Hi, folks. My newest freelance article is up at Fisher Realty (Brevard, NC). Here’s to summertime in the mountains!
To read, click here.
I just spent the morning at 3,000 feet, on a cool, misty mountaintop alight in spring green, brainstorming with Ali Lien, the co-founder and co-owner of Earthshine Lodge in Lake Toxaway, N.C. I’m crazy excited–literally, kid-on-Christmas-morning excited–to announce that I’ll be directing a series of writer’s retreats there, hopefully beginning in Fall 2019.
We’re still in the planning stages, but our hope is to provide a series of long-weekend retreats tailored to different types of writers in different stages of their careers, who may have different creative needs. Retreats will be crafted to appeal to established writers simply in need of peace and quiet and time to write, to beginning writers eager for workshop time and manuscript evaluations, to any writer in between. We’re also planning on a retreat specifically geared to writers who are also parents: this, my friends, will include childcare.
There will be roaring fires in stone fireplaces, campfires and star-gazing outside, hiking on the established trail system, and potentially even yoga! There will be gorgeous views of the Pisgah National Forest and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. And there will be coffee. Lots of coffee.
Trust me, y’all. This place is magic. I can’t wait to show it to you.
Be on the lookout for more information and news in the coming weeks.
Well, I had this teacher who ________.
This is the start of an answer I’ve given hundreds of times at book clubs or venues where I’ve been a featured author or speaker. Because someone always asks, “What inspired you to write?” Or, “How did you know you were a writer?”
Good heaven, if I tried to fill in that blank with the countless teachers who have challenged, taught, encouraged, frustrated, believed in, and loved on me during my lifetime, the sentence would never end.
I attended proper school for 21 years. That’s more than the average bear. It’s K-12, college, and graduate school (twice). It doesn’t include preschool, Sunday school, or classes in art, piano, voice, and more. It’s leaving out church camp, sports camp, theatre, sports in general, youth fellowship, and after school activities guided by teachers, like student government, high school theatre, choir.
It doesn’t count the mentors I’ve had over the years in the form of my own parents and relatives, family friends, writer friends, speakers and workshop leaders at writer’s conferences and retreats, the dads involved in our 1980s YMCA group of “Indian Princesses” (Good Lord, the ’80s), the random physical therapist, my master gardener neighbors and relatives, the guy in Lowes who taught me how to rewire a Depression-era lamp, the older counselors at the summer camp where I worked for years, and, most recently, a nice young man named Jerry on YouTube, who taught me how to make a Captain Marvel star for my 6 year-old’s birthday party.
Teachers are everywhere. Teachers are everything.
But this week, we celebrate the school teachers. The ones who worked and studied their tails off, many for multiple years and with multiple student loans, in order to best do these jobs. The teachers in the classrooms and on the playgrounds of this country. The people who have given a major portion of their lives to a cause—and yes, I mean that exactly as I type it: a CAUSE—bigger than themselves, and certainly bigger than their meager paychecks.
A week ago teachers in N.C. marched on Raleigh, as they did in many other states. They did it for a myriad of reasons, but to demand appropriate compensation for the vital, challenging, people-building work they do. Literally, they are shaping tiny citizens—our country’s future, perhaps even humanity’s future.
No, I’m not exaggerating. Not for a second. But really, if you question why teachers march, or why we take the time to celebrate the work they do, you’re not paying attention.
For the love of Pete, I am utterly DONE with incurious, un-attention-paying people. DONE, I say. But that’s for another post.
This one’s about teachers. Mine, in particular. And about how thankful I am for their work on my behalf. For their patience. Their humor. Their ability to see something in me I might not have seen myself, and to nurture that something for those 21 years of schooling. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am, and who I am, without my teachers.
I tried to thank several of my teachers (notice I did not type “former”: a teacher is never “former” because their influence is unending—a voice you hear, a moment in time remembered always, in the oddest of moments) in the acknowledgements section of my first novel. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see another one published, and so I went big, and in doing so inadvertently left some of my teachers out because there are so gosh darned many of them!
For years, my public school teachers created community in our classrooms—thoughtful spaces where I felt smart, and challenged, and part of something. I felt this particularly in many of my high school classes. Now, as an adult, I value community on the cellular level—it is vital to me and the people I love in ways I never imagined. Teachers started that.
Well, I had this teacher who let me color outside the lines.
Well, I had this teacher who asked me to sing a duet.
Well, I had this teacher who held my essays up as examples.
Well, I had this teacher who gave me a part in a play.
Well, I had this teacher who told me not to let my perpetual tardiness affect my good work in his class.
Well, I had this teacher who insisted I was a writer.
Well, I had this teacher who treated me like a scholar.
Well, I had this teacher who asked me to read, at a county-wide event, the poem I’d written in honor of my grandmother’s death. When I couldn’t get through it (the grief still fresh), she stepped up beside me onstage at the podium, took the poem from me, and with her arm around my shoulders, finished it for me.
Now that I’m a mother with two children in public school, my appreciation for teachers has grown and changed. I’m well aware of the challenges we all face, parents and teachers alike. No one is perfect.
Why is it that “educator” is a position out of which we expect perfection? In every job, every career, mistakes are made. Is it because most teachers are women, and our society expects the same sort of mythical maternal perfection of teachers as we do mothers? Is it because we entrust our beloved children, our most valued gifts, to the care of these educators? Then, for heaven’s sake, we should value what they do just as highly as we expect their job performance.
Margaret Fuller, a 19th century American journalist, women’s rights advocate, editor, book critic, and more, once said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” I believe this speaks to the heart of what teachers do. They share knowledge, and in doing so share light.
I like to imagine my teachers standing in a line, in the coming dark. Young and old, male and female, an array of colors, each holding a candle—much like a candlelit church service—and they pass the light from one person to the next, on down the line which never ends. I light my candle from theirs, and so do my children. In this uncertain, confoundable world, I truly believe education, and educators, may be the only things which keep out the dark.
* If you’d like to learn more about why public school teachers marched recently, why they need to be paid what they deserve, and why they’re still teaching, many are talking and writing about it. Ask them.
The following may be my favorite quote in relation to Earth Day:
Aunt Bea: “Opie, you haven’t finished your milk. We can’t put it back in the cow, you know.”
Happy Earth Day, all! To put it simply: I love the Earth, I love a quote quote, and I’ve written a good bit about Earth Day over the years. Here are a few links:
“The power of our places” (2017)
I hope you enjoy them. And I hope, wherever you are, you get outside today, and every day.
* If, for some reason, you are having trouble accessing the links to my old The Greenville News columns, try googling my name and the title, and a link should come up. For example: “Katherine Scott Crawford The Greenville News the power of our places.”
New lines from the rough first draft of my historical novel-in-progress, set in parallel time: in both 1804, and 2004. Told from the perspective of my 2004 protagonist, an art historian and restoration expert named Gamble. Enjoy!
The girl, the girl. I have not forgotten the girl, though you’d think I had with the way I tend to run on. It’s just that for my story to make any sort of sense, you must know where I live. I live in the larger of two kitchen houses at 353 A Church Street. My kitchen house is deliciously old, and you can’t take a step without the house creaking, some whispered admittance of its 267-year-old story.
Kitchen houses were the law in Charleston, once upon a time. Because widespread fires had destroyed hundreds of homes on the peninsula, between the years 1740 and 1860 home owners were required to build separate structures, away from the main house, to serve as kitchens. That being the case, many of the oldest surviving homes in Charleston, including Catherine’s, have one or two kitchen houses which have served many roles over time: as servants’ quarters, stables, offices, and more.
But back to 353A Church Street. The ceilings are low, because people tended to be short. It suits me more than fine. Usually, I like a bit of air above my head, with plenty of room for my thoughts to circle and swirl. But since my divorce, I sought comfort and coziness. Often, the house felt like a hug. There’s a huge, working fireplace in the small living room, complete with an original hearth and nooks for bread baking. It appeases my personal need for an historic aesthetic to know a person’s been cooking there since 176_. The eighteenth-century brick in the courtyard between my small house and the other is sloping and lovely, just as Catherine promised. Kipling and I like to sit at the wrought iron table out back, admiring the [?] vines winding their way up the side of our house and watching the chimney sweeps and blue jays do battle above the [?] tiled roof.
The mail carrier, whose name is Joe, brings my mail all the way to the back, which makes me feel like a real local. In the warm months—of which there are plenty—Joe wears the white shorts and matching sun helmet of the United States Postal Service. He’s tall and stork-like, so he straddles the green Bermuda grass growing between the parallel brick pavers that follow the line of the drive. I admire his knees, most because I’m short. I think Joe’s knees reach about the same height as my hips.
I have loved my life at 353A Church Street, despite the dissolution of my marriage being my reason for moving there. I have loved it in spite of the sleepless nights, the agony of wondering what I could’ve done different, the worry of time wasted, the smudging of ghosts along the stairwell. I have adored, more than I ever imagined I could, the emptiness of my queen-sized bed. I no longer stay on “my side,” as I did when Harry and I were married, but at first opportunity made of myself a snow angel in the middle. I sleep in the bed spread wide, my limbs stretched and pointed as long as they can get. When we first moved in, I suctioned myself to that bed like a starfish, unwilling to move until Kipling put her paws up on the foot of the bed and insisted I take her outside.
More than anything else, 353A Church became my refuge, my rehabilitation station, when I needed it most. It never bothered the kitchen house that I was a non-native divorcee, childless and hoodwinked. That I was a low-born mountain girl in the land of palmetto trees, unwrinkled linen suits and monogrammed seersucker.
I always felt, not only did the kitchen house not care about these things, it held me closer because of them.
I’ve decided to dedicate a page here, at my author website, to Weekly Lines: scenes I’ve decided to share from my work-in-progress. For more info about the novel itself, click my Work-in-Progress page, here.
Today’s lines involve my 2004 protagonist, the art historian and restoration expert, Gamble, and her best friend, an African-American History scholar named Tolliver. They’re in Aiken, South Carolina, at a venerable old horse farm, taking tea with a pair of old lady cousins who have a mysterious portrait to share. Enjoy!
* First Flush *
It was apparent Miss Saralee and Miss Corrine did not often receive visitors. They made us sit through high tea—complete with tiny ham, tuna, and pimento cheese sandwiches; cheese straws and potato salad, dainty Limoges finger bowls painted with cherries (I lifted one discreetly to check the maker’s mark. I am, if nothing else, a historian) and filled with sliced kiwi, strawberries and blueberries; multiple pours of black Indian tea with cream, and at last a silver tray papered with profiteroles, an assortment of chocolate truffles, and, delightfully: Oreos.
“I like double-stuffed,” Miss Corrine said, oval brown eyes widening in delight, before biting in.
I snickered, Tol squeezed my knee under the drape of the tablecloth, and Miss Saralee smiled, black kiwi seeds caught between her front teeth.
“There’s been a change with you two since last time,” Miss Saralee announced, much more than asked.
I thought she’d expound, but she sat like the Sphinx at Giza, and didn’t so much as blink. Tol and I looked at each other. It was his turn to raise an eyebrow. I knew that look. It said, Have at it, babe.
“Oh, leave them be, Saralee,” Miss Corrine said, “Can’t you tell they’re in the first flush? They’re like to get all het up if you pry.”
See: she said it like this, all sweet and helpful-seeming, but there was a distinct twinkle in her eyes. I don’t think she meant a word of it. I think, just like Tol and me, these ladies had a long and permanent connection. They could say one thing and mean another, and no one else would know what they really wanted.
Which is all to say, I think Miss Corrine totally meant: Come on, Saralee, make ’em talk. Get to the juicy stuff.
“They are grown adults, Corrine,” Miss Saralee countered, then swiped a tongue over her teeth. She pressed her lips together and opened them on a pop. “Lord have mercy, Tolliver here is the most fully grown man I’ve ever seen.” She leaned across the table, her shaky elbow bumping a tea cup. I reached to steady it. Big mistake: it made her turn on me.
“And you,” Miss Saralee said, a lionness recognizing the weakest antelope in the herd. “You’re looking rather rosy, rather satisfied. Young lady, you are even more in love than the last time I saw you. I don’t blame you one bit. He’s a catch.”
“Mm hmm,” Miss Corrine agreed on a long, impressively lascivious hum.
“Me!” I said, determined not to remain alone in this. “What about him? He loved me last time, too.” Indignant, I rubbed my scapulae against the ornate mahogany backrest of my chair, then crossed my arms. Beside me, Tol vibrated with silent laughter.
I gave the ladies my best stare-down, then turned to my partner in crime. He should’ve looked incongruous, at six-foot-five, in the dainty ornate chair, a full silver tea service set before him. (The ladies requested he pour.) He’d even dressed down a bit for the trip, as he’d been rather limited with the clothes he’d kept at my house: Dark jeans, a round-collared dove grey sweater, and a pair of matte black leather oxfords, scuffed to perfection. His beard had grown thick in the weeks I’d been away, and I was glad he’d not shaved yet. I loved the way the silver threaded through it around his mouth; it made him look like a medieval knight who could also deliver a lecture at Oxford. This was Tol in informal mode—his damn outfit still looked as if it had been made for him. And I was almost positive the sweater was cashmere.
Miss Saralee waved a gnarled hand in the air: a literal pshaw. “Oh, he was, too. Anybody could see it. You just had it written all over your face, dear.”
Well. That’s true. Like I said, I’m no poker player.
Tol folded his napkin and set it to the side of his place setting: an elegant effort at let’s move on. “That was delicious,” he said, as if we’d not just endured ruthless teasing by two wily nonagenarians. “It was so good, in fact, I can’t eat another bite. How about it, ladies: Is it time to see the portrait?”
Miss Saralee narrowed her milky blue eyes, and they almost disappeared in her wrinkles. For a moment I thought the push had been the wrong move. But then she nodded. “Yes, I do believe it’s time.” She looked to Miss Corrine, who gave a regal incline of her head. “I asked Baker to put the portrait in the library, under the lamps, so you could give it a study.”