birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Alas, I missed the "stranger" topic because a houseguest, whom I thought was an almost-stranger, has come to stay.

So this shall be "stranger" and "almost."

Eleanor, my almost-stranger, is from Australia and we met in Rome at the Carson McCullers Centenary. She's a visual artist and psychiatrist and mother of three girls, and we had a lovely time in blazing hot Rome in July at the three day conference, but when she asked to come to stay for a week in Alabama, it was surprising.

A week?

Not a weekend?

A whole week?

I live this almost solitary life. It's my first season of empty-nesting. My husband lives in Los Angeles. So much of this fall has been me and my dog solo. So how was I to entertain an almost-stranger for a whole week?

But she asked and I thought - why not? I liked her so much in Rome, and she'd never been to the United States, and now here she is, at this very moment, sleeping in Norah's bedroom, since Norah has a new life on campus as a college freshman.

Anyway, my former almost-stranger, is a brilliant Australian artist who is incredibly kind and curious and generous. And she's only been here 24 hours, but it's been lovely. I took her to a poetry reading upon landing and then we stayed up until 2:00 am talking - and she listens and asks questions and cleans and gave me two lovely silver bracelets to say thank you made by her artist friend in Australia.

"I heard her pounding the silver," she said.

And today my friend, Wendy, drove us out to Blount County, since Norah needed my car. We visited my two poet friends, Tina and Jim, who have built a cabin from scratch. They call it "The Glass Cabin" because an old church was getting rid of giant plate glass windows, so Tina and Jim built them into their cabin, and the house shines full of warm yellow light from the mountains filled with windows.

I have a writing group with Wendy and Tina, and Jim went off to watch the Auburn game, so we four just sat in the November sunshine and I listened to Australia talk to Alabama, for Tina and Wendy are Alabama from birth, but they are bright blue stars in this big red state.

And I thought - what other better way for Eleanor, my almost-stranger, to see Alabama than to meet some poets who built their cabin from scratch with found materials inspired by the Rural Studio Project and listen to women who grew up in the place from birth and have left to get educated and travel but have found their way home.

We ate kebobs on the half-built deck, and my grouchy old lady dog was snarly to a dog named Patience, but Patience was patient.

We stayed until the sun went down over Hydrangea Ridge above Sally Branch creek, and we read stories, and my Alabama friends fell in love with Eleanor, whose exotic Australian accent is not much heard in the hills and hollers around there.

We spent only a little time trying to explain to Eleanor who the evil Roy Moore was and what kind of snakes to avoid in Blount County and she told us about the red-back spiders in the bush of Australia and the range of venomous snakes she has seen in her lifetime.

So Eleanor, my almost-stranger, is not my almost-stranger any more. She's not a stranger at all.

This week, I'll drop her off at the Civil Rights Institute next to the 16th Street Baptist Church and she'll see the monument of the four little girls...and I will wonder how a man, Doug Jones, who prosecuted one of the bombers and had him sent to prison, can lose against a hardshell bible-toting, homophobic Baptist idiot (and newly accused pedophile) but they are neck and neck in this weird state.

But either tomorrow or Monday, I also plan to drive Eleanor to see Gee's Bend where the ladies make the quilts in trailers and sing gospel songs. I haven't been there in six years, and it takes many back roads and a ferry to get there, but I want Eleanor to see the place Harper Lee loved and so many others.

I will also take her to Studio by the Tracks in Irondale (Fannie Flagg's stomping grounds) where autistic adults make art and she'll see the holiday show where one artist has made plates with pigs on them that say, "Praise the Lard!"

In the meantime, Eleanor is resting in Norah's room, whom we also saw tonight when we had to deal with a dead battery in my car, which was resolved quickly.

Norah and Eleanor had met in Rome, too, so after the dead battery, they got to catch up over noodles and stories, and so I am glad I said yes to Eleanor visiting, because looking at her pictures and listening to her stories, reminds me that the world is a bigger place and she wants me to come to Australia and bring Norah and Kiffen and anyone else who wants to come.



This is what I'm thinking now...

When I left go of all things I think I'm supposed to do or be or think or accomplish or fix or remember or worry about, I then realize that the world is full of almost-strangers who really aren't strangers at all and places like Australia, and why shouldn't I go?

Why not say yes?

I Would Be Obliged

Birthday Blues at Baskin Robbins