too long, my interior life becomes a bit more stark. I might be a more competent wife and mother, but not necessarily a better one. I start to pick teams instead of examining issues. Ugly words begin to mean less, and even make me a little giddy. They feel like contraband – smoking a cigarette behind the shed doors.decaying-villaIf I look away for too long, I start to give myself permission to retreat comfortably behind the sanctimony of political correctness, biblical passages, or quotes from my favorite philosophers – believing, wrongly, that I’ve got this empathy thing down. Smug in my place in the world, judgement and condescension worm their way into my daily thoughts. I have so much less to teach my children.

I don’t mean for it to happen, it’s something that creeps up – like the ivy in some of the mansions Pavlovic likes to photograph.

And that’s when I know.

It’s time to climb that fence again, march past the “no trespassing” sign, risk falling through a rotten floor and getting cooties in order to spend some time inside a soul – perhaps denied, friendless and pitiful, but still standing.decaying-villa-5

Read the article on Pavlovic’s amazing work here.

The Eye of the Beholder

I live in a beautiful place.

Charlotte on the fence

My daughter on our neighbor’s fence

Misty, Civil War battlefield mornings, hummingbirds zigzagging like bees from one open-mouthed hollyhock to the next, the smell of honeysuckle, dew and wood smoke in a heavenly perfume. It wafts in as I open my front door. The morning sun illuminates a large oil drum stain on our ancient wood floors, one of many historical scars in our house.

And this is the splendor of just any old day.

I haven’t even begun to tell you about the mountains, the orchards, the vineyards, the fact that we have as many rivers, streams and creeks as we do roads. Or the hot air balloons that float leisurely over our town on clear, fall days.

Virginia landscape 4

This view is pretty much walking distance from our house

Where I grew up in suburban Chicago, unequivocal beauty was pretty scarce. The winters were harsh and a fresh snow would descend from white into gray within hours of falling. We’d have to make our Sno Cones quickly.

The city’s skyline was breathtaking – especially at night – and anywhere near Lake Michigan seemed like a vacation spot. But most of Chicago was industrial, gritty and rough around the edges in a way that was only charming if you grew up there. Even the so-called “beautiful” neighborhoods – the rich ones – weren’t all that great. They were fancy, yes, but when compared to some of the places I’ve lived in my adulthood, they were and remain fairly meh.

Truly beautiful days were uncommon enough when I was growing up that when they came, especially after a long and bitter winter, kids skipped school and adults called in sick. Or at the very least, tried to spend as much time outside as possible – maybe taking an extra long cigarette break (those were the days, right?), or offering to run an errand they would normally duck like an uncovered sneeze. In the city, people sat on their stoops after work, while in the burbs, they migrated to their porches or decks.

These were moments of stolen magic every bit as soul-stirring – at least for me – as the gentle, classical beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains in my backyard today. They were beautiful because of the stockyards across town, the stained bricks and dirty smells, the mornings so frigid it took real effort to make an expression on your face, or grip your keys firmly in hand.

Chicago winter car

This is no exaggeration.

Those tiny glimpses of something fresh and wonderful – the dandelion that grew in the crack of a sidewalk, the vacant lot – weedy and clovered, offered plenty of fodder for my imagination. To this day, I can say without reservation that I have seen nothing as riveting as a thunderstorm viewed from my parent’s cluttered garage. I would sit in a rusty folding chair as rain pummeled our driveway, lightening cracked above the roof of the mud brown ranch house next door, and wind battered our American flag. It felt biblically wild and dangerous. Like anything could happen.

Chicago suburban homesThe creek across the street, nestled next to a four-lane highway, was like the wilderness to my friends and me. We pretended to fish in it during the summers (the water was too iffy for us to eat anything we might have caught) and it became our ice skating rink in the cold months. A grouping of trees huddled on no more than two, undeveloped acres on the other side of our block, was uniformly referred to as “the forest.” Every winter a dramatic icicle sculpture would burst out of split gutter somewhere – a surprise, poor man’s Michelangelo.

It was more than enough. In fact, the very personal nature of the beauty I experienced as a girl growing up in an unbeautiful place was what made it so special. To this day, driving down Interstate 55 in Illinois – what my husband calls “possibly the ugliest corridor I have ever seen” – makes me sigh. Forget the billboards and congestion, the railways, the chimney stalks billowing smoke, one’s my youngest daughter mistook for “cloud factories” on our most recent visit. This was the path to Chicago in my youth, and evokes nothing but feelings of excitement and possibility for me. I loved the way the streetlights came on at night, their yellow, harvest-moon glow. I savored the smell of air-conditioning puffing out of the vents of our metallic green Lincoln.

Perhaps it meant so much to me then, and still does now, precisely because of its paucity and particular nature. It belonged to me. Not even my own husband has grown to appreciate it over the years – no matter how many times I’ve tried to explain.

Chicago I 55

One of several “cloud factories” on Interstate 55 in Illinois

The beauty of where I live now – undeniable, unrelenting in every season, every incarnation – belongs to everyone. There is not a sane person living who would deny it.

And I do love it.

But it’s not mine.

In John O’Donohue’s book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, he writes at great length about how beauty, whatever our interpretation of it, is the ultimate source of compassion and hope, the spark of both our collective and individual imaginations. The influence of beauty on our creative minds, he contends, is the only true tether to innocence.

“[only the imagination, through beauty] has retained the grace of innocence. This is no naive, untested innocence. It knows well the shadows and troughs of the world but it believes that there is more, that there are secret worlds hidden within the simplest, clearest things. The imagination is not convinced of the world of external fact. It is not persuaded by situations that pretend to be finished or closed. The innocence of the imagination is willing to see new possibilities in what appears to be fixed and framed. There is a moreness to everything that can never be exhausted.” — John O’Donohue

The moreness is what got me. That a storm watched from the garage of a 1960s style house can be as moving as a full, double rainbow over a pasture of wildflowers in the Virginia countryside is a testament to the moreness of the imagination. To the power of beauty as muse to the heart and mind.

John O’Donohue tells us, “Beauty is only a visitor. It’s not meant to stay.” But I’m not so sure. The beauty of my ugly childhood home has stayed with me, a travelling companion as I’ve passed through some of the most objectively beautiful places in the world. It will always be the standard to which I hold any surrounding, and the inspiration for some of my deepest, most contrary thoughts. The ones that help me understand people who are nothing like me, whose views I may find abhorrent, or whose values I deem silly.

The sumptuous beauty I live amidst today gives me serenity. It does inspire me. But my beauty – that of the chain-link fence, the brief summer, the gangway, the wall to wall carpeting, the tchotchkies, the plains – has been a wellspring of empathy and artistry. A dogged champion of independence and the fight for originality.

Chicago The Spindle

“The Spindle” sculpture of suburban Chicago – called “The ugliest sculpture in the world” until its demolition in 2007.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Cold! Now Let’s Party and Unwrap Some Presents!

birthday Marilyn

When I started this strange little blog four years ago, several knowledgeable people – journalists, my agent, successful bloggers – warned me that long form blogs were doomed for failure. I should keep my posts under 300 words or else risk exhausting the reader. People don’t have time for anything more, they said. The days of a real conversation were over.

And I really did try to follow their advice. But the truth is, I’m just not a love em and leave em kind of writer. So here I am, many thousands of followers later, with most of my posts averaging 1200 words. I think I’ve proved that bit of wisdom wrong, but who knows? Maybe if I’d stuck to the good advice of professionals, I’d have a readership numbering in the six figures? Hard to say. But I do know that if I had taken their advice to heart, I wouldn’t have developed the level of intimacy with you, Cold readers, that I feel took root early on this simple WordPress page. And it has grown into something I never expected.

Cold is a very special place for me. It’s a sanctuary where I share heartfelt thoughts about the things that most touch my soul. I take very real personal risks here, laying bare what are for me the fundamental truths about love and family and loss. Delving into things as private as passion and faith. As particular as art and music and its effect on my relationships, and the way I tell a story.

I muse about the writers life – how comically tragic it is for a grown woman – a wife and mother for the love of God – to spend her days in a little, red room filled with weird memorabilia, staring at a screen and obsessing about what imaginary people might say or do under fantasy circumstances.

And without really setting out to do so, I launched a forum here that more than anything is about friendship. Close friendship. Nearly every post I’ve published is the kind of in-depth conversation that I would have with a true friend. And so many of you continue to reward me with your profound and unfiltered comments and stories. Even your secrets. I know that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do – essentially opening a vein in a public space, letting your guard down just to connect with another human being.

So today, I want to reward you with sort of a reverse birthday present.

COLD is a collection of essays, most of which have appeared on this blog. Several have been expanded upon, thanks to your thoughtful responses. Your feedback stretches the reach of my imagination, making me a better thinker and writer. I owe you a lot for that, which is why I want to offer Cold readers a free digital copy of COLD: Essays on Love, Faith, Family and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Designed by Chris Bell at Atthis Arts, with original photographs by filmmaker John Michael Triana, the collection is more than just an anthology. It is, I hope, an experience that combines the written and the aesthetic. Is something you can hold close, reflect upon, and share with friends.

Just click on the link below, enter your email address, and you will be taken through an easy, step by step process for downloading your free copy. Kind of like unwrapping a birthday present, but without the mess of silly, loud paper and festive ribbons.

And if COLD has meant something to you, I ask that you please take the time to leave a review on Amazon (http://amzn.to/2bb8H6Q) and Goodreads (http://bit.ly/2aHCOQj), or whatever is your prefered platform. It doesn’t have to be a long review, just honest. A couple of sentences will do. And feel free to mention that you’re a Cold blog reader, who received the book as a gift from Yours Truly.

Above all, thanks.

And here’s your link:

http://victoriadoughertybooks.com/get-your-free-book/

Cold 2

Review: “Welcome to the Hotel Yalta” by Victoria Dougherty

I am a big fan of Victoria Dougherty and her Cold Noir Writing. Having met her in person in Prague, the city with a Cold War history, and scene of her amazing book “The Bone Church” , d…

Source: Review: “Welcome to the Hotel Yalta” by Victoria Dougherty

From Movie Stardom to Baseball: Childhood Dreams Leave a Mark on Our Lives

dreams

Recently, I had a long and winding talk with friends about childhood dreams. We each told our story, prompted by a “Question of the Week,” which is the way we keep in close touch during the course of our busy lives. All of us are bound to answer, unless there’s a tsunami or something.

“So, I asked, What was your childhood dream?”

My friend Ellen chimed in immediately. She has always wanted to be a writer and is one. Fiction has been a constant in her life – throughout moves, changes in relationships, child-rearing and illness. It has never left her side and she cannot imagine herself doing anything else. Not even when she was a kid, and her friends wanted to be fairies, firemen or just super rich. When it was Ellen’s turn to float out her heart’s desire, she always said “writer.”

However, Ellen was the exception.

What was so interesting was how the rest of us did not end up actually pursuing our childhood dream, but somehow that dream informed our careers, our sensibilities and lifestyles. The dream may not have been a constant, like it has been for Ellen, but more a constant companion. That friend who’s always whispering, “Wanna go on a road trip?” “Are you going to go all the way with him?” “Let’s ditch school and go to the beach!”

party girls

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Carol Burnett more than anything else in the world. I watched her variety show every week, memorized her skits, wrote my own – even filmed a few of them on an old Super 8 camera (it wasn’t old then). Being funny, making people laugh seemed an honorable profession to me, one as worthwhile and noble as being a doctor or a teacher. At my darkest times, during my most Charlie Brown childhood moments, Carol was always there for me. And I wanted to do what she did – make people feel good afer a rough day or year.

Of course, my comedy dreams were not exclusively altruistic. I loved watching people spit strawberry milk out of their noses after one of my cracks, disrupting class, earning a smack on the head from Sister Margaret Ann. She was built like a wrestler, and her meaty palms were powerful – but it was so worth the headache, the ringing in my ears.

To this day, being called funny is the highest compliment I can receive. So much better than being told I look beautiful. When asked by a mutual friend what first attracted my husband to me, he said, “She had a real sense of humor. Most women I’ve gone out with like laughing at jokes but never make any.”

That made my heart flutter.

Yet somehow, even though becoming Carol Burnett was without question my fondest dream, I became a novelist who writes thrilling spy adventures and epic, heart-wrenching young adult love stories. All very serious stuff.

M hates camera 2

 

But I can’t deny that there’s a deep current of humor in everything I’ve ever written. Even my most somber essays on this blog – about death or faith or true love – tend to be embroidered with some manner of joke. I guess because of Carol and her influence on me, I cannot stand taking myself too seriously. In even the greatest heartbreak, I leave room for the absurd, the ironic, or downright hilarious, and have little tolerance for victim culture. Not because I don’t acknowledge that victims exist and that their pain is real, it’s that I feel succumbing to victimhood is toxic. As unhealthy as smoking five packs of cigarettes a day and washing them down with a fifth of vodka.

I see good humor as a trait of good character, not just a fun personality feature. During the course of my life, a person with no sense of humor has typically been my natural enemy in the wild. We circle each other carefully, and usually end up just backing away.

But while chasing off the sullen and tedious, my childhood dream has sucked into my orbit people who share my world view, and don’t even blink when I tell them that Carol Burnett has had the greatest influence on my life. Not Gandhi, not Martin Luther King, but Carol. They not only understand, but say, “I totally see that!”

Because they have had a similar journey.

tap shoes

My friends Nick and Jess both took some of the best parts of their respective childhood dreams and helped calibrate them for their growth and changing needs.

Jessica wanted to be a movie star, but became a tech entrepreneur instead. Those are seemingly unrelated careers on the surface of things, but if you could see how Jess lights up any room she enters you’d understand. She loves making the pitch, and hatches approximately three life-changing, sh*t-disturbing schemes a day. She is a charismatic and ethical leader.

“You are a movie star,” I told her.

Her husband, Nick, wanted to be a baseball player, but now writes baseball mysteries. His alter ego, Johnny Adcock, is an aging major league pitcher who supplements his diminishing baseball salary with high-priced gum shoe work – helping rich friends being blackmailed by murderous gold-diggers and such. By writing baseball mysteries, Nick has gotten to hang out with a crew of baseball players he’s interviewed for research. He’s played ball with them, drank with them, lived vicariously through them.

And maybe that’s what I’ve hit on here. The vicarious part. My friends and I – all creative people like writers, actors, and entrepreneurs – are a curious combination of wallflower and leader. We desire an inexorable amount of control not only over our own lives, but the lives or our characters or products, made-up people and gadgets we endeavor to use as avatars for our worldview, for being able to affect a mood, a belief, perhaps a childhood dream of someone else’s.

dreams 2

Of course, not everyone has allowed their childhood dream to stick around, and share space with with their more practical choices.

We all have friends who wanted to be musicians, scientists, chefs and never took one recognizable step in that direction. They seemed to have no invisible companion standing on their shoulder and telling them to take the dive. Not surprisingly, their dream died, and when you ask them about it now, they just sort of shrug or change the subject. Perhaps it’s because they’re unsatisfied with the path they chose, and don’t want to talk about it. Or maybe their childhood dream really did lose its allure. Like a second grade crush – based on a freckle-faced cousin’s ability to eat a worm without flinching – their dream became a bit embarrassing once they’d grown up a little bit. As a result, what they became in adulthood was a reaction to the old dream, an opposing stance.

Whatever the case, whether we fulfill them, absorb and repurpose them, or reject them outright, childhood dreams give so much more than mere career direction. They leave their mark. Some might say a scar. As for me, they are a fond memory, like a first kiss. I remember the taste of his lips, the thrill, the way his hand stroked my back and inched its way under my t-shirt just to feel my sun-kissed skin. But even that kiss, as intoxicating as it was, doesn’t compare to the way my husband leans into me and looks into my eyes, holding me tight. That’s the stuff truly realized dreams are made of.

Northern Lights, Southern Exposure: A Yankee’s Thoughts on Living in the South

Sally Mann cameraI’ve been on a Sally Mann kick lately.

In the span of a few days, I binge-watched a recent CBS Sunday Morning segment, then a documentary about her life and photography. And if that wasn’t enough, I read her memoir, Hold Still, and reacquainted myself with her stunning body of work (at least what we have of it on our bookshelves) – from the controversial photos of her young children in Immediate Family to What Remains, her visual meditations on death.

And yet, despite how compelling I find her process and meticulous attention to detail, what’s stuck with me most is her philosophy of capturing the local, the immediate, rather than the highly conceptual, the wide-flung and international.

She talks at great length about being a southerner and loving the south – warts and all. In the way you love your family, even if some of them make you want to put a nail gun to your temple. Or theirs.

After having now spent a good deal of my adult life in the South, interpreting Sally Mann’s work and reading her life story has made me think about my own evolution in thought about my adopted home.

Sally Mann self portrait

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, surrounded by neighbors with last names like O’Malley, Dulik, Zito and Dumbrowski. And I’m a Yankee who moved south with many, if not all of the same prejudices that my northern peers excel at.

See if this sounds familiar: the South is racist, backward, quaint, overly-mannered, full of fake smiles. It’s uneducated, unenlightened, and uninterested in ever evolving out of its troubled past.

I won’t discount them. Stereotypes don’t appear out of nowhere in a puff of pink genie smoke. Like gossip, they hold some truth.

Except that the South is also beautiful in a weeping, classical sense. Lush. It’s air is like hot breath, and it’s people are neighborly, stubborn, courtly, and languorous.

When I dropped off an antique clock at a repairman’s in April and asked when I should plan on picking it up, the clerk said – I kid you not, “Why don’t you try back about Thanksgivin’ ma’am.” The place was as quiet as church. The man as leisurely as a sip on a Mint Julep.

Sally_Mann_Deep_South_03

As a compulsive storyteller and story-listener, living in the South has provided fascination and fodder for me. Like the Irish, Southerners are lyrical in their thought and speech, chronicling the local through verse, drama, a pick on a guitar.

Think Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Frederick Douglass, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams. And this is only a sampling from the immediate post Civil War period – a time when the South was utterly devastated and had no business contributing to the canon.

Post war stars of the literati include Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Styron, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Anne Rice, John Grisham, Pat Conroy and Tom Robbins, just to name a few.

(Ok, I know I went heavy on the writers here, but what do you expect?)

It is because of the South that we have Jazz, Country and Rock-n-Roll music. Around the world, hearts ache, flutter and rejoice to the distinctly southern sounds of Johnny Mercer, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Buffett, REM, The Black Crowes and yes, Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Because there is a depth in Dixie, one that plays muse to those of us inclined to interpret and examine. Maybe sing a love song. It lies beneath the wrap-around porches and behind the polite banter. In the tiny, time-warp towns that dot the valleys.

It is evident in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, notably “The Declaration of Independence.” In perhaps one of history’s great ironies, this document, written by a southern gentleman and slave owner, includes what has been called the greatest sentence ever written:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

sally mann jump

Still, at least for Yankees, the Hollywood invented “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show seems a more typical example of southern culture.

Now, I’m not putting the blame squarely in the lap of un-watchable early eighties television here. It would appear the South’s reputation as a cultural backwater has been around for a while. It really took off in the 1920s, when Yankee writer H.L. Mencken penned a satirical piece highlighting the South’s inability to produce anything of cultural value. He became wildly popular after the publication of his essay, and his perceptions have stuck, taking on a life of their own and feeding the imaginations of coastal city rats.

Sally Mann underwater

Years ago, when I acted in a British play (“Grace” by Doug Lucie), I portrayed a southern woman.  A theater critic (NYC born and bred) spotlighted my excellent southern accent while disparaging another actress whose cadence “seemed fake” to him. Only that I’d gotten my accent from TV and my fellow actress was a real live southerner from Alabama.

I’m not saying this to pick on the critic – not much, anyway. It’s just that we northerners think we know southerners the way people think they know Britney Spears. We’re vaguely aware that regional inflections exist, but are utterly incapable of distinguishing between a Texan’s drawl and a Virginian’s lilt. We snicker about the South’s preoccupation with the Civil War. The statues of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, the re-enactors.

“War, war, war,” if I can quote Scarlett O’Hara. Get over it!, we say.

But can you really blame southerners for their obsession? The Civil War was the pivotal event in our country’s history – the one that scarred us, shaped us, grew us up and made us who we are today. It happened on southern soil – the fighting and the bleeding, the burning, the gouging and the tears. Then the aftermath. The shame which lives on.

Sally Mann haunted landscape

As Sally Mann points out, southerners are the only non-immigrant Americans who know what it’s like to lose. To return home in utter defeat…to crawl back to their families quite literally on their hands and knees. To have been on the wrong side of history and morality.

When you look at other cultures who have had to navigate devastating losses – the Slavs, the Germans, the Jews, the African-Americans – they share with the American South a fixation on who we are that’s difficult for your average Yankee to understand.

Here is my interpretation.

Yes, the South is the place of lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan. But it is also a place of self-reflection, of having to own up to devastating mistakes. Of trying painfully, desperately to change, without losing a sense of identity and dissolving into self-loathing and bitterness. Or violence.

Despite the specter of the past, or maybe because of it, there is a fellowship here that I never encountered in any place I’ve lived in the North. A sense of family and level of comfort between the classes and races that I admit took some getting used to.

Not because I didn’t like it, but because I simply didn’t expect it.

In many parts of the South, including my own neighborhood, the poor, middle class and rich still live on the same street. When there’s a big storm, we offer those who lost power a place to hang out. When there’s snow, we help shovel each others driveways. We know each other’s kids. We smile and wave at each other. We don’t lock our doors.

And yes, I mean “we” now. We’ve been here long enough that we can’t say “they” very credibly anymore. This is the place our children call home.

There are Confederate flags tacked in the windows of ramshackle country homes and there’s a proliferation of “Don’t Tread On Me” licence plates. Delusions of grandeur permeate every level of society. There is ignorance, and a simultaneous fear of moving on and being left behind. But southerners don’t have the luxury of placing themselves above it all the way northerners do. The way I used to.

Southerners have had to look one another in the eye for a long time, and deal with a disgraceful past. Clumsily perhaps. Imperfectly. But with a sense of “the local” that Sally Mann inherently understands. Her images of Civil War battlefields depict strips of land that have absorbed blood, death and despair, but remain luxurious. Reclining sensually, and with a weary grin, they tell our story.

Sally Mann Georgia

All photographs by Sally Mann.

 

The Life Enthusiast Chronicles with Victoria

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This week, yogi, writer and all around wonderful woman Britt Skrabanek had me on her blog as her April “Life Enthusiast.” I’ve reblogged the post below, but I urge you to go to her blog and follow. She’s just such a lovely, positive person who brings great heart and soul to everything she does.

Britt Skrabanek

Two months ago I asked my lovely readers to vote on a monthly series I had running for two years, The Life Enthusiast Chronicles. The series is all about what makes people from all over the world absolutely in love with life. The sole purpose of the series has always been to inspire and uplift.

Worried that maybe the series had gone on too long, I had to ask you guys this: Should the Life Enthusiast Chronicles continue?

You said yes. So, here we are.

I took some time selecting a Life Enthusiast for the comeback post, because it felt important to bring someone here that could reinvigorate the series with unabashed beauty. That person is Victoria Dougherty from Cold (and from Virginia).

I’ll proudly admit that I have had a girl crush on Victoria all the years I’ve been reading her writing, both on her blog and her fantastic novel I…

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