R. S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

What does a writer do all day?

2015-04-20 22.36.29

“What does a writer DO all day?”

Funny you should ask, because for several weeks now, I’ve been making a list of the activities that fill my days.

Of course, “write” would be at the top of that list, correct? You’d think so, anyway. And on good days, it is. On most days, I get in three or four solid hours of writing, and I feel like a million bucks when I’m done. On good days, the rare five-writing-hour days, I feel like I’ve run a marathon when I’m done.

But I have to be honest with you: working from home is neither for the faint of heart, nor for the easily discouraged. When I get distracted, I’m the only person who can get me back on track. Self-reliance is a helpful trait to have, for freelance writers. Those 37 minutes I spent this morning unclogging my pores? I can’t get ’em back. You see what I mean.

So here are some of the things I spend my day doing when I’m not writing.

Without breakfast, I’m not accomplishing diddly-squat. This was not true when I was younger, but my experience of middle age states that brain fuel is a must. I prefer a hot breakfast, too. Last week saw me eating home-fried potatoes covered in cheese, two scrambled eggs, and a big link of andouille or boudin (Cajun sausage delicacies). But there are the other meals of the day to deal with, and I don’t like eating the same thing two meals in a row. This means I cook—a lot.

I own two large slow cookers and often have both simmering along at the same time. Sturdy food reigns supreme around here. Think rib-sticking meals like pot roast, chili, jambalaya, chicken soup, stuff I can eat and then not be hungry again for five hours. I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure do hate stopping in the middle of a writing “roll” because my stomach thinks my throat’s been cut. When I make a non-Crock Pot recipe, I make enough of it to last for several days: Greek pizza, buttermilk fried chicken, lentil-sausage stew, cornbread, and the occasional batch of cupcakes. At my house, cooking happens almost every day. It has to.

In addition to my freelance writing career, I work as a writing coach and corporate communication consultant. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, I’m here to tell you that doing so is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So much research! So much paperwork and legal red tape! So much to figure out so I can protect my intellectual property! So many ways to get (or miss) start-up funding!

And that’s all while drumming up new B2B clients, preparing to launch an online creative writing course, and making new connections. I spend time every day making calls, returning calls, writing emails, answering emails, filling out forms, figuring out fees, and writing website copy. It’s exhilarating even when it’s confusing and exhausting—because it’s my own business we’re talking about here.

Groceries, pet food, car care, the vet’s office, the Post Office, the tax office, the bank, the doctor, the drug store…you know how it goes. If I leave the house early enough in the day (by 8:30am, ideally), I still have enough mental energy when I get back home to write for several hours.

However, if LaGrange traffic keeps on screwing up my day the way it has been since, oh, August 2010, I may not have enough brain power left to do anything when I get home. Surviving a town half-full of transplanted Gwinnett County drivers uses up all my smart.

And if these people keep getting between me and my beloved Waffle House—well, let’s just say that things are gonna get mighty ugly, mighty fast.

This may or may not involve actually leaving the house, but on occasion it does. I’m out and about taking photos, interviewing people, retracing steps, or trying to retrace steps told to me in oral histories. I find this time out on the road to be highly productive. When I’m driving down US 27 or up I-85—or even when I’m lost on some dirt road in Randolph County, Alabama—my mind spins with new ideas and new connections. Troublesome knots in my daily writing untie themselves when I’m driving to talk with someone who’s the last person to do [X], or the first person to own [Y], or one of only three people to witness [Z].

And even when I’m sitting at the computer in my home office, I find research time very rewarding. Last weekend, I researched selling fine art prints of my photographs, and came up with much more satisfactory answers than I’d thought possible. A couple weeks ago, browsing the Troup County Archives’ online photo albums, I discovered photos of my own beloved Hillside neighborhood from almost 50 years ago. These photos sparked three new project ideas…and all while I was sitting at home. Pretty good, for a quarter-day’s work.

As a recovering slob, I can tell you that not only has regular housecleaning saved my life, but it’s also saved my sanity. In general, I vacuum twice a week (I have no carpets, just hard floors), and sometimes more depending on how writing’s going. If it’s going poorly, I may vacuum every day. There’s just something about vacuuming up cat-sized dust bunnies that makes the ideas pour back into my brain.

Every day, I wipe down the kitchen counters, and I wipe down the bathroom about every other day. Sheets and blankets get changed and washed once a week—sometimes more, if the weather’s hot and/or I’m sweaty. And don’t get me started on how much I enjoy ironing. That’s right: ironing. As in shirts, dresses, tablecloths, aprons, cocktail napkins, dinner napkins. With heavy starch.

For some people, this is way, way too much. But remember: I work from home. If it’s not at least passably clean, I am NOT going to be able to concentrate. The modernist aesthetic (open, light, clear, free of clutter, lots of empty white space) has truly saved me. (More on this later.) So: you live at your house, and I’ll live/work at mine.

“How many cats do you have?”
Too many.

My hand to Bastet: I never meant to be a cat lady. Really, I didn’t. But people are crap, and throw them out, and you know the rest of that story. All these cats, plus two sweet dogs and three hilarious chickens, require daily care. Scooping litter, feeding, cleaning up messes, triage for health crises, vet trips, breaking up inter-feline fights….yeah, it’s a lot of work, in short bursts spread over the course of the day.

But these animals are the best writing companions I’ve ever known. They’re patient, loving, funny, quiet, and mostly non-judgmental. As I type this, Nooz, Flannery, Hank, and Zora doze in the kitchen floor, pretending not to notice that I’m drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer—a salute to my late father—with my afternoon pretzels-and-hummus snack. They’re beer snobs. What, you didn’t know? (Note that I said “mostly non-judgmental.” Mostly.)

So this is a lot of what happens when I’m not writing—and I write just about every day. And now you know.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 5/2/16


“Goldfinched, Part 2”
LaGrange, Georgia – 18 March 2016

(Here’s Part 1.)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)



A Song in May

Silver sequins pour from a charcoal velvet sky through lacy gold afternoon light. As I sprint back from the mailbox, ten thousand tiny quicksilvery splatters sprinkle across the dusty, clean-swept yard. Six miles away, across the Alabama line, thunder laughs low, clears its throat, laughs again. The air smells like wet asphalt, like kudzu, like lightning, like dreams—like home.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Ladies’ Room Floor, Mercy Lounge


Nashville, Tennessee – 18 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Still another conversation with my dressmaker mother


ME:  Check out what I bought on Etsy.
MOM:  What?
ME:  [handing her the pattern] Total badassery, à la 1959.
MOM:  Have you lost your mind?
ME:  Awwwww, Mom! How can you say no to sewing something this awesome?
MOM:  Easy. “NO.” See there?

Text © R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)
Pattern and envelope design/illustrations © McCall Pattern Company


Wednesday Photo: 4/27/16


“Yellow and Gray with Window”
Wedowee, Alabama – 19 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Metro Living

Fifteen years passed before I saw him again. This time, it was by accident: at the edge of a photo in the Atlanta paper.

At first, I thought he was dancing with the curvy redhead, her sparkly sequined back to the camera. His leg and foot stepped toward her at a jaunty angle. The band blazed away behind them—good. He’d finally found someone.

But her feet were flat on the ground, and her weight shoved firmly into one hip. She’d turned her head to better see the guitarist giving it hell onstage.

He wasn’t dancing.
He was dodging bodies, escaping glances, leaving the festival while it was still daylight.

Years before, he maneuvered a hot iron with incredible grace and skill. He liked sharp creases in practical fabrics: twill, denim, broadcloth. Whatever he had on was fresh, clean, neatly pressed. But now, that rumpled shirt, those wrinkled pants—how many days in a row had he worn them?

Inside the yoke of the forlorn plaid he still buttoned too high, his proud shoulders sagged. His belly clambered over his belt. Strong and sure when I knew him, his hands now simply dangled from his arms. Gaze locked on the ground, he seemed to study where he would next place his right foot. His face had fallen the way faces do when their owners sleep flat on them. He hadn’t aged so much as retreated into “Don’t look at me.”

At the edge of the photo, I saw a man trying to disappear. I saw a man telling the universe “NO” before it had a chance to say the same to him.

I folded the Metro Living section, and wished I didn’t still love him.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 4/25/16


During their epic March 2016 tear-off party, the roofing crew discovered four layers of shingles—including the original!—on my century-old Hillside mill house. Most houses can bear the weight of (at most) just two layers. No wonder the rafters and deck on my home were in such terrible condition.

In my hand sits one hundred years of nail history. With each new layer of shingles, the nails had to be longer and longer. Their shapes and relative condition speak to how nail manufacturing evolved from the first roof (circa 1915) to the fourth one (circa 1975).

“100 Years of Nails”
LaGrange, Georgia – 23 March 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Blue Fountain


University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia – 3 November 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 4/20/16


“Gold Brocade Jacket Detail”
LaGrange, Georgia – 12 July 2014
(Jacket sewn by Gina Adamson-Taylor, December 1969)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Georgia 109 Spur

Sunday, summer. Hot. Humid.
Nearly a hundred at a quarter til noon.
How the world stays plump and green in this steam, I do not know.

In the opposite lane, warming itself: a box turtle. No—a pinecone.
In my lane, warming itself: a shredded fan belt. No—a king snake.
Wheels dodge, spin past.
Neither moves.

By the old Whatley place, two does materialize. From the furry green ditch, their eyes ask permission. I slow. They traverse the double yellow line, as always graceful yet unsure, as always one at a time.

A squirrel, bushy tail an eternal question mark, never asks permission. Zig-zag-zig-zigzig-zag-ZIG! across pavement and almost-not-safely into tall grass.

In the hollow by the Primitive Baptist cemetery, a great blue heron glides across the tops of the pines. Wide blue-gray wings, yellow legs, crooked flight-neck: hello, hello, goodbye.

All an omen, all a blessing—all a signal of hope.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: This encore post first appeared on 22 June 2014.


Hillside Monday: 4/18/16


In past Hillside Monday posts, I’ve shared with you a few items I’ve found where mill houses once stood: coins, marbles, bits of broken dishware. Even when a small artifact is coated in sixty-plus years of dirt, I can identify it before long. Now and again, though, a discovery stumps me.

A few years ago, on a walk after a week of heavy rain, I spied the mottled green ball you see above. It practically waved at me, half-sticking out of red clay. Three broken fingernails and a muddy shoe later, it was in my palm.

It was heavy enough and hard enough to be one of those coveted “monster” marbles I’d heard about. But at about 1.25″ in diameter, shooting it just once would probably cause an epic nail bruise, if not a broken finger. Ouch.

When I got it home and cleaned it off, I saw the ball had been machined from stone. It couldn’t have been natural; it was perfectly round. A small divot, maybe a millimeter deep, revealed the off-white of the stone’s interior. I asked around, but nobody could tell me more about the mysterious little sphere. So I put it in my marble container and forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, I showed a friend some of the cool old Hillside marbles I’ve found over the years. The little greenish ball was in the box with them. It stuck out, self-conscious and forlorn—like the kid who’s been held back a grade or three, the big, slow, clumsy one who catches hell every recess. “I don’t know what this is,” I said, “but I found it at an old home site, like the rest. It’s pretty, even if I can’t tell you what it’s for.”

My friend smiled, then excused himself to walk out to his truck. He returned holding the blotchy little brownish-tan ball above.

“This is the sixteenth one I’ve found in three months,” he said. “They showed up in a load of milled asphalt I bought for my driveway: recycled old paving, smooth little river rocks, crush-n-run gravel…and these things. A few have asphalt stuck to them, but otherwise they all look like this.” He handed it to me. It was the same size, weight, texture, and shape of my lonely green orb. “Never seen anything like it. No idea what it is.”

That makes two of us.

Photo: “Hillside Mystery Stones” (LaGrange, Georgia – 29 July 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Pink Dogwood with Rain


LaGrange, Georgia – 6 April 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 4/13/16


“Black, White, Blue, & Yellow”
LaGrange, Georgia – 7 February 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Peony Problems


Here in the Deep South, peonies are a hit-and-miss gardening affair. Sometimes, the weather and bugs and fungi and soil all manage to cooperate, and POOF! an early-blooming variety gives you two weeks of gloriously ruffled, heavily perfumed blossoms six to eight inches wide. (Unfortunately for us all, Southern weather gets too hot too soon for the late-blooming varieties.)

Seeing and smelling these flowers is the gateway drug to a serious gardening habit. You can’t help wanting moremoreMORE after an experience like that. Before you know it, you’ve got three, six, a dozen of them in the yard.

You tell yourself, “I don’t have a problem. I can quit any time I want.” This is while you’re sneaking plant catalogs into the employee restroom at work. You start showing up to important meetings with dirt still under your fingernails. You call in “sick” so you can stay home and dig several cubic yards of composted sheep manure into your garden beds. And the peonies started it all.

It gets worse. You find yourself unable to sleep from your gardening high, so you order even more plants online at 3:00 in the morning. Your spouse gets suspicious. The cycle of lies begins: “No, honey, I don’t know who would order twenty rare peonies, ten Japanese maples, six Himalayan lilies, fifty ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ daffodils, twenty blackberry canes, and a Piedmont azalea all at the same time.”

Most of the time, though, the weather and bugs and fungi and soil refuse to cooperate. You’re left with apricot-sized flower buds that turn to soggy brown mush just as they’re about to open. Then it’s all weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth while you walk around in sackcloth and ashes. Sad, but true: this has been my peony story for most of the ten years I’ve had them in my garden. It’s a rotten way to live.

However, the exceptionally cold winter of 2014 made this old-fashioned, finicky plant happy—which made me happy. 2015 brought a mild winter and brown ruffled mush. Who knows what our extra-mild 2016 winter will bring, peony-wise. Guess I’ll just hope for a repeat of two years ago, and then take whatever I can get.

Who am I kidding? I’ll be heartbroken without those six-inch, heaven-scented, crinoline-ruffled light pink pom-poms. But it’s no big deal. I’ll be okay, eventually.

Besides, I can quit any time I want.

Photo: “Pink Peony Ruffles” (LaGrange, Georgia 8 May 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: This post first appeared here in July 2014, and has since been revised.


Hillside Monday: 4/11/16


Most of the dishware fragments I find around Hillside are plain. They’re almost all solid white or off-white, their glaze turned crackly by water and soil and pressure and years. Now and again, I stumble upon a shattered bowl or cup featuring a stripe or two along the rim.

Back then, the plain stuff was about all most people in Hillside could afford. Many working people bought their dishware one piece at a time at Woolworth’s or Kress. Others built their collections with the sturdy, unembellished dishes that arrived in boxes of powdered laundry detergent.

But when something this pretty shows up, I think of how much those ornate blue flowers and birds probably meant to someone. I think of how a heart must have broken along with that special platter.

Photo: “Blue-Ware Bird, Forrest Avenue” (LaGrange, Georgia – June 2012)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Song 19

The silence between icy wind and cedar branch,
and moonlight on sad ragged azaleas,
and the lone water oak missing its twin,
and the chickens’ worried dream-clucking,
and the audacity of blackberry winter when the earth is newly green,
and my grandmother’s gaudy orange cannas by the old water tank,
and her menthol-smoking ghost walking past them with a frown,
and whether she ever forgave herself,
and whether I can ever forgive myself.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


…And Then What?


Troup County, Georgia – 7 February 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 4/6/16


“Cherry Blossom Glory”
University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia – 9 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


The Other Vine That Ate the South

Wisteria #471, LaGrange, Georgia (21 March 2012)

In the Deep South, spring smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheapo-store-brands grape soda. Or perhaps it smells more like wonky year-old bubble gum, the kind that’s so powdery and bland nobody will even shoplift it off the dollar store clearance rack.

Whatever it smells like, that scent means wisteria, or, as I like to call it, the Other Vine That Ate the South. (The original Vine That Ate the South is kudzu, of course, which is a topic for a different post or twelve.) In March and April, wisteria treats us to two or three weeks of glorious purple clouds in the trees. After that, it finishes leafing out to spend the rest of the season devouring everything in its path—fences, trees, houses, cars, pets.

It’s certainly breathtaking in the garden, but you have to tame it by pruning it hard every year.  Don’t slack off and skip a year, because you’ll regret it. And don’t let its beauty fool you: wisteria sinensis is invasive. Unless someone keeps it in check, it takes over—a simple gardening fact.

But for whatever reason, the majority of people don’t control their wisteria. Or maybe it’s more like can’t control it. I’m not sure. When early spring passes, so do those amazing foot-long purple drupes. By the time summer gets here, its dark green leaves are so plentiful and thick that we can’t even see what it’s smothering 80 feet above the ground.

Other than adding stunning Pointillist color to the landscape and providing food for bees, wisteria doesn’t have much going for it. Oh, wait—it will also hide any place that you mean for people to forget. Don’t believe me? Just follow these two simple steps:

  1.   Plant wisteria.
  2.   Move.

Give it a few years, and voilà! Nobody will know the place ever existed.

People can say what they want about wisteria. I still look forward to its luxurious hues draped over roadside trees every spring. This is probably because I’m lucky enough not to have any on my property. As much as I love the Other Vine That Ate the South, it’s probably best that I leave it where I found it—far away from my own yard.

Photo: “Wisteria No. 471” (LaGrange, Georgia – 21 March 2012)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Originally published here on 8 October 2012, this post appears today with revisions.


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