Thursday, March 29, 2012


   Today a lifelong friend visiting either for two weeks or two years posted on his blog ( about the “feeling of being lost at home” when one returns to long absent youthful haunts. As I commented on the post, not that I ever take my homeplace for granted, but there is always a sense of personal renewal and appreciation when shown and described with other eyes.
   Have a look at my friend’s fine writing and get a peek at the patio where friends are entertained and afternoons are spent with a cold beer and the sounds of birds and the splash of the waterfall making music to accompany thoughts both large and small.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bliss Stations

   With a nod to Joseph Campbell, there are two Bliss Stations in my life: weekend mornings, getting a cup of coffee and getting back into bed and reading for an hour; and the time in front of the laptop arranging the puzzle pieces of language into my own song. One is absolutely Heaven, the other sometimes short of that.

   Writing is always tough and sometimes made more so if the subject is personal. Working on a memoir about growing up in south Louisiana, about standing at my daughter’s hospital window and looking over the old neighborhood, aware of what went on down there and aware of what was being played out in the room behind me, my daughter critically ill and in a coma from viral encephalitis. As tough as it was to do, keeping a journal during those dark days kept me sane, literally. And now, dealing with all that again, I keep a copy of Dani Shapiro’s Slow Motion nearby to remind me that writing always includes bravery.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Journal / Wakeup

Baton Rouge General Hospital
Thursday December 23, 1993

   2:45 p.m.
   Jen comes crashing to the surface.
   Literally bolting upright. Eyes wide open. Coughing. Sucking in a deep breath. The bubble of the coma showering around her, long dark hair plastered to her head, the oxygen line and stomach PEG and IV tubes running down around her like water.

   (Flashes of the trach dislodging.)

   Panic, immediately, anxiousness. Shying away like a wounded animal when we approach to stroke and talk and tell her what is happening. Jen keeps looking around, at us, the room, her arms, the door, the stone dropped into her new consciousness (forever different from her life before) rippling anxiety across her face.

   Dee grabs my arm, says, I think we just had a giant wakeup.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Journal / The Fabric of Time

Keeping a journal during all those dark days gave me an outlet, a foundation, something to grab and weather the everyday changes that shaped everything. It was a time of life folding back in on itself, the view from the hospital window of the old neighborhood, the history there, where even Jennifer lived as a child, and the history of the hospital itself, where I was born, where family members had died. Life repeating familiar patterns and doing the best to make memory make some sense of it all—and both memory and events co-existing in the now, both alive and in a dance as one.

Baton Rouge General Hospital
Sunday December 19, 1993

   Everyone rests for a change. Good to see Jen looking comfortable. She dries up after the tube is taken out of her nose. Sinuses were drowning her, producing so much mucus her body couldn’t cope. Her lungs are clearing also. Bill Scott, the Respiration Therapist, says the change from one day to the next is remarkable.

Wednesday December 20, 1993

   Dr. Wen, who is scheduled to do an angiogram, comes by to explain the procedure. A tube is inserted in one of the large arteries in Jen’s leg; up, up to her brain where dye is released (150cc) and then x-rays are taken. He explains risks: 5% chance of complications: plaque flaking off inside of the artery causing a blood clot; possible reaction to the dye; breathing complications (which Jen certainly doesn’t need). Thinking it best not to put Jen through more procedures just to rule out a long shot, seeing if she has a connective tissue disease narrowing blood vessels, (what about the diagnosis of encephalitis?), we tell Dr. Wen to cancel the test. Later, Dr. Rogers agrees the procedure can wait.

   My mother stays with Jen while I go to LSU for the first time in weeks. Dee is at her own doctor’s appointment. They do another EEG while we are gone and the results tonight are encouraging: 6 to 7 peaks in the scale where 8 peaks are normal. Jen had 3 peaks last week. Tears come easily and the fear of expecting too much.

   Jen is moving more tonight, coughing up lots of junk through the trach tube. Oxygen monitor keeps alarming, producing even more anxiety.

Thursday December 21, 1993

   The troops come at 9:30 a.m. and haul Jen on to the stretcher, get portable oxygen bottle, rolling stand for her IV’s, and away we go to the surgical waiting room, waiting for PEG tube surgery by Dr. Howell scheduled at noon. No one knows why we are there so early. Back to her room, waiting, more monitor alarming, longing for some balance:  stomach PEG in for the nourishment she needs desperately now, central line for all the IV’s so her bruised and collapsed veins can mend, some stabilization so she can begin the long climb back.

   Troop movements again, later than scheduled.
   Dee and I sit in the surgical waiting room, feeling so much anxiety it is impossible to voice our fears. Each procedure, setback, infection, is standing on the edge of a precipice, eyes closed, toes over the edge, the high wind of no control roaring, pushing, making steps forward the only option. At 2:10 p.m. Dr. Howell comes into the waiting room and says the surgery went fine, no problems, adding that Jen’s illness is tragic. Amazing how many other people at the hospital know about the circumstances of Jen’s illness; not just the nurses who monitor her, give shots, check vital signs, not just the Aids who change the bed, wash her, deal with the excrement when she does manage to have a bowel movement, not the doctors who breeze in for a moment, or the ones performing various surgeries to combat problems, but people on the fringes, nurses on other floors, other doctors, people visiting other patients that we have no contact with, all somehow know of Jen’s struggle, the dark battle now with an encephalopathy no one knew about while she wandered the halls of BHU, hallucinating, pulling her hair out, wanting the children released.

Wednesday December 22, 1993

   A good night. No complications from the stomach PEG. Doze a few times until 4 a.m. while Dee manages to sleep several hours. Home for a shower and a couple of hours of sleep. Hear the telephone ring but can’t get to it in time. Think of calling the hospital but drift away before I do. Wake up after 10 a.m. and call. Dee says she called around 5 a.m. to tell me Jen opened her eyes. Not the first time that’s happened, the vacant stare, the distance from anything visible in her dark pupils, but still encouraging because we want it to be.
   Back to the hospital at noon. Dee leaves to rest at her apartment. A fairly quiet afternoon: suctioning the trach tube occasionally, talking to Jen, touching her, stroking, patting her hands, willing the words to draw her out, watching the oxygen monitor, the BlankeTrol gauges. Blood pressure and pulse are up in the afternoon. Anne comes in and starts Jen’s liquid meal through the stomach PEG, the pale green fluid is the same color as the paint on so many walls in medical offices and hospitals. Jen opens one glazed eye for a few seconds, long enough for me to ask her is she’s just checking things out.

   Cold, rainy, sleety.
   Leave at 4 p.m. for errands and when I get back Dee and Dawn are washing Jen’s hair with a dry shampoo product. Sean from Respiration does trach care, followed by one of the nurses with a suppository. Since the tracheostomy, Jen has more moments when she appears to be awake, but she looks so frightened, lost, posturing now with facial contortions and trembling legs from staticy commands her brain is sending. Heart rate up to 150 plus which raises the anxiety level in us. Keep expecting the other shoe to drop.
   Dr. Stewart, in another fuzzy outfit, matching jacket and hat, mentions during her rounds that the next stage for Jennifer is a rehabilitation unit of some sort. Seems a bit premature to us but Jen’s illness has spiraled far past Stewart’s abilities to handle. It is Dr. Meadors we depend on and who, we are told, charted that he would decide when it is time to move Jen.
   Long after dark, Dina Smith comes in to visit, arms loaded with bags: a musical stocking, a musical doormat, a small Christmas tree, ornaments, icicles. Hal just can’t make himself come to the hospital, she tells us, seeing Jen like she is would devastate him.

Thursday December 23, 1993

   A long night of posturing. Seems so painful to Jen, her body so out of control.
   Later in the morning, Jen is “awake”--coughing up clear mucus through the trach tube (our favorite subject)--when Stewart comes in again and sees Jen with her eyes open and legs churning.
   Has she talked at all?
   (Virtually impossible with a tracheostomy.)
   Jennifer, do you want to talk to us?
   Jen shakes her head and Stewart is impressed enough with the response to relate the story to Denise who comes in to stop the beeping IV.
   Posturing is less this morning but Physical Therapy decides to bring splints to put on Jen’s hands and feet to hold them in a more normal position, to keep the writhing and stretching from damaging ligaments.
   Aunt Vivian calls. Flowers from Tracey and Sharon.

   Home for a couple of hours then out to LSU to deposit my check and get some cash before the holidays. Back to the hospital mid-afternoon. My mother is visiting.
   In so many ways it is a day like most others recently: carrying on and dealing with the constant monitoring of machines and infections and bodily functions (or lack of them), making an effort at small talk, at being interested in matters outside of the hospital, most times the effort of reading a newspaper or book or watching the TV high up on the wall too much to overcome, walking the halls when the need to escape the room is high, peering into other sick rooms when doing so, making eye contact with other vigilant people, the heaviness of waiting etched always in expectant looks, wondering at other stories of illnesses, nodding at the thin young man in his robe, wasting away from something, AIDS perhaps, wondering at his thoughts as he stands at the end of the corridor looking out the window, knowing (unlike Jen) just how ill he is, knowing the prognosis is dim, dealing with it the only way any of us can, one moment at a time, one after the other, then again and again, moments rushing together so quickly but strung out so endlessly that the fabric of time finally stretches and slows down.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Enough About Me -- What Do You Think Of Me?

Three letter excerpts


Before going to bed last night checked hotmail and had two rejections—one from a theatre in Texas for a reading of Pallbearer’s Social and from some theatre for the short patio play. Not the way I like to be sent off to bed. Can tell yourself all the right things but can be discouraging for a Constant Submitter. So I will plow ahead although sometimes I feel like those brothers in traces in The Wake of Forgiveness, pulling their father’s plow until their necks are permanently cantered.


Spent all day yesterday sending out scripts—one even to a theatre (obviously without a home) called Occupy the Empty Space. Hmm. At this point I don’t care if a play of mine is performed on a subway platform during rush hour. Was looking over the spreadsheet and saw I sent 17 submissions out in October then the numbers dropped to 5 and 7 for the next two months. Determined to get those submission numbers back up. And have decided to push Memorial Video quite a bit more since its revision. And am also fishing around for what I want (or am driven) to write about from my past for the memoir. And it may be a matter of touching bases and expanding upon topics previously written about: ancestors, parents, wife and daughters, friends, etc. Hopefully something will strike sparks.


Will be doing some reading this weekend on the memoir. Want to back up some and read for momentum, to see what should come next. Have 6 “memoir” chapters done and 18 short chapters done of the journal. Want to see how these fit going forward. Do remember feeling when I was transcribing (and making literary) the journal about Jen coming out of the coma and having brief lucid moments (usually around 2 or 3 AM) that those chapters needed to be in a string, that they read with gathering force about what was happening. So I don’t want to just throw some “memoir” chapters in to stem that flow. So getting a head start reading up to the few chapters in Part Three will serve me well. I will finish the memoir this year.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wilson Kin

After the Civil War, in a Mississippi in disarray, almost all Republicans being elected during Reconstruction, gardens for food, yes, but crops and any market for them tough to come by, great grandfather James A. Wilson tries to get work as a blacksmith. A letter of introduction from Joseph Carey attests to his skill and character.

December the 31st, 1867

To the Public, Mr. Wilson is seeking a situation as Blacksmith. I will inform you that Mr. Wilson has lived in my neighbourhood a number of years and has worked in my shop most of the time he has been in this vicinity and that he is a good Smith and a man of good moral habbits. It you kneed a Smith I think you would do well to employ him as he is amongst the best welders which is an important item in that Branch of Business.

Joseph Carey
Simpson County

How long he works at forging horseshoes and repairing broken plows and wagons is unknown. What is known is that he lives only nine years after the war. His wife, great grandmother Jemima Byrd Wilson, lives five months shy of 90 years, applying for her first husband Lorenzo’s pension as an Indigent Widow of Soldier or Sailor of the Late Confederacy, under Chapter 102, Code of 1906. Since she doesn’t end up with any of the land James bought before the war, in 1892, pursuant to the Act of Congress approved 20th May, 1862, “To secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” Jemima claims 78 acres in Lawrence County, Mississippi, and with the help of Mr. Walt Lambert, who owns a store and grist mill, settles the old homestead, the site of Wilson reunions over the years, the present house built by my grandfather, Wiley, and occupied lately by a series of second cousins.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kinfolks: Mama & Papa Cothern

Keeping a journal during all those dark days gave me an outlet, a foundation, something to grab and weather the everyday changes that shaped everything. It was a time of life folding back in on itself, the view from the hospital window of the old neighborhood, the history there, where even Jennifer lived as a child, and the history of the hospital itself, where I was born, where family members had died. Life repeating familiar patterns and doing the best to make memory make some sense of it all—and both memory and events co-existing in the now, both alive and in a dance as one.

Everyday facts about the Cothern family in Mississippi are known because my grandmother Mama Cothern never throws anything away, keeps birth and death lists in her bible, labels just about every tin-type and photograph with the name of the subject and the date, keeps lists by the year on income from farming, sewing, how many dozens of eggs sold and to whom, has stacks of correspondence, including a series of letters from her mother, great grandmother Sarah, when she was a patient at the Mayo Clinic in 1921, postcards from her sister Pernie and husband Porter on vacation, one from her son, Dulith, serving in the Navy during World War II. Daily events she records in the squares of her wall calendar and she keeps all of those over the years; she clips obituaries and birth announcements, never throws any scrap of paper away, using them to record facts she hears on the radio, drafting letters she may or may not have sent on the envelopes of the old Scenic South magazine. When traveling she keeps a $100 bill pinned to her dress somewhere out of sight, is a loving woman and sometimes a cold person who has a stroke at the supper table here in Baton Rouge, at the table of her third son, Dulith. My parents are there also, my father into his drinking since it is his day off, and somehow in the confusion of the moment, in the push and shove of a crisis, Dulith and my father fight. Another one of those times, a rather unfortunate one, when their rivalry rears its head. Grandfather Papa Cothern spends his life raising cotton, grows peanuts for boiling, makes homebrew from a still down by the creek, his fishing rod and rifle close at hand. Only late in life does he finally get a hearing aid, but by that time no one can break the habit of speaking loudly to him, so he keeps the volume turned down and continues to miss significant parts of conversations.