Wooden Saints & Pluff Mud

beaufort south carolina, elaina m. avalos, parris island, lowcountry,
Marsh sunsets

I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.

I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:

I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.

I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.

For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).

beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island

Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.

Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.

“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.

Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.

I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.

Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown

In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.

elaina m. avalos, beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island

When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.

When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window (I am not sure quite who he is – it says San Juan at his base), I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.

For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:

1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart).
2. Don’t hold back.
3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope.
4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.

I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.

On My Mind

Mornings & evenings pass.
Days roll on.
Each sunrise & sunset
Like the one before.
Except for the mornings
I wake with you,
First on my mind.
Those more common
Than the rest.

By Elaina M. Avalos
© 2021

As a kid, I wrote a lot of poetry without understanding much about it. I still don’t know much, to be honest. As an English major, I cut my teeth on poetry – starting from the beginning of recorded literature. Any English major that doesn’t know the pain of Beowulf (reading, analysis, and paper-writing to follow), is no English major at all. 🙂 I can’t tell you how many times I had to read The Canterbury Tales. I’ve taken entire classes on poetry. There are poems that stir my heart and inspire me. I adore children’s poetry books. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that I’m not talented enough as a writer, to attempt anything but free verse. And even still, I stumble around with words and phrases. I compose these words on my heart. But write I must – even when I stumble and fumble.

The words are all I have to give – though I long to give more.

Yellowstone & Weird Love Stories

Yellowstone, Beth Dutton, Rip Wheeler, Beth and Rip, elaina avalos

I’m new to the Paramount Network show, Yellowstone. I watched the first three seasons over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, thanks to Hulu. And now I’m obsessed. I can’t wait for season 4. The show reminds me, in a way, of a western Sons of Anarchy. It’s not as wild and violent as SOA – although still violent. I also think there’s something a little more redeeming in most of the lead characters at the Yellowstone ranch. Or perhaps the crimes committed are done for reasons that I’m more comfortable with (haha) than the gun and drug running on SOA. Anyway . . . I digress.

Unexpectedly, my favorite storyline in the series became the love story between Rip Wheeler & Beth Dutton. In the beginning, I was so caught up in what was going on with the family and ranch overall, that I missed some of the Beth and Rip stuff. I had to go back and re-watch parts of season 1 to settle into that. The relationship between John Dutton and Rip is also a favorite. The scene where John gives Rip the house, as an early inheritance, and calls him “son” in the letter, was awesome television – especially considering how long Rip had been on the ranch. But back to Rip & Beth. With Beth being the bad ass, wild woman she is, it’s not surprising her love story would become my favorite part of the show. There are some great scenes between them – so much so that YouTube has multiple video compilations of their scenes together.

While I have quite a few top moments, my favorite scene was a little scene that isn’t even popping up in most of the stuff I’ve searched for online. But it reminds me of those sweet moments in the beginning of a relationship when you’re becoming more comfortable with each other and you’re sort of settling into the fact that this thing is sticking around for a little bit. Maybe that nickname or pet name slips out and before you even realize it’s happening – your favorite person is now “Baby or Babe” or whatever.

The scene, on the steps of Rip’s cabin, is:

Beth: You are many things, Baby, but funny is not one of them. Sorry.
Rip: Mmm. Call me that again.
Beth: Call you what?
Rip: Baby. Say it again.
Beth: You like that, do you?
Rip: Mmm. Yeah, I do.
Beth: It’s OK, baby.
Rip: What should I call you?
Beth: Wife. [pause] I didn’t mean that.

If you’ve watched, you would know that there’s a lot to their story – so this isn’t exactly new love (hence the wife comment). But they’ve never truly been in a relationship up to this point. Though there are many scenes to love, as I mentioned, that one got me right in the feels. I also have a major nickname habit so maybe that’s why I loved that even more.

Since I can’t share a clip of that particular moment, I’ll share a couple others . . .

I loved this moment in the video below, too. There’s a reason why Rip is on the receiving end of Beth’s sweetest moments and most open and genuine feelings. It’s because she’s entirely safe with him and she knows it. He gets some real zingers too. But no one else in Beth’s life receives that same level of tenderness.

As a writer, my favorite books, movies, and television shows are always those with complex characters. And for me, that means there are times when your “relationship” with them is complicated. Maybe there are some serious greys in their character? Maybe you’re left trying to decide if you like them or not because they do jacked-up crap (like some of the stuff John Dutton does or asks his people to do)? Either way, the author clearly knows how to write characters that are equally flawed and lovable.

As I’ve been working on my novel, A Thousand Years, the first two people to read the first draft had some words to say about my protagonist’s love interest. I happen to think I write some pretty lovable male love interests. I love Gray Ford (love interest in A Thousand Years). But I didn’t write him (the first time), in a way that rounded out who he is. I had the image of the man and his type, what his struggles and quirks would be – but most of what I wrote was of the flawed side of him. Though I loved him and saw in my head the complete picture, it was hard to see what was lovable in him, in that first draft. Granted, I wasn’t writing a happy story in the first half of the book. I just forgot to show more of who he is (underneath all of his dumb decisions).

It’s in shows like Yellowstone that I’m reminded of how much I love writers for their ability to shine a light on the best and worst in us. Beth Dutton is larger than life. You’re definitely unlikely to meet someone quite like her, although I wish I could be Beth Dutton-ish with some people (haha). Her beauty is in what she has become because of her trauma and loss. Rip loves and takes care of Beth unconditionally, he’s extremely loyal, and he would do anything for his “family” – but the best and worst in him, also comes from trauma and loss. There’s beauty in the brokenness (I think). And Beth and Rip are broken individuals – who love each other fiercely and unconditionally.

Beth doesn’t hide one single thing about herself from Rip – including her heart and tender side. The fact that Rip loves her at her best and worst, knowing all of it, is a beautiful thing. I hope to always write that way. And maybe someday, my Rip Wheeler will show up?

“It’s only the things I love that die, Rip, never me. Come to think of it, I’m surprised you’re still standing.” – Beth Dutton

Wellness, Happiness, & Other Stuff

It’s a random musings kind of Thursday:

1. I am trying to get back into a regular exercise routine. Lordy it has been too long. You gotta start somewhere though, right? I’m severely anemic and have to get IV iron infusions several times a year. I should probably get more than that. Anywho, when you’re anemic at just basic levels, you can have major fatigue. I am like realllllyyyy low on iron. I had this feeling that if I could get myself moving after this last bit of iron, I might be able to establish enough of a habit, that by the time my iron started dipping again, I would feel so good from exercising (and noticing the losing of inches) that I’d push through. I am a long way from walking 4 miles a day and being in the gym 6 days a week (like the olden days). I know how good I feel when I do, however. Can you relate? What do you use to keep yourself motivated? I need to combine some yoga in there now. I’ve only got 3.3 miles in this week, so far, but hey – that’s 3.3 more than last week. 🙂

2. My dog is a runner. She loves to run and run and run. And then she will gladly sleep 18 or more hours a day. 🙂 She has enjoyed the walks, in spite of teetering on the edge of her senior years and being sick not all that long ago. But today, she saw a little boy – who just so happened to look like “our” boy. My (foster) son is black and the little boy we saw was also black and about the size of my (foster) son when he left. If you’re new here, I was expecting to adopt my (foster) son. She does this funny little hop, skip thing when she’s happy or sees kids playing (she loves kids). I don’t know how to explain it, but you’ll just have to trust me. She saw the boy and she just knew it was him. She tried multiple times to pull me in his direction. She used to do this a lot more – after he first left. It’s less frequent now, but it still happens. I was teary-eyed. But it also made me appreciate this crazy dog of mine. She loved him so much. He was her boy. She wouldn’t forgive me for at least a year after he left. She didn’t want a thing to do with me (not kidding). About a year ago, she changed her mind and she’s cool with me again. That little boy was her life. She’s a weird and precious dog. 🙂

3. I entered a writing related contest and didn’t win. I was strangely bummed out by this. But then I woke up Wednesday morning and I was feeling pretty good. I woke up feeling better about a lot of things – most of them are things I can’t even remotely control – like work situations & how someone does/does not feel about you. It was a rough 2-3 weeks here recently. I think I’ve turned the corner. This brings me to my number 4…

4. I am not the least bit embarrassed to say that I’m in therapy at this time. It’s a huge help to me. When you’re on a wellness or healing journey – or need to be – it’s important to flood your world, in my not-so-humble opinion, with stuff that lifts you up versus drag you down. I’ll be the first to admit this is a slow process for me. I think it’s impossible to change everything at once. It’s a slow burn, sometimes. But making slow, deliberate choices helps. I have podcasts I listen to, stuff I read, and choices I make with eating, rest, etc. I’ve shared a few podcast episodes here on the blog. Another thing I’ve started, after being introduced to Dr. Amen – is the 30 Day Happiness Challenge. You can view it and sign-up, here: https://www.amenuniversity.com/happy?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=social-paid&utm_campaign=YBIAL&utm_content=KR%20-%2030DHC%20-%20PR%20-%20CO%20-%20SI%20-%20V1%20-%20Copy&audience=KR%20-%2030DHC%20-%20RT%20-%20CO%20-%20DA%20Audience&fbclid=IwAR1_mnVc4xtPYYEHXUvpH9fMesqzi86YJUo-W3c-g_FDABif3xrn0Yxf3F8. When you sign up, you will start with day 1. Future emails jump in at later days in the challenge. However, when you log in, you can still go through each of the days at your current pace. It’s good stuff, dudes and fits perfectly into what I’m already learning through therapy, podcasts, etc.

See, random…