(Excerpt from the memoir, We Share the Same Sky)
Several years ago, when We Share the Same Sky came out in paperback, my students asked, “Why haven’t you written anything for us?” And I realized, I needed to; after all who can resist the sweet request of so many kids? Not I!
So- I began working on a novel for them. I got about five chapters in and was really beginning to warm up to the book when the idea for CENTIPEDE hit me. I don’t remember now what sparked the idea, but I remember clearly how quickly it took hold and how it expanded and grew almost on its own. It was the same way with the characters; immediately they were there, and just as quickly they seemed to take control of the novel.
I— I had wanted to write a lovely little happy book for my kids. That is not what I ended up with. (The happy little book is the one I set aside for later.) What I ended up with was a Young Adult book that requires a note to parents that it contains adult content, i.e. the book description on the back – Willie survives a murder.
When my students asked me this past week if they could now purchase it on Amazon, I said “yes” and proceeded to remind them that they needed their parents to look it over first. (These kids are eleven and twelve year olds.)
One of my boys, T.P. spoke up and asked, “It’s got some cussin’ in it, don’t it?”
And I had to say, “Well, just a little but only in the beginning, T.”
– “So you cuss, Ms. Mozley?” 🙄
“No, T. but a couple of the characters do at times. It is necessary for them to speak as they really would,” I tried to explain.
T.P. then laughed and told me he was “just tryin’ to get me”.
Oh, these kids today! They do make me smile.
Although the story of CENTIPEDE seemed to write itself, it was difficult at times because I’d never written for kids. For example, when two of my girls first read it through, they came to me and explained they didn’t understand a few things. So, I had to go back and re-write sections, adding hints that were not necessary for a more mature reader. They just didn’t intuitively grasp what I assumed they would.
I tried to get the novel right for my middle school and young adult readers, and still create a story that held the ideals I wanted the piece to express: the importance of nature to the human psyche, love of family, the necessity and importance of security for a child, a child’s inherent resilience, their sense of wonder and the steadfastness to ideals they retain a firm grasp on – and I wanted to include God’s wondrous gift of imagination and the true love of life that kids remain close to.
Willie is my girl. And, I am very proud of her.
I hope the students will love her as well.
When I hear the name William Wordsworth, I think differently than I do when I hear another poet’s name. Wordsworth to me means imagery; superb imagery that allows the reader to visualize nature as the author saw it; imagery that reveals how the poet felt about nature and why! Poems like Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, The Tables Turned and The World is too Much With Us, are but a few that reveal the author’s necessary relationship with God’s physical world, and the importance it played in his life –appreciated as it was first encountered in his youth, and then later, as an older gentleman in his reflections of growing up in and around the Lake District. In his introduction to William Wordsworth Selected Poetry, Mark Van Doren claims, “…he is the first great modern poet of England and Europe, and by extension, of America…and since his world is still our world, and since his gifts as a poet were pure and great, we more than ever benefit by his achievements.”
Although Wordsworth enjoyed his solitude, he also spent time with a few, select friends including his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Samuel Coleridge both of whom he collaborated with. But was he an artist who preferred kinship with nature above that of kinship with his fellow man? Wordsworth’s relationships influenced his writings. As with most artists and authors, the things taking place in the poet’s life -personally, regionally and nationally -found their way into his works. True love for a sister, admiration for a mentor – held sway on his ideals, his beliefs and therefore shaped the production of particular works.
Within Wordsworth’s poems -not hidden, but up-front and personal -are the sweet, sentimental power of nostalgic memory. Read these lines from Tintern Abbey: “…five summers, with the length/Of five long winters! And I hear/These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs/With a soft inland murmur. –Once again/Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs.” Again, and again the author returns to this style of reflective thought, as it is fostered through his contact with nature. Wordsworth’s poems have the power to sway a mature reader, who in looking back, does so with longing as well. Do we, as adults, envision a more lovely setting than that which we first looked upon in our youth? Probably. Listen to the description Wordsworth offers: “To look on nature, not as in the hour/Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes/The still, sad music of humanity/ Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power/To chasten and subdue.”
Wordsworth was the romantic poet defined, emphasizing intuition over reason. He appreciated the lands around the Lake District and so naturally began participating in walking tours of Europe. He toured the Alps, Italy, France and Switzerland. These travels further influenced his leanings toward nature and its importance on man’s mental health. As Wordsworth’s poetic works gained recognition, he began to discuss freely his thoughts on writing in the “real language of men” where he avoided much of the serious structure previously expected in poetry and placed more emphasis on emotions encountered and felt fully during peaceful times.
There is the question in life as to which is more important: one’s relationship with others, or one’s relationship with nature, or God. There is a closeness with God when one sets foot outside! Wordsworth described this so knowingly when he wrote, “The world is too much with us…Little we see in nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away…” The poet knew, nowhere is man nearer God than when he is deep within that which God has made.
Wordsworth saw separation of man and earth as a ghastly thing –as if in modern times man would completely lose his soul because of this break from original identity. He felt a kinship for a place that drew on memory and played on the senses just as deeply as the memories of time with those he loved. “That on the banks of this delightful stream/We stood together; and that I, so long/A worshiper of Nature, hither came /Unwearied in that service; rather say/With warmer love-oh! With far deeper zeal/Of holier love….these steep woods and lofty cliffs/And this green pastoral landscape, were to me/More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!”
Although Wordsworth’s poetry can be studied, the literary world will never know why the author chose poetry as his medium. Did Wordsworth use the recollection of fond memories to access peace and happiness? It seems that he did, after all, don’t most people reflect on better times, the more pleasant aspects of their life to lift them when life becomes too difficult? The poet writes, “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and the deep power of joy/We see into the life of things.” Tintern Abbey in its entirety seems to be a work of peaceful reprieve.
Wordsworth was equally influenced by both his friendship with Samuel Coleridge and his mixed feelings about the French Revolution. Mark Van Doren writes that it was during this decade that Wordsworth wrote the best of his poems, and that afterward, mysteriously the inspiration was gone. Of all the romantic poets, Wordsworth’s words and peaceful recollections still have the power to sway. Even in modern times, his poetry is read and enjoyed.
And, YES, though I first discovered his poetry in our little library at SHS, he continues to be my favored poet!
Put something on the calendar, and I’m sure not to do it. But, isn’t life about stepping out of your comfort zone? Being somewhat reclusive and shy (although those who know me well roll their eyes and mumble just beneath their breath “whatever”) it is often difficult for me to participate in an event where I am expected to be verbally outgoing and open.
Writing it is one thing, doing it another.
The quiet folks know what I mean. You are just so “exposed” when you are right there in front of others….talking. What I didn’t anticipate from this social engagement was – well, any of what actually took place. Allow me to explain.
This year, Gadsden Public Library hosted the Alabama Library Association Annual Convention. Being a hometown girl, I was graciously extended an invitation. This in itself garnered a smile. But, the idea of an Author Expo which is hosting 32 Alabama authors, companies from across the country -who graciously sponsor the authors -and more than 500 librarians, was enough to make me hesitate and then take two steps back. That is a lot of people! And yet, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that deep down, I absolutely couldn’t wait to attend. After all, I would be surrounded by people like me –writers and readers who eat, breathe and live for a love of words!
Arriving early, I had to smirk and acknowledge a blonde moment; I eyed the jam packed parking lots and wondered how many blocks I’d be walking in heels, carrying a heavy box of books. So THAT is why it was so important for my assistant to meet me when I arrived! I noted the city’s kelly green trolley car shuttling folks to and from the event.
Gadsden was going all-out and it filled me with a deep sense of pride!
This year’s theme for the convention is “Libraries ImPOSSIBLE” and it is improbable that anyone will leave displeased. There are a list of events sure to draw a crowd and delight everyone who attends. For example, the Reception Block Party downtown on Broad Street with live jazz and a performance of Imperial Opa. Tuesday night, out-of-towners joined the regulars for our Literary Pub Crawl where those who gather get to sample the amazing beer at Back 40 Beer Company and discuss a particular literary great before strolling over to Blackstone Pub & Eatery to continue the fun.
Then today, Wednesday, filled with bestseller speakers and the Books-A-Million Author Expo at 210 at the Tracks. I arrive and find the place packed. The vibe is amazing –beautiful bare bulbs sneak down from the blacked-out high ceiling. Music of the Etowah Youth Orchestra fills the air and already I can smell something spicy and….could it be chocolate wafting from the back reception area? Harp & Clover, Gadsden’s newest, trendiest –swankiest even – Irish Pub, located within walking distance over on Court Street, has catered the event. I also notice that folks are meandering about with food in hand; several sipping wine and a few others cold beer. My assistant, Megan, and I introduce ourselves to our sponsor, set up books, arrange seating and head to the reception area to fill a plate and find a table.
Neither of us it seems knew exactly what to expect. I’d wondered at the necessity of an assistant but after we sat and caught up on senior life at SHS (my old alma mater as well) a swarm of readers buzzed about, and time began to fly. We would pause, talk, laugh and share stories with these women –some from Alabama, others from across the country -before they moved on to another author; then another swarm would alight. And so flowed the events of the night.
I found in collecting my things afterward that, while I was light on books to carry back to the car, I was filled with stories, their stories. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a wonderful thing to have a woman point out something in particular that spoke to her from the memoir and then share with me a story of her own. Other than the Russian from NY and our friendly Spaniard, Tito, who would wander over between signings to discuss culture, tradition, family –most of my readers were women and I was delighted because the book was written for US, after all.
Just two cobblestone blocks away, I wrap up my evening with a Guinness at Harp & Clover and chat up my dear friend Dee as he moves back and forth through the establishment, deftly working the crowd. Such an exquisite end to a most enjoyable evening. From now on, all of my pub crawls in Gadsden, Alabama will end right here! I recommend the Dubliner, a burger topped with “house-made bacon jam & Cahill’s whiskey infused cheese” and of course the Bread Pudding.
*And, I do believe I’ve just claimed a new place to hide away and write…the little niche in the back corner should do nicely.
Thank you –Amanda Jackson and Carol Roark Wright with Gadsden Public Library, and also Megan Potts, my assistant, for a wonderful evening!
Already I’m looking forward to the next Writer’s Expo in Huntsville and Chattanooga. And, Megan, I’m going to hold you to the agreement to go sight-seeing, history hunting and helping with book sales.
The only way to find –is to seek.
Nothing worth having just happens; you have to go looking for it!
@ElizabethMozley & @CentipedeYAread
And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley
We Share the Same Sky, a memoir
There is a certain thrill that comes in experiencing the unexpected, visiting the unknown. Perhaps we are born with a yearning to explore new places. Once fed, the hunger to roam becomes more urgent, as almost unwittingly there is the construction of a new appetite. I have this appetite.
Although my mantra is any road trip is a good road trip I was not overly intrigued by the idea of visiting Selma, Alabama. I was, however, motivated by the possibility of any unforeseeable events that may lay in store along the way.
Our little group had agreed to meet up early that Wednesday. There before the others, I remember parking and looking about, wondering if in fact our vehicles would be the first in any parking lot on JSU’s campus. Jacksonville seemed eerily silent before sunrise. Leaning against the car, I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the solitude, knowing it very well could be the only quiet moment of the day. Admittedly, I was anxious. This was the first time I’d ever ventured off with a group of folks I did not know and although I fought against it, my mind kept whispering trapped in a car for a long period of time.
One by one they began to arrive. Quickly I slid in behind our driver for the day –a highly intelligent, unpredictable, fun-loving fellow who also happened to be our Southern History Professor, Dr. Harvey Hardaway Jackson III. The remaining crew consisted of three female students all of whom I’d already labeled as “talkers”. For this I was exceedingly grateful as I tend to be overly quiet around folks I don’t know.
Hardy –forgive the informality, but many years have now passed and the friendship is surely sealed, forever tight –Hardy had offered up an open invitation in class that anyone who cared to join him should, as he was scheduled to speak at the Selma Public Library regarding his latest book Inside Alabama: A Personal History of My State. Dog-eared copy in hand, I was the first to sign up.
Once on the road, we fell naturally into the previous day’s discussion on why it is we Southerners think and act as we do. I can honestly admit that prior to his classes, I’d never paused to question such things.
Before we knew it we were nearing Montgomery. Hardy detoured through Lowndesboro, explaining it was “not so much a town as a string of historic buildings”. The 2000 census placed the population at 140. As we followed the route taken on the Selma to Montgomery march of 1965, he explained that it was just outside of Lowndesboro that Viola Liuzzo, a young civil rights activist from Michigan was chased down by the KKK and shot. Liuzzo was driving Leroy Moton, who had recently participated in the second march, to the airport.
Hardy eased the car off the road, stopping at an old white church. It immediately reminded me of the Baptist Church my grandparents had attended when I was a child. Oh, how many sweltering summers my cousins and I spent in those small back Sunday school classrooms, making crafts, memorizing Bible verses and sweating bullets during Vacation Bible School.
As he parked, Hardy gave us a brief summary on the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, formerly the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. Built in 1830, the structure is capped with the dome from the 1820 Alabama Statehouse in Cahaba.
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church ~ Lowndesboro, Alabama
After walking around and taking a few photos, we loaded back up and headed to our next stop.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was built in 1857 from a popular pattern found in a book by Richard Upjohn. The Episcopal church in Jacksonville, AL was based on the same plan. “You usually find Episcopal churches in settlements where wealthy planters from South Carolina and Georgia settled,” he further explained.
Our last stop before making our destination was Sturdivant Hall. Built in 1852-1856 as a townhouse for Colonel Edward Watts, the Greek Revival neo-classical architecture is breathtakingly beautiful. Hardy walked us through the house, discussing various objects and artwork. A woman nearby explained that workers were brought in from Italy to complete the plaster and marble. Never did she whisper that the house is allegedly haunted by former owner and banker, John Parkman.
Sturdivant Hall, 713 Mabry Street ~ Selma, Alabama
Before leaving, we all gathered in close for a photo.
With Hardy Jackson at Sturdivant Hall 2004 ~ Selma, Alabama
Selma Public Library
By the time we reached Selma Public Library, I already felt as though the trip had been worthwhile.
While Hardy was busy socializing, the girls and I all went our separate ways. Longing for a quiet moment, I walked around the library admiring the paintings. From the corner of my eye, I noticed an older lady had come to stand close by. There was an ease to her that I still cannot describe; she too seemed caught up in the combination of beauty and quiet separateness.
“Sunflowers are the most beautiful flowers, don’t you think?” she asked admiringly, indicating a nearby painting. I recognized the softness of her Southern drawl. She noted the difference in mine as well and as we wandered along she inquired as to which part of North Alabama I was from. She asked if I gardened and we chatted about growing up in the South. The sound of her voice was lulling, soothing and it was with disappointment that I realized we had arrived in the area where Hardy was to speak.
Although I was looking forward to listening to my professor’s tales of the South, I was disappointed that my time with her had ended. As we took our places, she slid in beside me and another girl from our group. I smiled, pleased that she was joining us and realized with a start, I’d not asked her name nor introduced myself. I happened to look beyond her to my fellow traveler whose eyes were now weirdly wide. What the hell is she doing, I wondered. She mouthed Kathryn…Tucker…Windham, nodding at the woman I’d been chatting with. Suddenly I understood the peculiar expression on her face. The knowledge was devastating, as if I had been hit full in the chest with a crowbar.
I’d been wandering about, passing the time with my favorite childhood author and had not even known. Mrs. Windham had surely been saved from much gushing and stammering.
Feeling equally blessed, I sat and listened as Hardy recounted family tales of courage, feuds, Good Ole Boy politics, his daddy’s poutin’ house, Southern chivalry that was not dead, and all the glorious things that had once separated Southern culture from that of the remaining nation. I listened to Hardy, but could not keep my eyes and thoughts from Mrs. Windham. Had the chance, lost it, kept running through my mind.
With his talk completed, Hardy walked about shaking hands and hugging necks. I noted that the majority of the audience was indeed female. This garnered a well-deserved smirk; smart man, when he caught my eye, he knew exactly what it meant. Mrs. Windham joined us for a moment before we left and I learned that she and Hardy were ‘cousins-in-law’.
Before heading north, we made one more stop at Old Live Oak Cemetery. If only the wisteria had been in bloom, large white magnolia blossoms scenting humid air. Though these were not yet visible, we Southerners knew they were there and could smell them just the same.
“There is glory in the graves” read the inscription on a nearby Confederate monument. In 1879 Colonial N.H.R. Dawson purchased eighty Live Oaks and eighty Magnolia trees in Mobile, Alabama and had them planted throughout the cemetery. Spanish moss drapes down from ancient oaks as if trying to enshroud the chivalrous dead; their cannons, still close at hand, aim northward.
Live Oak Cemetery ~ Selma, Alabama
I rode to South Alabama with one storyteller, and ended up meeting another.
It was a charmed meeting. But, as we made the return trip, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been cheated –I’d have asked about her favorite memories, the foods she longed for when she was with family… With a slow smile I realized exactly why she had skipped the introductions. Was it not so much more to wander, admire the beauty before us together and speak gently, proudly of our South?
On 231, just north of Rockford, Alabama we passed Sears Chapel Methodist Church. Hardy slowed the car and we lowered the windows. I imagine each and every one of us held our breath, thought of Mrs. Windham and her love of ghosts and listened for the baby crying in the road.
Sears Chapel Methodist Church, 1860 ~ just north of Rockford, Alabama
It had indeed been a road trip to remember. Looking back, I am reminded how quickly a moment can pass and how we do not know the moment for what it is until much later. That trip was a catalyst that sent me down another road; a conglomeration of memorable moments those two years with Hardy have become. They are firmly cemented as well. While meeting Mrs. Windham was a true gift, it was the tutelage of Dr. Hardy Jackson that took my life in an unexpected and better direction.
How often the unexpected moments become the focal point, rather than the destination. Sometimes you set out on a jaunt, and bring back a little more than you anticipated.
Thank you, Hardy
Dr. Harvey Hardaway Jackson III.
Mrs. Kathryn Tucker Windham
Mrs. Windham was a reporter for Alabama Journal, The Birmingham News and later the Selma-Times Journal where she won Associated Press awards for photography and writing.
Mrs. Windham also performed her stories on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Alabama Public Radio’s Alabama Life.
@ElizabethMozley & @CentipedeYAread
And on Facebook – We Share the Same Sky, author Elizabeth Mozley
We Share the Same Sky, a memoir