In the middle of the night

Miss Clavel turned on the light

and said, “Something is not right!”

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans


As writers, we start with the feeling and everything follows from that.

— U2 guitarist The Edge in “It Might Get Loud”


I got trifocals recently. Yes, trifocals. My optometrist calls them progressive lenses, but admits that’s just a nice way of saying my eyes needed some major help. Getting adjusted to these new specs has been something of a chore. But when I can figure out where my eyes are supposed to go to see different increments of near and far, it’s amazing how crisp and clear the world is.

I knew something wasn’t right last spring when I found myself squinting in my old, Buddy Holly-style frames. My optometrist (who had a maddening habit of calling me “old girl”) at the time told me I would be fine for another year, but by December I was noticing that I was reading fine print over the top of my glasses and squinting to see, well, pretty much everything. A few weeks ago, I finally dialed up a new optometrist (new only because his predecessor was no longer covered by my vision plan) who decided that it would behoove me to have housefly eyes.

So far, the newfound clarity is dizzying. This, coupled with a fresh outlook, has brought on quite a bit of change as of late. In recent years, I’ve felt that I needed to shake things up a bit. I had a vague sense of how I might actually do that shaking up, but when the vision of how it would all go down snapped into focus, I found myself…talking myself out of it.

I suppose that’s easy to do when you’re an “old girl” like me.

The saving grace in all of this? I have a disturbing habit of going to France and coming home with a fresh outlook. Last fall’s trip was no exception. I immersed myself in a wonderful city with my family, was reminded of my lifelong love for the country’s history and, in the process, stumbled upon a story that I felt I had to tell. That sense, coupled with a tremendous afternoon in Shakespeare and Company bookstore, left me feeling overwhelmed and goosepimply. I sat in a cab, crying, as a couple of things became frighteningly clear.

I ran screaming from graduate school some 15 years ago because I felt I lacked the patience and maturity to study dead Frenchmen and their impact on the world. Though my maturity is still suspect, I knew during my cab epiphany that it was high time for me to be a student again, and a student of French history, no less. When I returned to Atlanta, I studied for the GRE, took the test the day before Halloween and began applying to schools shortly after that.

I was humbled by the process, from rounding up recommendations to writing a purpose statement that explained my background (eclectic) and interest (an inevitable byproduct of being from the great state of Louisiana). I submitted my applications and then waited.

The result? Like Drew Brees, my family and I have been called to Louisiana. We will be moving to my hometown of Baton Rouge where I will be a graduate student in history at Louisiana State University this fall. I will be working with a beloved mentor, someone I probably didn’t appreciate enough in my twenties even though he saw something in me back then, some beast he felt he could unleash. Fifteen years after the fact, I have decided to find out whether he was right. I am looking forward it.