R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: Thank You (page 1 of 6)

Wednesday Photo: 5/8/19

“Paper Plate with Acrylics”

LaGrange, Georgia – 2019

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Friday Photo: 5/3/19

“I Can’t Be a Pessimist, Because I’m Alive”
Denver, Colorado – 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Friday Photo: 4/12/19

“After Work”

LaGrange, Georgia – 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 4/10/19

“Easter Hat with Methodist Clubhouse Door”

Heard County, Georgia – 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Monday Photo: 4/8/19

“Nettle Tea and Oak Tree”

Heard County, Georgia – 2019

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 4/3/19

“Pear Tree, Age 90”

Heard County, Georgia – 2019

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 1/21/19

Close view of brick building facade and boarded-up corner of shop window. Plywood and 2x4 windowsill are spray-painted turquoise, with a black silhouette (in profile) of a man's head and upper torso.


“Silhouette with Turquoise and Brick”
LaGrange, Georgia (2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 1/14/19

Dramatic (high contrast) black-and-white photo of a dark night sky, with a thick, foggy halo of light shining from behind the jagged black branches of a small tree. In the background, we see the ghostly exterior corner of a small clapboard house and the utility pole next to it.

“For Wes, Part 20”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2018

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Thank you, sweet friends

Blonde, pale-skinned woman wearing black-framed eyeglasses and tan leopard-print dress lying on patterned textiles. Other than her dress, her heavy eyeliner, and her glasses, everything in the photo is washed with bright reds and oranges, almost as if the camera lens is working with a wash of thin red paint over it.

Many, many thanks to the following for their patronage:

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Dana McGlon
Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander
Dann Brown
Molly Kay Wright
Charlie Bruin
Eric Woods
Connie Frank
Ellen Koga
Dean Basilio
Gina Nixon-Hernandez
Katherine Ferguson
Jeff Miller

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Just $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content—photos, poems, creative nonfiction, and behind-the-scenes secret stuff that nobody else gets to see. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Image: “Self-Portrait: Seeing Red” (2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 12/26/18

“Dogwood Vigil No. 2”
Atlanta, Georgia – 2013

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Christmas Day 2018

Camera is at seat-height level, about 18 inches from the rust-and-tan ceramic tile floor with black grout floor. The view leads us down a row of black cane-back chairs with red enamel seats (the customary Waffle House waiting area). The row of chairs extends into the background, where there's also a dark plastic high chair next to the dark gray/silver side of the jukebox. In the foreground and to our left, behind the black steel and glass foyer enclosure, are the lower branches of an artificial holiday/Xmas tree, with spherical ornaments in metallic fuchsia, blue, and green; a cream velvet ribbon with red snowflakes; and a few tiny red, yellow, and white twinkling lights.

“Another Lesser-Known Christmas Vigil”
Waffle House #646
LaGrange, Georgia (2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Friday Photo: 12/14/18

“For Wes, Part 19”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2018
Model: Community Ernge

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 12/12/18

“In a Churchyard at Dusk”
Heard County, Georgia – 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Thank you SO MUCH!

Many, many thanks to the following for their patronage!

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Dana McGlon

Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander
Dann Brown
Molly Kay Wright
Charlie Bruin
Eric Woods
Connie Frank
Ellen Koga
Dean Basilio
Gina Nixon-Hernandez
Katherine Ferguson
Jeff Miller

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Just $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content—photos, poems, creative nonfiction, and behind-the-scenes secret stuff that nobody else gets to see. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Image: “Self-Portrait with Patterned Dress and Sheets” (2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 11/30/18

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
— Rumi

“For Wes, Part 12” (2017)
Model: Smokey (2007-2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 11/28/18

“Isabel, in Gray and Rust”
Heard County, Georgia – 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A New Holiday Essay, in Columbus & the Valley Magazine!

Many thanks to Jill Tignor and Mike Venable of Columbus & the Valley Magazine for publishing my new essay, “A Perfumed Christmas.” As someone who doesn’t have many happy holiday memories from childhood, I find it impossible to write about this time of the year. My creative powers mostly shut down between early November and early February.

Jill knows this about me. Yet it still didn’t keep her from asking me to send her and Mike an essay for their November/December 2018 issue. Just when I was thinking my writing ideas had dried up for the winter, the idea for this piece came to me while I waited in the Kroger checkout line. Glory!

“A Perfumed Christmas” appears on page 14, and is available both online and in print around the Columbus, Georgia, area.  To order a print copy, send an email to contactus@columbusandthevalley.com. And, while you’re at it, join me and subscribe! One year of beautiful, glossy photos and news from Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley area costs just $18. It’s money very, very well spent.

Thank you again, Jill and Mike, for believing in me and my work. Y’all are the best.

Post text © R.S. Williams
Cover image: Courtesy of Columbus & the Valley Magazine

 

Thanksgiving 2018

“Mom in the Woods, Thanksgiving Day”
Heard County, Georgia – 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

This Holiday Season, Be Kind to Yourself

Here’s a revised version of a piece I wrote last year on surviving the holiday season.

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and my social media news feeds are full of holiday stories. Scores of people tell of the frantic cooking, cleaning, packing, traveling, and visiting they’ll be doing. Most seem to enjoy the beginning of the winter holiday marathon.

I admire these people. They’re better at entertaining and conversation than I’ll ever be. But I also know far more people who secretly dread those crushing five or six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. People dealing with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other chronic conditions often struggle to make it through the winter holiday season without falling apart.

Yep, I see y’all out there. I’m one of you. And I write to you today to say: It’s okay. You’re not alone.

Twenty-plus years ago, long before any of my diagnoses, I forced myself to attend every family holiday party. I thought I had no choice. I knew my relatives would say bad things about me if I weren’t there. Even though my mental health suffered from the lack of quiet and processing time between events, I still went. And, long after the holidays were over, I hated myself for being this way.

It took me many years to understand what was really going on. Decades later, I came to see that those relatives would talk about me—and anybody else who was different from them—no matter what. I could go to the party, or stay home, but they’d still somehow find fault with me. Hell, I could’ve walked in with my very own Nobel Prize for literature, and they still would’ve found something to frown and sneer and whisper about.

Today, well into middle age, I understand now what I didn’t back then. I feel empathy for that lost, confused, sad person who loathed herself for not being like everyone else. I try to make it up to “younger me” by treating myself with kindness during the holiday season.

What helps me most? Quiet time by myself and as much sleep as I can manage. If I do any shopping, I do it during the least-crowded times of day. If I’m feeling particularly frazzled, I ask loved ones if I can drop by and see them when they don’t have a house full of people.

Spending time outdoors helps, too, even if it’s cold and I’m all bundled up. So does marking off the days on a calendar: “Ah, just two more weeks until the holidays are over. I think I can make it.” When the forced jolliness and extroversion feel as if they’re about to flatten me, I try to think about just today. Or just this hour. Or even just the next ten minutes.

Most importantly: if someone’s being particularly awful, I give myself permission to leave. In the moment, I may or may not tell them to go to hell—but I will remove myself from the scene of their bullshittery. The holidays are tough enough without a PTSD relapse. Those are particularly unpleasant, and if I can avoid one, I will.

Yes, I’m a Southerner, but I draw a big, thick “hospitality line” around my sanity with an extra-large permanent marker. Jerks do not deserve my company. My mental health is one thing I will not sacrifice for someone else’s comfort. Besides, as the saying goes: Life is short, and I am not the Asshole Whisperer.

Now and then, in the thick of the holidays, I forget to follow my own advice. That’s when I stumble. It takes me a while to get back to my version of normal. I try not to beat myself up about this. (The key word here is “try.”)

Wherever Thanksgiving and the weeks to come may find you, I wish you peace and calm. I hope you can be gentle with yourself as you navigate this difficult time of the year. You’re in good company.

If and when you feel horrible this season, know that I’m right there with you. We’re all in this together, surviving the holidays a little at a time.

Photo: Self-Portrait in Black, Rabun Gap (2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

So many thanks!

Many, many thanks to the following for their patronage!

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Dana McGlon

Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander
Dann Brown
Molly Kay Wright
Charlie Bruin
Eric Woods
Connie Frank
Ellen Koga
Jeff Miller

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Image: “Self-Portrait: Night, Early August” (2015, 2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A Story for All Hallows’ Eve

Most Halloweens I spend at my mother’s house. It’s the same house where her father was born in 1922. Like many old houses, it has plenty of stories to tell. And it won’t tell them to just anyone. Oh, no. The house plays favorites when it has something to say.

In non-drought years, Halloween means we build a bonfire in Mom’s yard, then make s’mores and tell family ghost stories. We listen to the deep, hollow hoo-hoo-hoooooot of the great horned owls in the pasture next door. Sometimes, well after dark, the local coyotes begin choir practice. Their not-quite-dog-like barking, their yip-yip-yip-yip-ooooooOOOOOO! far off in the woods, stirs up in the human heart something ancient and primal. That’s when Mom and I feel the hair stand up on the backs of our necks. It’s our All Hallows’ signal to grab the dogs and scurry back indoors.

Since 1834, there has been a house on this spot in Heard County, Georgia. The original cabin burned in the 1880s; people built another using the foundation and field-stone pillars from the first house. When that one burned 30 years later, they built yet another house. That’s the one my mother and stepfather live in today.

Mom and Steve have spent the last couple decades renovating the house, taking what was essentially a falling-down sharecropper’s shack and turning it into a cozy home in the woods. It now has insulation, gas heaters, a full kitchen, and two bathrooms with hot running water. They even refinished the 14-inch-wide heart pine floors, original to the early 1900s version of the house and likely similar to the floors in the first two houses on this site.

The ghost story about the house that I always heard goes something like this:

Late July 1864 saw one of west central Georgia’s few Civil War battles: McCook’s Raid, in what is now Coweta County (about 45 miles east of Mom’s house). In the days after the battle, one Union soldier appeared, on horseback, on the dirt road that once passed in front of the house. The soldier, who didn’t look much older than a teenager, was all by himself.

He wasn’t in good shape, either. He was slumped over onto the horse’s neck, over the horn of his saddle, unconscious. The skin-and-bones horse seemed to follow the road of its own accord, carrying its rider per its beastly duty. The people inside the house no doubt heard the hooves clop-clop-clop on packed dirt, and walked onto the porch to stare.

Just then, the Union soldier fell off his horse into the middle of the road, a dead-weight heap in blue homespun. His eyelids did not even flutter as the people ran out into the road, hoisted him by his armpits and ankles, and brought him inside.

They lay the soldier on a straw mattress, and fetched fresh water from the well out back for some cold compresses. The Union soldier was still knocked out, and now sweating profusely.  He was very badly cut and bruised. Other than his ragged dark blue uniform, the young man offered no other clues as to his identity. The people wondered if he had been wounded in a nearby battle. Or perhaps he had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead by unknown assailants, many miles from where he was now.

There were no letters from home stashed inside the young man’s coat—no mementos, no lock of hair, no faded daguerreotypes of loved ones waiting for his return. He simply lay there in the bed, barely breathing, just a kid sent far from home by a country who probably didn’t even know where he was.

He never woke up, and died the next morning.

They buried him in the cemetery 300 feet down the road. His coffin was made from weathered old boards pried off of the barn. They marked his grave with a large rock. It was all they had.

In the spring of 1928, C.B. Adamson decided it was time that the unknown Union soldier had a fitting tribute. C.B. was a child when the solider died at the house on the ridge. So he composed a long poem for the soldier, and went down to the graveyard, where he mixed up some homemade concrete, poured the fellow a gravestone, and stamped the poem in the wet concrete. Community historians sent a request to Washington, DC for an official Union Army headstone. When it arrived, they placed it next to the concrete slabs. Despite nearly 100 years of harsh weather and occasional neglect, the unknown soldier’s grave is still intact. Caretakers patched the slabs back together a few years ago after an ice storm sent a four-foot-thick white oak crashing into their center.

When Mom moved down here from Michigan in 1969, her grandparents were still living in the old house where she lives today. She moved in with them until she could find a job and apartment. In 1989, she returned to Heard County, and has lived in the family home ever since. Of course, Mom grew up hearing stories of the Union soldier’s ghost. While she’s never seen him, she’s heard him walking around and felt his presence in the house.

“When I hear him,” she says, “it’s usually the sound of heavy boots along the floor—like the boots don’t fit very well, or maybe the person’s feet really hurt. It happens when I’m the only one at home. Other times, it’s just a funny feeling I get, like someone’s in the room with me or is watching me. But when I look up, nobody’s there.”

On Halloween 2006, Mom and I made our usual bonfire a good, safe 50 feet from the house. About 9:30 that night, I turned my back to the fire and was finishing the last of the s’mores as I watched how the blaze illuminated much of the yard. For safety’s sake, we’d left the lights on in the kitchen, dining room, and living room—the rooms on the west side of the house, and the ones I into which I could see from where I stood in the yard.

That’s when I saw him in the house.
A man.
Dressed in dark blue.

He walked from left to right: starting in the kitchen, he made his way slowly through the dining room, and into the living room. I watched the man, of average height and build, walk along and reach with his right hand as if to open a door. His dark blue sleeve reached to his knuckles, as if his shirt or coat were several sizes too large. He walked steadily through the house, opening one door and the next, passing by all the windows. When he reached the living room’s old chimney. . .he vanished.

“Mom, is someone in the house?”

“Nobody but the cats. Why?”

I blinked hard, and began shaking. “I just saw someone walk through the house. From the kitchen, to the dining room, on through to the living room.”

Mom sat straight up in her lawn chair by the fire. “What?”

“I swear to God, Mom. I just saw somebody walk through the house. A man, wearing a long-sleeved blue coat or shirt.”

Mom was quiet for a long moment, then turned to me. “You know what this means, right?”

“No. . .”

“It means you’re the first person I know who’s actually seen the unknown Union soldier.”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 10/29/18

“Big Chicken, at Rest”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2009

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 10/10/18

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.
— James Baldwin

“For Wes, Part 7 (You Don’t Know My Pain)”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2017
© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

A Late Grocery List

Candy corn.
Michelob.
Sardines.

Candy corn:
It is the worst of the worst Halloween candy, plentiful as fleas and twice as hard to get rid of. In all its corn syrupy FD&C No. 6 glory, it refuses to masquerade as blood sugar-friendly. He never craved sweets like we did, but it was his favorite—in small quantities. At Halloween, when we brought home sack after sack of the stuff, he never complained. Had we asked him to, he would have eaten it until Kingdom Come.
Overall: Cloying, slightly giddy, with a letdown at the end.
Base: Unabashed enthusiasm.
Top Note: A bad case of the Sunday evening can’t-help-its.

Michelob:
Maybe he switched from PBR and Bud tallboys to feel more sophisticated after the divorce. Maybe it was too many late nights spent thumbing through Cosmopolitan, trying to figure out “the modern woman” and what she wanted. She wanted back then the same thing she does now: To be treated like a human being, with respect, dignity, and compassion. Besides, would a modern man in a modern relationship with a modern woman drink a redneck beer? Of course not.
Overall: Hoppy, skunky, with a bitter finish.
Base: Rancid barley.
Top Note: Mule piss.

Sardines:
In oil, in mustard, in cream, but never in hot sauce. His ulcer couldn’t handle it. How he could work fourteen hours in 110-degree heat on just a tin of these and a box of saltine crackers is still beyond me. Meanwhile, the rest of us on the crew tried not to honk up our turkey-Swiss-teriyaki-meatball-chitlins-on-wheat lunchtime transgressions. He tossed the empty cans behind the stock pile, where they proceeded to attract every stray cat within a half-mile radius.
Overall: Stridently fishy, yet earnest, with a hint of struggle.
Base: Sweat-soaked long-sleeved Dickies.
Top Note: Waccamaw River silt.

Candy corn.
Michelob.
Sardines.

In memory of Newt Williams
5 October 1946 ‒ 16 January 1997

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Thanks again, patrons!

Many, many thanks to the following for their patronage!

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Dana McGlon

Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander
Dann Brown
Molly Kay Wright
Charlie Bruin
Eric Woods
Connie Frank
Ellen Koga
Jeff Miller

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Image: “Self-Portrait with Gray Shirt and Reflections” (2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 9/17/18

“Roof and Sky, Two Days Before Disaster”
LaGrange, Georgia – 26 June 2018
In memory of John McNamara (1961-2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Thank you, patrons!

 

Many, many thanks to the following for their patronage!

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Dana McGlon

Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander
Dann Brown
Molly Kay Wright
Charlie Bruin
Eric Woods
Connie Frank

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Image: “Self-Portrait: Rabun Gap, Early October” (2017)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Three years ago today…

Grayson Hugh‘s newly-released album Back to the Soul arrived in my mailbox.

It’s still surreal to see my words on the inside of a CD booklet. Writing those liner notes remains my proudest achievement to date. I am also proud to call Grayson and his wife/co-producer/art director Polly Messer my dear friends.

Love and thanks, with all my heart

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Dana McGlon

Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander
Dann Brown
Molly Kay Wright
Charlie Bruin
Eric Woods
Connie Frank

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Image: “Self-Portrait, Two Weeks Before Disaster” (June 2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 7/23/18

“For Wes, Part 2”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 7/16/18

“For Wes, Part 1”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

On Returning from Maryland

As of 5:42 this morning, I was physically home from Maryland. Never have I cried so hard at a memorial service as I did on Tuesday, at my friend John “Mac” McNamara’s funeral. A thousand thanks to all of you who’ve helped me make this pilgrimage of sorrow, of loss, of gratitude, of goodbyes.

Despite having come there because of tremendous heartbreak, I did not want to leave Maryland. Emotionally, I’m still in College Park, Silver Spring, Annapolis. I can’t explain why. My intuition told me to stay: “Don’t go just yet. You’re not done here.” We shall see.

For the rest of my days, forever, I will be grateful to John. His kindness and encouragement literally saved my life on that March afternoon 16 years ago. When death felt like the only thing that would stop my suffering, John appeared almost out of nowhere to challenge that notion.

John was the first professional writer I ever met. He was the first person to take me seriously as a writer.  He was the first person to suggest I write about my father’s 1997 murder. Not only did I have a story, he said as he smacked his hand on the table for emphasis, but a story that I told as no one else could. He was the first person who meant it when he said I had talent. He was the first person who wanted me to understand, more than anything, that my stories were worth sharing with the world.

John’s words have buoyed me for almost two decades.

In the weeks since his murder, I’ve made almost no new photos. I’ve written hardly any new words. Words fail me, as does my sense of what makes a powerful image. At least I know this is normal. It’s how grief and trauma work.

But on the way to Maryland, at the Virginia state line rest stop, I did finally snap an image that fits the entire trip. Next to the sidewalk, this dead butterfly lay beautiful and broken—for no apparent reason. I saw it and sobbed like a little kid.

Dearest Johnny Mac:
Thank you, sweet friend.
You are the reason I am still here.
You are the reason I am still telling my stories.
I will miss you forever.
I will see you on the other side.
And when I see you, I expect you to roast me (again) for being a Celtics fan.

Always your friend,
Rachael

 

Friday Photo: 7/6/18

“Bass Fiddle, at Rest”
Nashville, Tennessee – 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 7/2/18

“Cat Waiting, with Light and Shadow”
LaGrange, Georgia – 2016
Model: Smokey (2007 – Jan. 2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

For John

My friend, sportswriter and editor John “Mac” McNamara, was one of the five newspaper employees killed on June 28 in Annapolis, Maryland. He was 56.

When we met, I was living with friends in Atlanta. Depressed and broke, I had a dead-end cocktail waitress job at a Midtown bar. The long hours and the daily parade of new faces took the edge off the misery of almost, but not quite, making ends meet.

John was in Atlanta covering the University of Maryland Terrapins’ appearance in the 2002 NCAA Men’s Final Four. He stopped in for a burger before heading out to that evening’s game. It was a strangely slow afternoon, despite the Division I college sports tournament happening a few blocks away. In that cavernous bar, John was my only customer.

Which turned out just fine, since he was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Not many of us can carry on a lively, intelligent conversation about literature, college and pro hoops, music, and journalism with someone they’ve just met—oh, and while they’re at it, also be funny as hell. But that was John.

He wound up spending maybe four or five hours at my bar. We talked the entire time, with me getting up now and then to check on my three other customers, or to pour him a fresh beer from the tap. When he left, he gave me his card and some parting wisdom.

I had a storyteller’s gift, John said. He hoped I’d write about my dad one day—that I’d tell the story of Daddy’s 1997 murder and the bizarre aftermath. “What happened to your father is horrible. It’s worse than heartbreaking. But you make it compelling. That’s a gift. Not everybody has it, but you do. If you ever decide to write about it, Rachael, I’d love to read it.”

Please forgive me, Johnny Mac.
Your words have kept me afloat like no others.

I had meant to finish the book before now.
So you could read it.
So you could see your name in the acknowledgements.
I’m so, so sorry.

For those of you looking to help or pay tribute to John, Rob, Wendi, Gerald, and Rebecca, the owner of the Annapolis Capital has set up a fund. The proceeds will help with funerals and other expenses, hospital bills, scholarships for victims’ kids, help for surviving coworkers as they recover, and so on. Another fundraiser for victims’ families, set up by a D.C.-area journalist, has raised double its original goal in just three days.

Although I met him just once, John McNamara’s kindness and sincere encouragement have stuck with me for almost two decades. For the rest of my days, I will remember him with gratitude—and with love.

Photo of John “Mac” McNamara via The Annapolis Capital
Post text: © R.S. Williams

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These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Photo: “Self-Portrait with Red and Black” (2015)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 6/22/18

“Michael’s Fine Clothes for Men”
Kansas City, Missouri – 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 6/6/18

 

“A Quiet Moment in KC”
Kansas City, Missouri – 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Notes from the Past

Twenty-three years ago today, I sat in a University of Georgia classroom taking brief end-of-term notes on final portfolio requirements. The seminar instructor, Dr. Christy Desmet, remains one of my all-time favorite professors.

No, I don’t know how I managed to save this notebook for over two decades.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Thank you SO MUCH, patrons!

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Crystal Woods
Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Carole Thorn

Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary
Marlena Frank
Danny Alexander

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the stuff they enjoy. They get my original photos, short stories, and creative nonfiction series not published anywhere else. Thanks again, y’all!

You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more on my Patreon page.

Photo: “Self-Portrait in Kitchen Floor No. 2” (2015)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Last Day of School, 1981

On this day in 1981, I finished 1st grade.

Last summer, my mother found in her attic this worn, yellowed sheet of Blue Horse tablet paper. I’m not sure how it survived 37 years of moves, heat, and humidity. Check out the black Sharpie smiley-face at upper right. Somehow, Mrs. Reba Taylor even managed to check everyone’s work before first-grade cookout pandemonium descended upon her classroom.

Friday, May 29, 1981
Today is the very last day of this school year. We are going to have a cookout to celebrate. I hope all of you have a nice summer!

At first, I thought the oversized-pencil handwriting was my sister’s. It looks like the pre-3rd-grade-cursive, little-kid version of her grown-up print penmanship. But Val reminded me that in 1981 she hadn’t yet learned to write, and wouldn’t until the fall of that year.

This is unexpected. It’s also the cutest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A Menthol Prayer

I asked the lady at the tobacco counter for Virginia Slims, like my grandmother used to smoke—”the ones with green on the box.” Turns out Maw-Maw’s favorite cigs were also menthol. Not sure how I missed that and thought my grandfather was the only menthol fan in the family.

I don’t smoke. My grandparents made me promise that I’d never start. But the smell of cigarette smoke comforts me. I can’t help it. It’s a major note in the perfume of my first 23 years on this planet.

Whenever I find myself unable to write my way out of a sticky place, I light a Virginia Slims. I wave the lit end around the room a bit, then set it in the thrift-store ashtray on my desk to invoke my grandmother. I watch the strange secondhand smoke incense curl around my chair, then up, up, up and around the room along with my prayer.

And somehow, before long, I’m writing again. Palms together, I bow in gratitude: “Thank you, Maw-Maw.”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 5/25/18

“Handed Down in Stone”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 February 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

In Which Jason Isbell’s Twitter Account Makes My Entire Week

True story: Our landscape guy used to play in Webb Pierce’s band and I can’t get him to rename his company “There Stands the Grass” #Nashville

In 13 years of country music scholarship, I’ve had to accept that the average person doesn’t know who Webb Pierce is, and has never heard any of his classic country songs. So when I see someone like Jason Isbell not just tweet-mention Pierce but also make a pun on his best-known song, “There Stands the Glass,” it makes my entire week.

See the actual 17 May 2018 tweet for yourself right here. If you aren’t familiar with Jason Isbell, here’s the Wikipedia entry on him. If you like strong, original songwriting, you’ll love Isbell’s work.

 

A Tale for Mother’s Day

Note: This Mother’s Day piece, a reader favorite, first appeared here in May 2014. I’ve edited it since then. Names and identifying details have been altered.

*******

Look at this photo. Study it closely, so you can truly see it.

Staring back at you through sunglasses and sweat and thirty-plus years is my mother—a woman who has long followed her calling, long refused to heed society’s dictates. Here, working as a highway bridge form carpenter in the mid-1980s, she was the only woman on a crew of fifty.

Mom fought the often casual, always hateful sexism that permeates places where people fear difference of any kind, especially when that difference exposes the comfortable ignorance and shoddy workmanship that they have long swallowed as The Way Things Are Supposed to Be.

The old schoolyard insult of “Your mother wears combat boots” might have devastated many children. Not us. It made my sister and me proud. Our mother did wear combat boots: at first, military surplus, men’s size 5. Later, they came from Red Wing: steel toe, steel shank, anti-shock sole, men’s size 5. Yes, our mama wore combat boots every day. And, when the occasion arose, she kicked ass with them, too.

Sorry. This is going to be a long story.
It has to be.

My sister and I were always outsiders. Although our father had been born and raised in our tiny corner of Heard County, Georgia, and although three of our four grandparents had been born and raised there, we had not. We arrived from Randolph County, Alabama, when I was in first grade and Val in kindergarten.

By age seven, country kids know who “belongs” from birth and who does not. There is no hope for assimilation, no hope for blending in. Evil in the way that only children can be, our school mates reminded us all the time that we did not belong.

I still don’t know why those kids didn’t like us. Perhaps it was because we were bright for our age, placed in accelerated classes at the start of first grade. Perhaps it was because, thanks to family crises of many kinds, we were shy, sensitive, and didn’t make friends easily. Perhaps it was because we were each other’s best friend: we sat together on the bus, played together, stayed together at every family and social event, no matter the fun around us. We had learned early on that we had to stick together at all times. Others could not be trusted. Perhaps—well, perhaps there’s no reason at all. But the entire thing is sad, especially in light of children’s vast capacity for empathy and kindness.

The rumors and taunts did nothing to make us less different. The worst and longest enduring of them: “Rachael and Val are devil-worshipers. Rachael and Val are Satanists.”

I have to admit that this was awfully sharp for a bunch of country-bumpkin third graders. This was the kind of gossip grown-ups like to hear and love to tell, but will never admit to having created. Could it have come from adults? It’s impossible to know.

But remember: This was the early 1980s. With millions of parents terrified that random heavy metal lyrics and a few rounds of Dungeons & Dragons would hypnotize their teens into shooting themselves, and with traveling evangelical preachers making loads of money from west central Georgia record-and-tape bonfires, these rumors made perfect pop cultural sense.

The prescient little ringleaders were Morgan and Laura: two sisters, very close in age, whose parents had been high school friends with our father. Haughty, hypocritical, self-important, and entitled, they recycled the rumors every year or so. Heard County schools welcomed just enough new kids each fall to give the gossip fresh legs. There would always be another sucker to believe it. Although we were not in the same classes with Morgan and Laura, and although our grandmother had long removed us from the Girl Scout troop where the trouble began, the gossip still shadowed us no matter how many spelling bees we won, how often we made the Honor Roll, or how well we did at All-State Band auditions.

Once I reached eighth grade, though, the rumors went away. Maybe Laura and Morgan were too focused on trying to be popular to keep them up. Rehabbing their abysmal personalities must have been a full-time job. Had they been better than average looking, they might have sustained the Lucifer talk. The beautiful, of course, get away with so much more.

From our seats in the bleachers with the marching band, Val and I chuckled to see the two of them trying to jump their sorry posteriors into the air. Back then, the cheerleading squad was desperate—so much so that girls with nearly no physical coordination could give a half-assed tryout, fail miserably, and still make the varsity team. Suddenly, with the addition of a maroon-and-gray uniform, anyone could become Popular. Morgan and Laura did. For several years, they were content with their place in the sad, pointless high school social order.

And then, in the fall of my senior year, the rumors returned.

During the bus trip to an away game, third-chair tuba player Harvey Tidewater turned around in his seat to face our mom. By that time, Mom had retired from heavy construction and spent every weekend from August until mid-November as a band chaperone. Bless his heart, Harvey never was one for tact. That was his greatest flaw. In this case, it was also his saving grace. He opened his mouth, and a proverbial can of worms.

“Miss Gina, I have a question: Are Val and Rachael devil-worshipers?”

Mom stared down at him. “Excuse me?”

“Rachael and Val—are they Satanists? Do they worship the devil? I just wanted to know. That’s what I heard.”

Somehow, Mom contained her rage. “Harvey, that’s stupid. The answer is NO, of course not. Where’d you hear this crap, anyway?”

“In homeroom. Last week.”

“From?”

He cleared his throat. “Morgan. And then Laura said it Wednesday in world history. They both said it’s always been true.”

“Thanks for being honest, Harvey. I’ll take care of this.”

At 8:30 Saturday morning, Mom walked down the road to the patched-up sharecropper’s shack-and-a-half that Laura and Morgan’s parents tried desperately to pass off as a custom-built log cabin. She knocked loudly, and waited, and waited. Gladys, the girls’ mother, finally padded to the door. “Why, hello! Sorry it took me so long. We weren’t expecting company.”

“I know.” Mom paused, and locked eyes with Gladys. “I need to talk to you about something very, very important.”

“Uh—certainly. Please come in.” Mom stepped into the living room. On the sofa, Laura and Morgan sat lumpy and forlorn, cereal bowls in hand, eyes glazing over to a movie on the VHS player. She hadn’t expected the sisters to be at home. This would be interesting.

“Gladys, on the band bus last night to Crawford County, I heard something very ugly. Harvey Tidewater, the tuba player, asked me flat-out if Valerie and Rachael are Satanists.”

“You’re kidding.”

Mom shook her head. “I wish I were. Of course, my girls are not Satanists. They never, ever have been. I don’t even know how such a low-down rumor like that gets started. Do you?”

“No, I don’t. That’s terrible, Gina. Just terrible!”

“It is. But what’s worse is, when I asked Harvey who’d told him, he said he heard it from Laura and Morgan.”

The color drained out of Gladys’s face and rose into the pair of broad, cantaloupe-blank faces in front of the TV. “Girls, is this true?” They reddened more, then looked away and down at the now-soggy puffs in their bowls. Just as quickly, the blood returned to Gladys’s face. She frowned. “Gina, I am so sorry. Trust me, you won’t have any more trouble from my daughters. I am just so, so sorry.”

“Thanks, Gladys. I’m glad we straightened this out.”

Indeed, that was the last we heard of the devil-worshipper rumor. Now and then, Mom sees Gladys around town. They wave hello, ask how the family’s doing, and move along. More often, though, Mom catches a glimpse of Laura or Morgan in the grocery store, the tag office, the BBQ joint. Neither will meet her gaze. Each of them—now a woman rapidly approaching middle age—looks away, then down, and sidles out the nearest door.

Perhaps, over a quarter-century later, they can still feel that combat boot on their behinds.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 5/11/18

“A Blessing at Sunset, Part 2”
Troup County, Georgia – 30 July 2015

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

New piece in Columbus and the Valley Magazine

A huge THANK YOU! to publishers Jill Tigner and Mike Venable for running my nonfiction essay “Red Clay Ghosts” in the June 2018 issue of Columbus and the Valley Magazine. Back in June 2016, they published my first nonfiction piece, “The Lipstick Queen.” This marks the fourth time they’ve printed my words.

“Red Clay Ghosts” is an excerpt from my forthcoming creative nonfiction novel, Songs My Father Barely Knewand the first excerpt to appear in print. Part of Columbus and the Valley‘s Father’s Day issue, it’s in memory of my dad, Newt Williams. And check out the photo they chose to go with this piece. It is absolutely perfect.

The electronic magazine is now live: click here and look for “Red Clay Ghosts” starting on page 24. The print issue should arrive in mailboxes in the next few days. Oh, and subscribe to CATV, while you’re at it. For a year of gorgeous, glossy photos and quality articles, $20 is a steal.

Thanks again, Mike and Jill. Y’all are the best.

Text in this post © R.S. Williams
Magazine page image + photograph courtesy of Columbus and the Valley Magazine

A thousand thanks to my supporters

Amanda Guyton
Bill Brown
Allison Fix
Kweilin Wilson
Lisa McGovern
Kelley Frank
Ali Lauer
Grayson Hugh
Nicole McLaughlin
Emily Katzenstein
Crystal Woods
Carole Thorn

Syd Mooney
Kit Ketcham
Cheryl Lougen
Scott Johnson
Kenny Gray
El Queso
Luann
Greg Clary

Val Williams
Gina Adamson-Taylor
Steve Taylor
T. Westgate

Thanks again, y’all!

These folks’ monthly contributions help me produce more of the material they enjoy. You, too, can help support my work. Even $1 a month earns you special patrons-only content. Find out more at my Patreon page.

Photo: “Self-Portrait in Blue Dress” (2018)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wherever Someone’s in Need

Three years ago today, I submitted final grades for the last time—and, to celebrate, posted on Facebook this photo of my 1960s neon Pabst Blue Ribbon bar sign. While I miss my former students, my friends, and the steady (if small) paychecks, I don’t miss teaching. At all. Ever.

In some ways, though, I’m still teaching. For example: Most of this week has seen me helping people figure out how to do the things that confuse or frighten them—and figure it out through writing. I’ve helped people’s ideas take shape on the printed page, whether in plain text or as part of a graphic layout. I’ve talked people through the stories they’re afraid to write, when their dreams literally point them toward taking greater creative risks. In a sea of disinformation, I’ve helped people find the knowledge they need to make hard decisions.

In 2015, I walked out of the classroom, and I haven’t looked back. But when I think about my own writing, and how I’ve used what I know to help others, I know that the classroom isn’t always in a school building. The classroom is wherever someone’s in need.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Friday Photo: 4/27/18

“I Can’t Be a Pessimist, Because I’m Alive”
Denver, Colorado – 27 February 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

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