Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I read a disturbing report today. I hope this isn't true, or some misinterpretation of events. In short, the Susan G. Kommen for the Cure Foundation has a rule against giving grants to non-profits under investigation. This rule has led them to cut funds to Planned Parenthood, under investigation by a lone congressman at the behest of anti-choice groups.

I witnessed the Kommen Foundation's efforts in Liberia. Cuttington is just a few minutes away from Phebe Hospital. The hospital has only a handful of doctors and a cadre of nurses. Some of the nurses are dedicated professionals. Others are young women who see nursing as the best job opportunity available in a male dominated society.

Phebe has a state-of-the art mammography machine. An administrator showed me the machine on a tour of the facility. It sat on a wooden pallet, still wrapped in plastic. I could see a book of installation instructions on the console. I asked, naively, why the machine wasn't hooked up. The genial, exhausted administrator explained that a mammography machine required professional technicians to install and calibrate the machine, a constant supply of power, trained technicians to operate the device, film supplies, processing equipment, and film technicians to develop the pictures, and an oncologist to interpret the results. Phebe, he explained, had none of these, but feared saying "no" to an American charity would hurt future efforts at donation.

By the time he'd explained all of this, we'd come to a row of four cargo containers. Each was filled with similar donations, pricey and feel-good stuff that had little value in the field. Phebe desperately needed diesel for its generators, painkillers and anesthetics, and anti-malarials, and trauma supplies. We don't have colored ribbons for those. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sleeping in Bed

Last night, I slept in my own bed for the first time since 2009. I don't remember the last night I slept in my old bed at the Strode House caretaker's cabin. I often avoided sleeping in the actual cabin, preferring the climate control of the Strode Studio. But the last time I slept in my (chosen and owned by me) bed (a comfortable, flat, cushiony mattress-and-frame contraption) must have been November of 2009. My brain had already landed in some romantic version of Liberia, but my back dearly loved the firm-yet-gentle Denver Mattress I'd slept on for two years.

The bed at Cuttington was...flat. Ish. Liberians, especially Kpelle, are typically much smaller than me. Their furniture reflects that. The men who engineered my bed never considered someone my size. The wood was heavy, but the joints were flimsy. Once it came apart, splintered, and rusty nails shot from the wood every which way. When Maintenance came to repair the bed, the carpenters chuckled and patted me on the back. They thought I destroyed the bed in the throes of passion, and nothing convinced them otherwise.

I slept at Cuttington, on the thin beds at St. Mary's Convent, in a guest house in Voinjama, in the comfortable beds at Kendeja and the Cape Hotel, on various American hotel beds, on transit seats (airplanes, trains, cars) and on my parent's couch. Then I moved back to Tuscaloosa. Back to school. I bought a futon and slept on it for five months. I've slept on futons before - back in the 90's - and my backside is just not as springy as I remember. But finally, last night, I found a mattress. My dear friend Monica and I lugged it upstairs into my apartment. I tossed the futon pad onto the futon frame in the living room and remade my bed.

Andy: I'm gonna sleep tonight!
Andy's back: Mmmmaybe not.

I couldn't sleep. Apparently I've become accustomed to sleeping in someone else's comfortable bed, or on my own uncomfortable bed. The bed felt too nice, too comfy. I'll try again tonight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I took a conscious break from publishing when I entered grad school. I'd had a good track record, but I felt like I was always writing the same story over and over. I wanted to write something else. 

But something else happened. I got afraid of publishing. That little voice that says, "its not good enough" followed me about. I said I was taking a break from publishing but the truth is I couldn't submit my work. To anyone. I was terrified of...I don't know what. Rejection? I've seen plenty of that. Non-acceptance is a better word. I feared I'd made a mistake. I feared that the "new" writing wasn't as good as the old writing. But it's all me, it's all my writing.  

I finished off a draft I'd started before my trip to Liberia. The story is looney, about a farmer who grows a daisy  from his hand. This story became part of a series, a series I need to finish about fairy tales and the South. So here's hoping - I sent Bell and Cut Mary Somewhere in the Sugarcane off to a journal today. I'll send The Big Bobby Wilkerson off in a few days.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Covenant of Salt

I used to blog. I used to blog almost daily. I even got sorta-kinda famous for my old blog, Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse. A (much more) famous writer at a conference once ID'ed me as half of the epic "I will not ride in a hearse" conversation. That was a long time ago.

Since then, I've grown up a bit, gained, lost, learned, forgotten, traveled, and returned. Lately, I've had an inexplicable urge to blog. I took a break from blogging when I entered graduate school. As graduation looms, I feel the urge to blog again. Graduation! I took the long way around.

Right now I'm reading Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps, a travelogue about his trip through Sierra Leone and Liberia. Liberia. I spent two years there, teaching at Cuttington University. I mostly taught composition, but also American Literature and West African Literature. I enjoyed teaching West African Lit, but it was my smallest class. Most students (and their parents) dismiss African literature and orature. They prefer reading Faulkner and Keats over Achebe and wa'Thingo. So my students left in favor of other faculty who taught a western-centered literature course. But some stayed.

My current manuscript - The Covenant of Salt - concerns my experiences in Liberia. Teaching, reading, listening, eating, traveling, healing, fighting, talking, waiting. When asked if it's fiction or non-fiction, I say yes. Any book about Liberia has to do more than one thing.