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unpacking 2


i am a committee, and my committee is currently on a wee bit of a roller coaster ride . . .

i’m going through photos albums, you see, prying photos from those albums with sticky-back/cellophane overlay pages. the emotional roller coaster ride it takes me on comes as quite a surprise.

one committee member is enjoying the ride . . . as much as you can enjoy experiencing laughter that starts in the stomach; heartbreak so intense it immobilizes; moments of insight and realization; and unanswerable questions that start with what-if or if-only all in the space of a minute. another committee member sets forth a plan of three albums a day and constantly admonishes me to stick to the plan, even over the objections of the committee member who encourages me to plow my way through all of the remaining albums today so i can put everything back in the cabinet and close the door.

okay, those last two – they’re identical twins.

or not.

perhaps one is trying to get me to finish up so i can write what’s really on my heart while the other is trying to set a pace that allows for processing, totally disregarding the fact that i just don’t do well living in physical chaos for more than say three minutes.

my albums aren’t labeled on the spine, so i never know who or what time period will greet me when i open the cover. the waterfall sings its song in the background. the dog snores quietly in the corner.

some of the photos are blurry, some have faded beyond recognition. others – like the ones i took with my little brownie camera – were taken from so far away (and without benefit of a telephoto lens), i’m not even sure if the dots are people or specks of dust on the lens.

i go through albums of my chiclets, and i want more time to spend more time with them. i want to keep them at home instead of sending them to 3 and 4 year old kindergarten. i want to hold them close, hug them tightly, feel their head on my shoulder. i look at the photos of my parents with my children and i long to hold a grandchild in my arms, to have a second chance to make up for anything i might have done better with alison and kipp. it could be my hormones talking, but i don’t really think so, and who cares, anyway, chimes in the committee member i want to hear more from.

in daddy’s album, i see the face of a young man who had the world by the tail, a smiling face that eventually becomes a blank stare. it takes my breath away when i come upon the picture of him in the hospital, his face covered with tubes and tapes attached to machines to keep him alive just a few more days. i spend a few quiet minutes with photos obviously taken of me, but there, in the background, sits my daddy looking at me, and i wonder what he was thinking. was he proud of me? did he think me a good mother? did he wish i’d become a professional something-or-other instead of a career mom? did he wish he could go back and do my childhood over and if so, what would he have done differently?

believe what you will, but my dad still watches me quietly. when my car slid down the icy, curvy, hilly driveway, i turned the steering wheel over to daddy who apparently didn’t want me coming to visit quite yet because he guided the car safely down to where the ice was thin enough to allow the gravel to reach up and stop my tires. when i don’t have a clear sense of what to do, i ask daddy. and because i don’t want to wear him out or use him up, i also tell him stories about things that have happened so we can laugh regularly.

a wise friend once asked me to write to daddy and ask him what advise he’d like to give me. “be as specific as you want,” she said. but of course i never did that, for reasons that escape me now except to say that the committee member who measures herself worthy by measurable accomplishment and productivity has a very loud and convincing voice.

when i look at the photos of a jeanne gone by, try as i might, i just i don’t see the litany of flaws i once did. i look at photos of me and see that i was not fat, and trust me when i say that i’m sorry i wasted a single nanosecond belittling myself for being overweight. when i come upon the photo taken about a month before i was raped, i cry a bit while stroking the black and white photo, remembering the smooth blouse of red, white, blue, and yellow stripes with an eggshell sheen under the somewhat-scratchy navy v-neck pullover sweater. i was beautiful, and now i am loathe to tell you that it makes me sad that i begin to resemble my paternal grandmother. don’t get me wrong – i love(d) her hugely, but she did not have what society would call a beautiful countenance. a series of strokes rendered her mute, unable to care for herself, and eventually dead at a point in her life that’s now considered young, and a quieter committee member wonders if my resemblance to grandmother hewell is only skin deep or if i, too, will die young.

i don’t want to die an unlived life – i seriously do not. i want to live into my life, and i want to start yesterday (but, shoot, i guess today will do just fine).



Last week we got our North Carolina driver’s license, and let me tell you: it’s been a long time since I’ve been so nervous before a test. Though never my idea of fun, taking tests never really bothered me before – due in no small part to the fact that I knew how to say, how to repeat back to them, what they wanted to hear. I also had a way of knowing ahead of time what was going to be asked – and I don’t mean by cheating or seeing a copy of the exam ahead of time.

I’ve been driving for, well, a while, and I have a very good record, but that was not considered in my grade, of course. I studied the booklet – even causing us to leave later than planned when I decided to go over a few pages one more time. I knew – I just knew, they were going to ask questions involving numbers. Numbers are easy to judge right or wrong, but I don’t remember numbers. (“You could if you’d quit saying that,” my husband counters.)

And I’m not all that great at spatial concepts, either. I can tell you that a sofa will not fit against that wall, but if there’s nobody else around leaving me to read a map, I have to turn the map so that it’s facing the direction I’m wanting to go. I can tell you how much will fit in the back of my car, but I can’t mentally flip an object over and turn it around and envision a mirror image.

For most of my life, those who are strong in math and spatial concepts and the (seeming) definitive rationale of science have been considered smart. Now we know that there are several different types of intelligences, that there are different ways of knowing, and I can’t help but wonder how my life would’ve been different had we (or they) known these things decades earlier.

But I digress . . .

As I studied for the exam, I paid close attention to numbers because I knew that’s the favored knowledge, but I have to tell you that I’m eversomuchmore interested in knowing how to best negotiate a slide on ice or how to prevent catastrophe when hydroplaning than knowing fines for speeding or what the default speed limit is if not posted in small towns or how many seconds I should allow between cars using traveling speeds to calculate.

As I fought back panic and did my best to move resolutely and positively into sheer unadulterated dread, I realized that it’s been a very long time since I was required to – since I was willing to – be judged on my performance. Oh, sure, it happens all the time, but I went headfirst into this judging situation . . . and I didn’t like it one little bit.

We all know that I have authority issues – I’ve never made any bones about that – but it doesn’t mean that I’m always wrong or should be discounted. While I don’t have any alternative licensing questions in mind, I do know that it’s just as important (more so to me) to know how to drive in certain situations for the protection of yourself and others. (And I’m not saying that those questions weren’t asked on another version of the test, so don’t get sidetracked into that comfortable little black and white area.)

Taking that 15-minute test really unpacked a lot of issues and selves (past and present) for me. Once I (finally) get settled, I’m whipping out my copy of books like Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery by Mary Catherine Bateson and Women’s Ways of Knowing by Mary Belenky, Blythe Clinchy, Nancy Goldberger, and Jill Tarule for a fourteenth read, and you can bet your sweet patootie I’ll have more to say about learning and knowing and teaching – a lot more ’cause it’s one of my favorite authority issues.

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diary of a move, 2


one day
you get an offer you can’t refuse
and you say “yes”
and start packing
and in that short, one syllable exhale,
you turn your life upside down.

for two straight weeks
day in and day out,
your family
and strangers alike
come in and help you
put your belongings,
both public and private,
into liquor boxes.
then into trucks
then into the new space.

and when all the boxes
are brought in
and stacked
and stacked
and stacked,
and stacked
and stacked
and stacked,
they leave
to go back to their
orderly abodes
and you wave bye
and go back inside
to try to find a place to
sit and rest.
for just a minute, though,
you’re only
part way through this journey.

you’ve thrown out
and shed
and given away
many, many, many things
because the reality is
that you only have
half the space now
there’s still so very, very much
to situate.

you open boxes
packed by other people
and you’re surprised
to find things
you didn’t even remember
you had.
and sometimes,
many times,
you remember where
you were when you got it.
and though you remember the appeal
it had at the time,
you put it up for
there’s simply not room for everything.

you sift through,
sometimes tempted to
send things away
if they can’t
justify their existence,
if they can’t earn their keep
with obvious, undeniable function.
and other times you come across
something that just makes you smile
or even laugh out loud
and you realize that
laughter may not
dry you off after a shower,
but it can cleanse

you spend
every day
wondering where to put things
and eventually you find a place
and the satisfaction of knowing
that this thing
fits right here
and will stay here forever and ever
is immeasurable.
but you open more boxes the next day,
and you prioritize all over again,
sometimes moving the things placed
so carefully the day before
to make room for something that now
seems more essential.

after a week,
people say things like
“i trust you’re settled in by now,”
and you feel like a
or worse
because there are
unopened boxes
and storage shelves
in the kitchen
and suitcases
in the bathroom.

things get broken,
though not as many
as you might expect,
and it’s funny
how pillowcases
still elude you,
but you can put your hands on the tiniest
little oddball
wire support
for the lamp
that you never used all that much
because it lived in the guest room.
and when you produce that
tiny little oddly-shaped wire
moments before you husband
tosses the seemingly-broken lamp
on the truck, sealing its fate,
his “huh”
is dressed in surprise
with maybe
just maybe
a splash of admiration.

diary of a move, 1

there’s more to come – so much i want to tell you about this move – but for today, just take a peek at my writing table . . . and chair (once belonged to my paternal granddaddy, the banker. i’m researching a book about him now.) . . . and muse:


and my view:


for reasons we’ll talk about later, my writing space has been relocated and reduced to this:


into which must fit this:


and this:


and this:


there is some serious magic-making in my immediate future.

in praise of curves in the road


i rounded the curve
and spied a gorgeous sculpture
in the middle of the greening field.
i blinked
and the captivating sculpture
a mule

from captivated and elated
disappointed and deflated
all in the space of
a few hundred feet.

then i remembered
something read
years after i left
pews and classrooms . . .
said he created his
by removing all that
was not david.

and just like that
i was once again


i’ve been pondering lately what it means to think independently.
and to value feeling as much as thinking.
and every now and then, i wonder what my life would be like
if i hadn’t been so strongly conditioned
that science rules,
that there is only one right answer,
that a mule eating is merely a mule eating
and not a work of art.

move day eve


an exhausting day, mentally, physically, and emotionally. an hour and fifteen minutes before the movers are to arrive, the truck rental place announces they don’t have the truck we’d reserved and offer little – very little – empathy. i’ve learned that staying calm works best more often than not, and it works again, albeit slowly. the two women (lisa and leslie) at the moving company are fantastic to deal with – i feel like angels are helping me move. they just keep assuring me that they will get me moved today, and they do. had i been close enough, i’d’ve had to use every ounce of self-restraint i could muster to avoid kissing them on the lips.

we eventually get a truck, arriving home about 7 minutes after the movers. my mother, my sister-in-law, and my daughter are busy beavers as they pack, move smaller things, and help me stay on top of things. eventually there is no more room in the truck, something that still makes me feel ill – but i just keep telling myself that like meredith, i’ll purge as i unpack. i mean we needed to completely fill the truck to prevent things from falling and flopping, right?

were it an olympic sport, i’d own the gold in justification.

all the hubbub upset the cats who pee and slink and hide once they are let out of their apartment (a.k.a. the garage), and as much as the cats wage battle against me, i feel quite loved as friends offer guest rooms, house keys, and even girl scout cookies.

hubbie, daughter, and i see everybody out and headed out for a margarita – something we’ve done three days this week, something we’ve never done before now. you know, that’s the one thing i’m enjoying about all this – how we shove work and chores and other miscellaneous to do’s aside to gather and see the day out together, laughing and talking and enjoying the company of each other. and i can’t help but wonder why we haven’t been doing this all along . . .

m-day approaching fast


we are moving.
didn’t plan to.
didn’t really want to
– at least not just yet –
but we are.


and i am struck
once again
with the undeniable fact
and weightiness
of accumulation.
of the
physical variety,
i mean.

as we fill more and more
and more and more
and still more and more and more
empty liquor boxes,
i long to streamline
to carry only what i can fit in my car
or better still
in a single backpack
and okay, possibly a suitcase.
(albeit an extra large suitcase).

i remember the days
when i covered empty cardboard boxes
with contact paper
to create nightstands.
i remember the delight
of making do
with what we had on hand.
and honestly,
i kinda’ want to go back to those days.
that kind of resourcefulness
builds confidence
and character
and creativity of the first order.

most of my boxes are filled with
family history and herstory.
and such
from a grove of family trees.
i will resume operation scan ’em up and roll ’em out
hopefully in the foreseeable future,
even though my daughter worries just a tad
about ever-advancing technology
eventually rendering them

ah, my daughter.

my son moved away years ago,
so i’m kinda’ used to
the way loving him
comes with a side of pain,
but it’s shocking how much
i already miss my daughter.
we are close, you see,
and otherwise.
but hey,
the good news is:
she’s able to take possession
of some special items
without me having to die
for her to get them.

interesting that i’ve been thinking about death
a lot
and here we are moving.
now i know that i can create a home
wherever i go,
there’s a kind of grief that
occasionally breaks through the barriers
i’ve hobbled together.

this whole scenario
came about just last week,
and though my son
worries that we are living
more impulsively
than waldenly,
when the couple appeared
and asked,
we said yes
and immediately began packing
a four-week turnaround
flies by quicker than you
can touch your ear.

aspiring for more


i was in line at the pharmacy when they opened to fetch his prescriptions. he told me he didn’t need them, but i called him anyway to ask if he was sure he didn’t want me to just bring the bag with me. “no,” he said, “i’ve got enough.”

then the snow came.

and came.

and came.

and came some more.

and first thing you know, he’s at the bottom of his pillbox. it’s okay now. they left this afternoon, headed home . . . and to the bag with another month’s worth of meds inside.*

it’s my nature to think about things like this. i was, after all, the only fourth grader to build and stock the family bomb shelter. so when did i start second-guessing myself? when did i begin to think that planning ahead – thinking about things like having extra supplies of food and medicines on hand – is a fine display of negativity? when did i become embarrassed enough about the way i am to grow silent and default to others?

when i listen to my self and act as one with my intuition without reservation, without explanation, without apology, those are my moments of pure, unadulterated, ordinary joy.

* (i stayed behind cause let’s face it: when they slide off down the side of the mountain, somebody’s got to be here to inherit everything.)

this post is my response to today’s reverb10 prompt by brene brown: Ordinary joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

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Allow me to introduce myself . . .

Hey, Sugar! I'm Jeanne Hewell-Chambers: writer ~ stitcher ~ storyteller ~ one-woman performer ~ creator & founder of The 70273 Project, and I'm mighty glad you're here. Make yourself at home, and if you have any questions, just holler.

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