Force of Nature

People wouldn’t exactly put Robert and force of nature in the same sentence. But here we are, and I do.

My brother Robert died suddenly of a massive heart attack last week.

It is the weirdest feeling being the only one left in your family. It also seems odd to balance this unimaginable grief when my dream is coming true of having my book published. It is also strange to have all my family members sitting up on a cloud, happy and WHOLE and healthy and I am left here dragging around this old bargain basement body. Talk about FOMO. AND having an enviable “change of address.”

Death attacked Robert’s heart, but it also attacked my brain and my heart. And apparently my voice.


If you knew Sarge you knew that she was a force of nature. In his own quiet humble way, Robert was too.

He had an idealistic childhood. He rode bikes, played football, baseball, and he was a pretty good golfer. He got into boyish mischief with his buddies and cohorts Sandy, Craig, Trae, Jimmy, Lew and Clair. He loved motorcycles and rock music. To hear Robert tell it, there was no decent music after the 1970s were over!!

We loved spending weekends with our grandparents Bama and Pop (We called her Bama because Roll Tide was too hard to say). The biggest treat of the weekend was eating Oscar Meyer hot dogs because mama always served generic brands. We always questioned whether we were eating real food or not!

The only thing that distinguished his childhood from other boys was he spent many a summer sitting in a New Orleans hospital room keeping his sister company. Me. How many rambunctious boys do you know who would actively choose to sit in a hospital and be quiet rather than stay home riding bikes and playing with friends?? Robert, that’s who. He was a force of nature in his understated brand of compassion that made me feel like it was going to be OK as long as we were together.

Even with all of this, his life really didn’t begin until he met the love of his life, Allison. I have never seen such a devoted husband. He was a force of nature in his love for her. Then, along came two sons. He absolutely doted on Hutch and Hudson and he didn’t mind being called “Mr. Mom.” He was a force of nature in telling me about their accomplishments and in his pride for them.

He also adored his in-laws. I recently ask him why he still called them Mr. and Mrs. McClendon. His answer was quick and sure. “It is because I respect them too much to ever call them by their first names, Les.”

Anyone who knew Robert well, would know not to question his loyalty to Auburn. His love of Auburn football was not to be toyed with. Those who got in the middle of Robert and a football game would encounter his force of nature which was neither quiet or subtle!

So maybe the real juxtaposition here is to see my mother’s full throttle force of nature versus my brothers quiet contemplative force.

I needed both forms in my life. I will miss them both.

The Gift

The Gift

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Many of you would consider having your health the greatest gift, but I am here to tell you it isn’t. During my convalescence, and really from the very beginning, my health has been a precarious thing. It seems like an unwelcome shadow following me around reminding me of my shortcomings and that it can take me down at any second.

How can we thrive when our health falters? If it is not our health, then, what is the most important thing? Our relationships. My friends have come bearing food, homemade soups, my favorite food: salmon, visits, Starbucks, clean juice, and doing tasks like stripping my bed, taking me to doctors’ appointments raking leaves and coming nightly to massage the muscles in my left arm. I am aware of their unique gifts and expressions of love. They even take me to the beauty shop, engage in Instagram takeovers and talk football. While the state of my health has not been robust during the season, the state of my relationships has never been stronger.

The greatest relationship is the one that I have nurtured during this time with God. It could be mother nature or the universe. He, /She has given me a greater appreciation that I am not going through this illness alone. My friends are the outward expression of God. But I am keenly aware that he is walking each and every step of this journey with me. He is reassuring me as I “slow walk” with “anemic stamina,” He is walking the journey with me. I am struck that during the season of Advent, familiar words and passages strike me in a different way, a more profound way. They penetrate my brain in a way they never have before. I have been such a stress case for most of my life especially the last year of my life when ironically “my dream has come true.” It is a gift that I have had to slow down and stop. This ability to know it in the moment brings such a gift of peace. Sometimes it takes years of looking in the rear view mirror of life to ascertain how a particular struggle has shaped us.

I hope you all receive the items on your Christmas list. At the same time, I hope as you gather with family members who may drive you crazy and friends who may do the same we are all present  walking this journey together and that is the greatest gift you can give or receive this season.

Merry Christmas,

Leslie XO

Gratitude…. ACTUALLY

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Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us. For some of you it will be a time to gather with family. For others it marks a big lunch to usher in frenzied days off shopping.

For me, it has taken on a deeper level of meaning. One that is only gained through grace.

Many of you have wondered where my blog has been.  On October 20 I woke up with my left hand on fire. It had red patches of heat, my wrist puffy with fluid and my hand swollen. I couldn’t do anything with it.  Some of you know that my left hand is my only working hand. My good hand. My independence.

For two nights I didn’t sleep, completely undone by the pain.  But then I got busy trying to figure out what was happening to me.

My internist did a battery of tests and ordered other tests. She first thought it was gout since gout originates in a joint like my wrist. Then she sent me to my rheumatologist. In the meantime, I had developed crazy mouth sores. She prescribed a special “magic mouthwash,” so I could eat. Tests ruled gout out and everything in between. My puzzled rheumatologist said this pointed to a nasty virus.

“A nasty virus wreaked havoc on my left side?” I was put on so much medicine to help with nerve pain. I felt like a cross between Elvis Presley and Daisy Jones!

The following week he had found the proverbial needle in the haystack. 5% of stroke victims have something called an arthritic virus which attacks the unaffected side. “You are not a textbook anything,” he concluded.
My neurosurgeon was my next stop. “All roads lead to Timmy,“ I said to him as he walked into the room. I outlined the sequence and symptoms. He concurred with everything including the rheumatologist suggestion that I get off social media until I could get well which he predicts will be December or January.  Nerve sensation is the last thing to come back. AARGH. I added FOMO to my long list of symptoms.

My friends and my brother, my wondrous village, have stepped in. BIG time. They have taken me to doctor’s appointments, brought me food, brought me Starbucks and immunity drinks, taken me to the wellness center to walk around the track and come by on Fridays to strip my bed and do a load of clothes. They have even come over when I’m in my nightgown to massage therapeutic cream into my muscles.  I told you they were great. They have EVEN kept my presence on Instagram alive! Taking pictures after I’ve gotten my hair done rather than when I’ve been in my nightgown and robe.

Yes, I am still quiet and healing. I am open to the lessons that God or the universe is teaching me during this period of adjustment. One thing that is abundantly clear during the season of gratitude, I have many blessings to count.  I am very grateful to the men and women in white coats. And to the wonderful friends that have kept Leslie Inc. and ME afloat. Before you indulge in Black Friday temptations take a minute. Reflect on your blessings. We all have a lot to be grateful for… ACTUALLY.

Leslie XO

#BeforeAnyoneElse

#March2020

#WhosYourBAE

A change of address??

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SO… Two weeks ago, marked the third anniversary of my mother’s … You know. Sure, I have always hated, loathed, and downright detested this day. Like I needed an anniversary to remember?? As if I would ever forget for the rest of my life.

But, the thing that has made me SO uneasy, I’ve determined, are the words themselves. The anniversary of my mother’s…. DEATH. I trip over them like a raised nail looming off the page on the calendar each and every year.

Maybe, in many ways I feel her presence even now. As I edit my novel, I hear her looking over my shoulder saying, “Now Mary Leslie don’t split an infinitive or misspell a word.” Or I debate, “did this quote come from Shakespeare or the Bible?” And I can hear her as clear as day “the majority of the things worth repeating are either from Shakespeare or the Bible.” She is always there with a comment that can make me laugh or when it comes to grammar fill me with utter dread!

I could say the other reason I stumble over those words of finality is because as a believer in God, I believe in eternal life. I mean, after all, it is the bedrock of our belief system. Now, heaven itself is a different matter. For some, it would be the perfect golf course. For others, a tropical beach reminiscent of Club Med. Maybe even a fishing pond in repose at sunset. For some, it is the grandeur of snow-covered mountains that puts us in close proximity to heaven anyway. Regardless of your idea, it is as if we just wake up someplace else. With a better mind and a healed body. The latter has always been a big draw for me. What does heaven look like to you?

And then it came to me. Eureka! Sarge has merely had a “change of address.” I can live with that.  And I think it is just clever enough that Sarge herself would be amused. She loved a good turn of phrase!

Next year when you see me on or around October 3 you can remind me of my mother’s “change of address.”  You can even ask me “how are Sarge’s new digs?” I might even smile and respond “heavenly.”

Leslie XO

Nothing better than the smell of a book

Julia is a Marketing and Communications Intern at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. This article about my love for libraries (and LIBRARIANS!) was featured on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library blog.

At the age of 60, Leslie Hooton’s wish to be a published author came true. She is publishing her first novel, Before Anyone Else, with Turner Publishing. It was an accomplishment she dreamt of all her life. A childhood visit to the library with her mother was the start of her dream. In fact, the first memory Leslie recalls in her life is the smell of library books which developed into a life-long passion for reading those books. For Leslie, her library card was the equivalent to her passport to exciting books and adventures.
Leslie grew up in a small Alabama town comparable to the setting of How to Kill A Mockingbird. A stroke at birth kept Leslie in a wheelchair for much of her childhood but a visit to the library and a library card changed everything. “The library was my happy and safe place,” Leslie said. “When I would go it was like a passport to the world.”
The library was a place where Leslie could explore the world and experience things she didn’t think would happen in her real life. Being able to access the world was important to her. It allowed her to be independent and to connect with her thoughts. And it was something her local library gave her the chance to do.
To Leslie, a fourth-generation attorney, the library was a comforting place; she’d grown up there. Both her mother and her aunt were librarians. In fact, Leslie would spend hours writing in her high school’s library which is also where her mother worked. “I was happiest when I was quiet and writing in the library. I would go to the library before anyone else would get there and smell the books. I wasn’t alone.” She’d found a sanctuary among books.
And Leslie continues to read and write. An avid blogger, Leslie has found a way to marry both of her passions: through blogging. Her blog, What Dreams May Come, is about her love of libraries and why she enjoys writing.
Leslie has been a resident of Charlotte for 30 years. Her favorite Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branch, and the one she calls home, is the Myers Park Library. She says she would spend entire days there if she could. “It was like a full-time job,” she said. “I would go with my legal pad and sit at a certain desk. I would write until 1 p.m., eat lunch, and go back to writing.”
Leslie is a great friend of the Library and she is an inspiration to others. The theme of her personal life story and testimony is apparent: never give up on your dreams.
Today, Leslie can say that she is a participating member at the Sewanee Writers Conference, a member of the Myers Park Library Board, a lifelong friend of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and, finally, she now calls herself an author. Her book, Before Anyone Else, will be available in March 24, 2020. It is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will also be in most libraries.

‘Tis the season

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‘TIS THE SEASON

I have never written a blog specifically because a friend asked me to. But here goes my very first inaugural “commissioned” blog post!!

Do you know what season we are in currently? Not football. Not back-to-school. Not even Christmas shopping for you early birds. It is RUSH season. Where freshmen and sophomores go through college rush. The pictures will be posted on Instagram and Facebook.

I am writing about the pictures that don’t get posted. A girl crying until her eyes are red and her face blotchy or collapsing into her mother’s or best friend’s arms. It can be brutal. Sorority rush. It is what happens when you don’t get your bid. You get CUT. This is the ABSOLUTELY perfect description of rejection. It is like taking a knife and gutting a girl’s self-esteem, her worth and everything she thought she knew about the world. No amount of Mederma or Vitamin E is going to erase that wound.

I have two experiences from sorority rush. The first was really awful. The second was worse.

I was a freshman the first time I went out for rush. I was cut after the fifth day. Even though I was a double legacy I was sad. But I also knew the truth about myself and so it was just a topographical wound.

The second time I was a sophomore. I had been dorm president, SGA Senator, inducted into Lambda Sigma honorary for rising sophomores and knew a ton of people. I was ready.  On the last day I got cut. Never mind, that a legacy should get a courtesy cut on the third day they took me to the last day before inflicting the wound. I went home thinking I would never go back to Auburn.

We may tell our children it doesn’t matter but we turn around and buy outfits, call people to get recommendations and all those other things.

Because the truth is, when we go out for rush, we want people to like us. We want people to WANT us. That is one of the most basic human emotions. A basic desire to “belong”. As a parent, it is hard to mount an argument against something as fundamental as acceptance. Getting rejected before school even gets started seems barbaric. Being deemed “Unchosen” when you are 18 or any age, is a hard thing to recover from.

College is not the real world. You’re probably going to do just fine out in the “real” world! I still can summon the raw hurt after all these years. I wish I had some enlightened advice. Because “it SUCKS” isn’t exactly profound. In truth it takes a while to stitch up one’s heart and maybe it doesn’t get completely stitched back. My scars are still there. I wish I had some magic suture that would stitch the wound up until it disappears.

Unfortunately, just like acceptance, being unchosen is a part of life. Spouses, friends, teammates and sororities at some point may let you down. We have to forget our “followers” and concentrate more on our “friends”.

I did go back to Auburn.  I got up and went to class. Every. Single. Stupid day. Until the pain wasn’t the first and last thing I thought about. It is up to us to CHOOSE ourselves. The question becomes what do YOU do next?

Leslie XO

#BeforeAnyoneElse

#March2020

#WhosYourBAE

All the Feels…

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ALL THE FEELS…..

When you achieve a long, desired goal, you may be flooded with all kinds of conflicting emotions….

Getting into your long shot college; getting your first job; getting the big promotion you wanted; getting married to the person of your dreams; finding out you’re pregnant for the first time; or having a new baby. Even retirement. Once you attain your desire you may ask… Now what???

Just like the stages of grief they don’t go in order. Sometimes they bounce around!!  I have a mnemonic for this condition… STONE.

S –    Shock. I can’t believe my little book is going to be out in the world.

T–    Terrified. What if I don’t do a very good job. What if no one buys my book? What if no one likes my baby??

O–   Overwhelmed. Writing a book and becoming a new parent are very similar. There are so many things you don’t see coming.  You feel so ill-equipped!

N–   Nervous. This emotion always brings its cousin, anxiety. How in heavens name am I going to get everything done by the deadlines? What if I really wasn’t cut out for this in the first place??

E–   Excitement. None of these other emotions can dampen the excitement. And the gratitude I feel at having my dream come true. At holding something I made in my hands.

I will make mistakes. Mistakes always come with accomplishments. It is a natural consequence of achieving.  Maybe there are some aspects of the job which we do not excel. Maybe we have to take our child to the emergency room more than we wanted. That’s life. The ole rose and thorn analogy. The same determination we used to achieve our goals we now must use to overcome emotions. But just like the five stages of grief we MUST learn to accept AND be gentle with ourselves. And in the end, be grateful. Be VERY grateful that we are in the position to FEEL.

Leslie XO

#BeforeAnyoneElse

#March2020

#WhosYourBAE

Make a Wish!

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A party without cake is just a meeting.
-Julia Child

Someone brought me a cupcake in anticipation of my 60th birthday, lit a candle and uttered the phrase “Make-A-Wish!!”

It left me completely stumped. For 25 years, yes 25 years, anytime I came anywhere near a candle and heard the phrase “Make-A-Wish”, my wish had been consistent. Always. Year after year. Birthday after birthday, decade after decade. It never varied. I never wavered. I always wished for the same thing.
TO BE A PUBLISHED WRITER!
And now it has happened! I don’t know what to wish for??? I have never ever been in this predicament. I am not the kind of person who experiences dreams coming true. But I find myself in that position. I just stare at the cupcake.

My friend encourages me “Make-A-Wish! The candle is burning!” You would think I was confronting some math problem instead of a tiny candle threatening to melt all over the icing!

“Make-A-Wish.” She says again. I can’t explain what a strange sensation this is. When you wish for something so long that is your heart’s deepest, truest desire? What do you do next?

I know one thing. I feel PROFOUND GRATITUDE. I feel gratitude that I am still alive to see my dream come true. I feel gratitude for my friends who wished this dream for me NOT only on my birthday but 365 days of the year… For ALL of those 25 years! I feel gratitude that people read this blog. I am simply and absurdly overcome… #Blessed.

I know I will hear the words “Make-A-Wish” over the next few days… So, does anyone have a new suggestion? The candle is burning…

Leslie XO

#BeforeAnyoneElse

#March2020

#WhosYourBAE

We are Only Human

WE ARE ONLY HUMAN

I have just returned from a few days at the Sewanee Writers Conference.

What makes any of us write? To have permission to talk to people in our head? Or because we don’t have another talent? For me, both are true. I love my characters and I love hanging out with them. Even when they do bad things and say bad words.

Writing is a very lonely job. When I go to Sewanee, I take my messy self. My insecurities, my worries, my fixation to find the perfect words to make my sentence sing and to be challenged and inspired by people who seem to have their “sentences together”.  I am there because I crave the connection of like-minded people who live in their head. It is like attending a political convention where the mascot is paper and pen.

Weird things always happen to me there. But they have always happened to me. In my 20s people could come up to me and say, “what’s wrong with you?” They would say it in a challenging way. My southern manners generally kept me from most of my witty comments like “it’s perfectly obvious what’s wrong with me… What’s wrong with YOU”. In my 20s and 30s it was like I had stamped on my forehead “PLEASE, invade my personal space and tell me intimate things about you or ask me inappropriate questions”. It happened on planes, in coffee shops and bookstores. I have urged recovering alcoholics to attend a meeting. I have hugged perfect strangers and encouraged others to go to the doctor ASAP.

As I was leaving my 40s and 50s behind the questions changed. “Did you have polio as a child?” Or discovering that I wrote novels, “I’ve always wanted to write a story about my grandmother. What do I do?” The second question is always easier to answer. I utter a simple word “BEGIN”.  The other questions require more.

During my stay a woman sat down at my table at breakfast. “Can I ask you something? Did you have a stroke?” Sometimes I have fun with this question. I often say some people have a stroke of luck… I had a stroke at birth. I could tell this woman needed more. “Yes” I said simply. Tears welled up in her eyes. “Is this what your book is about?” She asked. “No this is a novel. My memoir Dying of Natural Causes is about my stroke, my mama and my relationship with the men in white coats”.

She continued. “My sister had a stroke. She would’ve been 40 this year. She was petite, blonde and lively. Like you.” Her tears no longer stayed put. I took her hand and said, “this is what your sister might look like at 60. I will be 60 next week”.

I view these questions and confessions now as a privilege.  Maybe she needed the same thing that I need when I come to this mountain: Human Connection.

Leslie XO

#BeforeAnyoneElse

#March2020

#WhosYourBAE

And the journey begins…..

Business cards

AND THE JOURNEY BEGINS………

 

Did you ever stop and think: what happens when dreams come true??

 

In the movies, a frequent ending is… And they lived happily ever after.  We actually don’t know what comes next.

 

WOWZA! I thought finding out my novel, Before Anyone Else, (BAE) is going to be published was the ending. It’s just the…

BEGINNING!!

Here’s what happens next. Or at least the very beginning of what happens next.

 

I will be 60 years old in less than a month. I am trying not to hyperventilate as I write this sentence. Clearly, my dream came true “late in life” to put it nicely. I feel a little bit like Sarah from the Bible. How old was she when she had a baby? But I have never had a book to be published so this is new to me. You know what else happened?

BUSINESS CARDS!

I’ve never had the need for a business card. Now when people ask me the name of my novel? When does it come out again? How do you spell your last name? Instead of stammering around, I can whip out a business card that features my author photograph on one side and my book jacket on the other.

 

For me, this is a brave new world. Because in between all of that, I am knee-deep in final edits. In addition, my publisher wants me to film a video discussing the novel. That is all well and good except I wish there was something they could do about my southern accent and did I mention before that I’m about to turn 60? And that I haven’t had any Botox? Or enhancements?

 

The publishers also want me to make my Instagram account public. You would not believe all the men who have requested to follow me and send me messages. Neurosurgeons, firefighters, men who love God, men who love Jesus and men that want to fulfill my every desire. I have just got to say that as long as I have been dealing with men in white coats, none of my doctors looks like the doctors on Instagram! They all seem to follow about 2000 people while only maintaining about fifty followers… Just saying. They all find me beautiful and charming, however.

I reflected on myself and my twenties. For me, I was pretty adventurous. I explored Europe by myself. And I moved to Atlanta without knowing a soul, having a place to live, having a job or having a car. Now I can barely go to the grocery store by myself!!

I am thrilled that my dream of being published has come true. I just didn’t know that “the end” simply meant “the beginning.”

Before Anyone Else is available now for pre-order on Amazon. Which means I am now an Amazon commodity. You can order me with your paper towels, toilet tissue and other essentials. That, my friends, is the American dream coming true right there.

Leslie XO

#BeforeAnyoneElse

#March2020

#WhosYourBae