Time Out


Although I’ve made a few posts here on the blog this month, I took some time away from Emmett Wilson & the research starting on July 1, because I was feeling burned out. After four years of near-continuous digging into and piecing together Emmett’s life, I was starting to resent him, and the book. I needed a break.

So, I went to Canada for 10 days, did a bunch of hiking and reading books that were completely different than gilded-age Florida politics. It did a lot to recharge my batteries, and give me a fresh perspective. Here’s some pictures from a few of the hikes:

Mt. Rundle, Alberta and the Bow River.

Grassi Lakes, Alberta. The water, which comes from a glacier, is perfectly clear and blue-green.

There were bear sightings along the way.

My children and their cousins swimming in one of the glacier-fed lakes. It was 92 degrees that day in Alberta.

Mountain flowers galore.

There was a Miner’s Day parade in downtown Canmore.

The parade consisted of two marching bands, three antique cars, a group of citizens representing the miner families in the Province, and mine pony.

The parade was over with in 15 minutes.

The rest of the time, I read a bunch of books.

I read these (plus the one below) in two weeks.

And there was one more — I had to return it the day after I got home from Alberta, and it was the best of the lot:

Killers of the Flower Moon. Source: Amazon.com

I could not put the Grann book down. I read it the entire flight from D.C. to Calgary. What was intriguing (at first) was the way Gann “fell into” this story, which was much like I fell into Emmett’s research. It took Gann years to piece the research together, and he talks about the internal wrestling and validation about the research process. He got caught up in the story of the Osage, and it became a huge part of his life — much like Emmett’s story has become mine.

It’s good to be back. But things will be a bit different. Because I was feeling burned out, I realized I needed to take healthy time away from the research, read other writers (because it really helps my writing in the end), and incorporate more balance into my workday.


Spring Cleaning


On Tuesday, I posted final grades for the spring semester of my classes. Typically, I take the week in between spring and summer semesters to clean out files, finish last minute prep work, and and prepare for the next set of classes.

In addition, I decided to do some Emmett Wilson spring cleaning. I’m going through ALL of the articles, resources, references, images, and notes collected over the past four years. It’s great re-acquainting myself with what I’ve collected.

My organization strategy has been twofold: First, because most of the information about Emmett comes from specific sources, I organized each item by year and title of publication or name of source. Second, I created a timeline for Emmett’s life, and broke it down into four different time periods. In each timeline entry, I note the date, the event, and the location in my files of my source. There’s over 6,000 entries to-date. Booyah!

Reviewing the files also gives me a great sense of relief and control, especially since this has turned out to be a much larger — and incredibly more rewarding! — project than originally anticipated in 2013. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scope of it.

Another great benefit of going through the files is finding interesting oddball things I saved when I first started Emmett’s project —

This, for example:

D-I_V-O-R-C-E, 1916-style. Source: University of West Florida Archives

Source: University of West Florida Archives

This letter wasn’t written by Emmett or Cephas Wilson; I’m not sure who wrote it; I found it as a loose document in the Blount family archive records at the University of West Florida.

I saved it because during this time Lula Wiselogel Wilson filed divorce papers against her husband, Cephas Wilson, according to a family genealogy. The genealogy did not say why the papers were filed against Cephas, but a quote in the genealogy from Berta Daniel Wilson (no relation to Emmett Wilson, but a neighbor of Dr. Francis C. Wilson family in Chipley) was interviewed about it and was quoted in the genealogy saying that Lula had filed the papers and, “…the gossip was terrible at the time.”

For what it is worth: Lula never went through with the divorce, but knowing that Lula was a force to be reckoned with, she probably could prove items #3 and #4!


Thanks, Sue Monk Kidd


I’ve been struggling with the first draft of Emmett’s book — the fine-tuning is driving me crazy. I’ve drafted 17 different versions of this first chapter since I started actually writing the book last year. Seventeen! ARGH. (Yes, I keep the drafts. Doesn’t everybody?)

Sometimes, it feels like the words just churn round and round — not falling into place fast enough to suit me — and that they never will.

Yesterday afternoon, amid the fine-tuning angst, I looked at a photo I have of Emmett in my office, and said out loud, “I feel like I’m getting nowhere. Help.”

My husband was passing by my office at that moment, and heard me talking to the photo. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get some lunch. You need a break.”

My favorite book by Sue Monk Kidd. Source: Amazon.com

So we went to Chipotle and sat in the window seats, admiring the beautiful, April day. The drinking cups at Chipotle have little essays on the back. Mine had one by Sue Monk Kidd,  one of my favorite writers, and the essay was about (surprise) the frustrations of being a writer.


Kidd’s essay advised learning to love the questions, and not be in such a rush to find the answers. Further, Kidd’s essay said that learning to love the questions

“… meant investing quality time with the questions themselves—listening, tending, wondering, contemplating, gestating, waiting. Such lovely, old-fashioned things. Employing them, I came to discover the passionate, half-buried pull I felt to write, realizing that writing brought me alive, caused me to lose all sense of time, and made me reach for excellence—all of which translated into happiness.”

The writing process — although I gripe about it a lot — it is one of the best things in my life. I appreciate it, struggle and all.

Oh — about the old drafts — One day, after I get the book published, I’ll get rid of them. For now, I keep them to remind me how far I’ve come.

In Praise of Sponsorship


As of April 27, I will have 10 years’ sobriety in AA.

Putting down the drink was the easy part of getting sober. Keeping away from the damn drink was the hard part — and I surely would not have accumulated this much time, one day at at time, unless I had some help.

But I’ve always balked at accepting help. I’m self-reliant, and I’ve always prided myself on being able to take care of myself. Looking back, I realize that was probably how I was able to survive growing up in an alcoholic household — but now, as a recovering person — I’ve come to understand that self-reliance; i.e., my best thinking, is what got me into AA in the first place.

Four months into AA, I found a sponsor. She was tough as hell on me. She told me if I was really serious about sobering up, and realize the benefits of The Promises, I’d have to follow her directions.

The AA Promises. From pages 83-84 of Alcoholics Anonymous’ big book. They do come true.

The self-reliant alcoholic in me resented another person telling me what to do. I resisted, but I also knew, deep down, that I needed accountability and structure in order to kick this disease, and my sponsor was my best chance to do that. I’d tried to sober up twice before — nothing else had worked.

I did what she said. I didn’t always want to call her every day to tell her what was going on. I didn’t always want to go to a meeting every day. I didn’t want to pray every day, especially for people in my office who I didn’t get along with, or the person who cut me off on the Beltway, or the idiot in the grocery checkout line who decides to pay with a check when I’m in such a hurry to get back to my so-important life!

But I did it anyway.

And it has made all the difference.

Are my problems *poof* gone thanks to sobriety? No.

But my life is manageable.

I still have problems with people in my office, but, thanks to the AA program, I feel more compassionate towards them. It has made a difference in my attitude and the way they act towards me.

People still cut me off on the Beltway, but maybe that person has had a terrible day, or is truly in a hurry to get to the hospital or somewhere else to help a loved one.

I realize I’m powerless over other people, places, and things. But, I do have power over my reaction to other people, places, and things.

And I sure as hell could not have arrived at any of this on my own — only through the help of a good sponsor.


Because I think that sponsorship works so well with my alcoholism, I decided to get a writing sponsor. I didn’t set out to ‘find’ one; this relationship evolved naturally.

You probably knew my first one — my dear friend Nancy. I used to talk to her almost every day about Emmett and the book, and the research. Our conversations were wonderful. I could talk to her about what I found about Emmett in the research, or about how I interpreted Emmett’s relationships with his family, for example, and she’d give me great feedback. It was clarifying and encouraging. Nancy knew my entire story, especially the AA part.

Jacki, myself, Nancy. History detective gals.

Eventually, I told Nancy that I considered her my ‘writing sponsor’, and she said she was honored that I thought of her that way — and voila, our writing sponsorship was born.

It wasn’t a one way relationship, either: Nancy also had writing and research projects underway, and she’d talk to me about them. We’d discuss research databases, research libraries, the best ways to interview reluctant sources, how to catalog articles — you get the picture. We were a team.

And when Nancy died this past January, I was devastated. I felt as if I lost a family member. I’ve really missed Nancy. It has been hard to keep up the writing and research with as much enthusiasm since she died.

But I think Nancy would have been really p-o’d if I wallowed in sadness and the listlessness I’ve felt since she died in January. She would have come up here from Florida and kicked my ass over it; no lie. Nancy would tell me, directly, to get a grip. Find a damn writing sponsor. I need one. She’s right, of course.

As of this weekend, I have a new writing sponsor.

I feel like my Emmett Wilson writing program is back on track.

Things are looking up.

Thanks to my sponsors.


Three Years


Happy Blog Birthday! Source: My talented daughter, Sage.

I started the Emmett Wilson book blog three years ago, about a month before my first research trip to Pensacola.

The blog wasn’t my idea, but my husband’s. He thought I ought to get the project out there, ‘market it’ (his words) so that when the time to publish rolls around, the word would already be out there.

I wasn’t thinking ‘marketing’ at all; rather, I was hoping to make connections with far-flung family members, genealogists, Florida historians and other researchers who might be able to fill in the many gaps I was finding in reconstructing Emmett’s life story.

It has all been beneficial — while the publication date of Emmett’s first book is still unknown, I’ve been privileged to meet many Wilson family descendants, and descendants of Emmett’s friends through this blog. Some of the information holes have been filled in, I’ve made wonderful new friends, I’ve learned so much about a distant branch of my family that has become precious and dear.

It has been rough in places, too. Data trails go cold. Sources don’t always prove useful. The writing muse neither speaks nor wishes to bother with me. And of course, a dear friend I met through Emmett’s research died of cancer this past January.

Still, the discovery process of piecing together Emmett’s life intrigues me like nothing else I’ve ever encountered in my life. And the writing — well, sometimes, I have to will the damn muse to work with me.

It’s all good; it’s all wonderful, really. And I am so grateful and humbled by the opportunity to tell Emmett’s story. When I think about it, I’m always a bit surprised at how this has come together, and thankful that I paid attention to that voice I heard in the middle of the night four years ago, when I was looking through an archive of photos, and found Emmett’s.

There is a lot more work ahead of me on this book, but I welcome it. I may complain and vent my frustrations about the process from time to time, but I wouldn’t give this up for the world.

And to quote my dear friend Nancy, who left us in January, “We’ve got this. It’s going to happen.”

Thanks for your interest in the continuing saga of uncovering Emmett Wilson’s story. Stay tuned; it is just getting interesting!