The cicadas are singing outside my window brilliant in their cadence. In the timing of the rise and fall of their voices harmonizing I find summer. There is nothing that takes me back to the lazy days of my childhood more than this sound. It lulls me into a kind motion that slows to nothing but the old, echo of the sound of cousins voices and the magical way they echoed up and down the creek in the quiet of those woods. You would think that I'm 100 years old now looking back at this but I do know we were somehow impervious to the slow, forward movement of time.
Here in my office a large clock hangs on my wall. The steady tick, tick, tick is having a rumble with the cicadas. They are singing time, time, is a deep well and the clock answers back - steady, steady as she goes. Today they are unified in their direction and discussions. One doesn't war with the other. Like the Ancient Greek words Chronos and Kairos - they have sworn an allegiance today to the idea of balance between these words and worlds. (Note for geeks and gurus -That there is chronological or sequential time and there is an opportune time for action that exists outside the realm of our attempts to entrap time and control it for our means.)
The Cicadas. They have always accompanied the moments in my life where time dared to slow to stop, to capture an eternal moment. Those summers, that Holy creek down in my Daddy's old home of New Hope, Florida which is just a stones throw outside of Vernon which runs up the road forty minutes or so from another world at Panama City Beach where there are waves rushing to the shore instead of insects harboring themselves just out of sight among the trees.
Life on the hill this morning is very Creek Like. Cousin Dave has resurrected an old playset that was broken down and built a clubhouse for the Charmings with a slide among the rocks of our backyard. Above it hangs the sign from Daddy's creek that informed everyone they could fish from the bank for a dollar, or from a boat for two, and that there was no swimming allowed. No swimming wasn't true at all it was just the rule. When the heat of Summer finds you and you are ten years old you will find the cool waters of a spring fed creek. Your feet will lead you into this water like you are called by some great power promising relief, the cicadas will sing and urge you on, the mud will ooze between your toes until you are deep enough to be water born, rising into the cool, dragonflies landing on lily pads nearby, their wings glitzing in the sun.
Today is that kind of day. I woke with that pressing thought of deadlines, work, write, record. And the cicadas sang to me, urged me to be still, to run my fingers through the memories of lazy, summer days. Not where we were lazy as a people. We were kids with the energy built for exploring, for creating, for make-believe. But the day itself was lazy in that it assured us we need not be rushed in our doing. That the day would stretch out before us with folds of this and tucks of that and it would all fit neatly into the corners of our lives. There would be time for lunch and later after Memaw had watched 'her stories' there would be time for quiet. Grandaddy would come in from bailing boats and feeding creatures and maybe plowing a field with Maude the plow horse. There would be box fans in the windows that would find a rhythm and the insects would all hush just a little in the heat of the day and we would sink into naps of quiet and rest and rise again to play and find purpose.
Mama went to visit cousin Deb for just a few days. I snapped a photo of the beach in the morning as I was driving back north to Nashville and then I swung by Daddy's old creek when I hit the turn off on Hwy 79 and drove over that old bridge, looked down at the water where I'd learned to swim and played all those summers with all those cousins and then I came on home and snapped one more shot of the fog rising from the little valley below our hill.
Looking at those photos now I'm surprised by their beauty. And their moods. That there they are as proof of this world and maybe of its softer side. We could use that now. The news assails us. Our hearts open and break or shut-down and carry on. We could use Cicada time and cousins and the reminder that there is in this world beauty and peace in some pockets, in some places.
And that old clock is whispering onward, steady as she goes.
A little News From the Hill
Recently FACEBOOK popped up on my phone with a notice that said - While you weren't looking - and then went on to explain in detail what people were doing in my absence. I found this slightly strange. Oddly disconcerting. As if there was a tad of guilt attached to that observation. But I thought I'd use that on this update sans the guilt. No guilt here. Besides, it's hard for you not to be looking when I'm not sending you words. While you weren't looking . . . storms rolled through Tennessee that have left thousands of us without power. It's an inconvenience to be certain. We are geared for things being charged and ways to see around the dark corners. Thankfully there has to my knowledge been no breakdown of civility. Case in point I stopped my car in the middle of the road after making a coffee run this early am to talk to some strangers I saw in their yards.
"Morning. Ya'll got any power?"
"No, honey. This here is my daughter's house and she is with CEMC. They got lights on. I live back down the road that away." She points in the direction of where I'm headed up the hill to my house. "And we got nothin."
"Me neither. Well, ya'll hang in there."
I drive up the hill thinking how pretty and green everything is. Wondering who bought that house with the pretty yard that looks out over the meadow and the river because my thoughts can go that way. Then I make it in the dark house and wake Mama up to say, "If you want your coffee at least lukewarm you better sit up in bed and drink it now." She does and asks me if I will bring mine in the bedroom to sit with her and so I do. Cause I can be like that too.
We talk about how by now everything in the fridge and freezer has gone bad. She wants to know if the Power company is gone give us some kind of credit for these days in the dark and tells me it's been too long now. I agree. It's been too long. Too long for comfort. And I think about all the friends and family who endured no power for weeks after Hurricane Michael and the residents of Puerto Rico who went months without power and how life can change on a dime or with a storm.
For just a moment I have enough charge to reach internet. Enough charge left on laptop to write. Imagine weeks of nothing. No communication. No way to connect with the outside world. To tell the news or receive it. Share a story or a recipe. The new dark ages they would be.
A slight breeze picks up, finds the window. It's still early enough that the air is cool compared to what it will be. Maybe I should open all the windows now. Try to fill the house with air while there is air to be had.
Yesterday. The storms rolled in again. Me and Mama sat in the dark of the living room. She asked me if I wanted to go sit awhile on the porch and I said ok but we have to hurry before it hits. She hurry's as best she can. Then we sit and the dogs sit. They will tolerate a little of this - the wind whipping and the trees blowing - but at the first loud clap of thunder they are ready for shelter and not the silliness of watching a storm roll in.
Mama says - "Do you remember me rocking with you and us watching the storms through the window?"
"I do Mama."
"I never wanted you to be afraid. I was so afraid of storms so I didn't want my child to afraid like me so I rocked you but I'm sure I put the chair back away from the window. We weren't in danger or anything."
"You also held me in your arms and we stood right by the window and watched them."
"Well, I just didn't want you to be afraid." She rocks and thinks a minute. "When I was six and that's a big girl to be so afraid I started crying and I remember I went to another room, we called it the side room cause it was just a little room on the side of the porch where company slept and that's where I went to cry cause I was ashamed and didn't want anyone to see me. John found me and come and picked me up and told me it was okay. Was nothing to be afraid of and I was alright."
I can tell by the way she is telling it that the memory is up close. Something that feels like right now and yesterday. John was the Uncle John of my stories. When we happened to both be living in South Florida close to Miami he pulled me outside during a storm to watch heat lighting in the clouds putting on a show worth laying your money down for. He was about ten years older than Mama but died now what seems like over twenty years ago. How does that happen? These people of ours passing though leaving such big footprints behind. We never imagined in all of our years, in all of their coming, there would come the day of there going and staying gone.
"One night during a big storm lightning struck our television and a ball of fire shot out of it and rolled across the floor. A ball I tell you. There was a big sound like an explosion when it hit and then I watched as this ball of fire rolled out of the TV set and across the floor until it disappeared."
"Where was I?"
"I imagine in a storm like that I had you in my arms because that's what I would have done unless I had laid you down for a minute. But you weren't on the floor with the fireball I can tell you that much."
"And I guess that television was history."
"Oh, it was history alright. Wasn't nothing left of it."
"Well, Mama that was something to see."
"A fireball rolling across the floor."
"Yes, it was sure something."
A fireball. Vaguely I have a strange memory. One of the air changing with the hiss of expectation to explosion, of a ball Made of all the colors of red and orange and yellow at once stirred together into something alive and magnetic, something powerful escaping the confines of that old Zeneth tv console. At the edges of my mind there is my mother young and frightened and full of wonder. The memory is either mine from ages past or something I've inherited now. A story passed down for the taking. As all stories are.
We sit till the trees bend low, the birds find shelter and the dogs lead us back inside where we will spend the night in silence that come with a street tossed to the darkness of dreams. Where everyone hopes and imagines they will wake suddenly to the flash of lights, the hum of machines kicking on again, the air conditioner sighing with relief as it resumes its long, trudge uphill against the summer.
Blessings to each of you as you walk that tightrope of your days between the darkness and the light.
A little News From the Hill - Oh, my lovely friends I have had to back track a little to get it all in. And I'm about to hit the road again for South Carolina where I'll be with the beautiful people at Burry Books for A Moveable FEAST tomorrow night for a great evening. If you are on the coast - check it out and see if tickets are still available. Can't WAIT! Now - backtracking on the spider story so I can work my way up to the Snake story, the fireant story and beyond.)
Yes, I was bitten by a brown Recluse. In my bed. At five am. I was not amused. I whipped on the light having known that yes, something has stung me and stung me bad - actually, feels like it may still be stinging me. I suspected Scorpion. I always suspect scorpions. Let's just call it that cabin in the woods writing experience. Once your writing cabin becomes infested with scorpions but you are DETERMINED to stay for a month to finish your deadline you are always suspecting of scorpions thereafter. No Scorpion. I would have fared better. Brown Recluse. How do I know? Cause I found it skutteling on it's spidery legs across my sheet and I gently killed it. Yes, I actually, purposely did this. I killed it with a sock so that I would not obliterate it into a blob of spider goo so that it could be identified by a doctor.
THEN - for the perfect transport I grabbed a box of Michael Farris Smith matches from his book, The Fighter with the cover of The Fighter on the front, dumped matches, stuck the spider in said box and placed it in my crossover bag which I just about wear to bed. Because it is a true crossover that fits like you are crossing over the big ocean and climbing mountains and traveling through the Aussie outback. These are my requirements for the proper purse. Because someone might say - HEY mate! You want to go to Australia today- I've got an extra ticket? And I won't even have to say, wait let me get my purse because I'll be wearing it. But I digress.
Oh, dead spider we will go, dead spider we will go, hi-ho the dairyo-deadspider we will go.
I thought of going to the emergency room at 5:30. But I had an important writerly conference call at 8:30 so I grabbed ice for bit, took Benadryl and drank extra coffee. Could not, would not miss that call. Hung up from call at 9:30 and walked out the door to the doctors. At first they asked, What makes you think it was a brown recluse? Then I pulled the matches from my purse and they were slightly confused by everything. They thought I was gonna light up. Which I can understand if you are sitting in the little room waiting too long after you have waited in the big room. THIS is a COFFIN I tell them and open the box. They are - impressed. Yes, That IS a brown recluse. And all the doctors confer to look at it. I am now The Fighter. I have earned their respect for killing and capturing the creature and bringing it in.Extra respect for not smashing it to smithereens.
The bite is on the inside of left arm. Right where one would receive a blood transfusion. I find all this evil and curious. I am supposed to be leaving in two days to drive across three states for a book luncheon event and to speak. To speak at a book luncheon event. There. That's better. As in - I'm not simply attending - I am the speaker. And showing up is highly favored upon the bookstore owners and the good people who have bought tickets. The show must go on I say. And something to the effect - DOC, you gotta hook me up with some antibiotics. I have read about these things. They tell me that they HATE to give me antibiotics because when the Zombies come and I really need them they won't work because I have built up a resistance. My arm is on fire like a hill of fireants are eating my flesh alive. I tell them I kinda think I need them antibiotics. They give me a tetnus shot. I kinda tell them I'm not leaving without some antibiotics. At this point they see the glazed, crazy look in my eye and consent because they have other patients waiting but me and that spider aren't going anywhere until they give me something. So, they concede and give me a weak antibiotic to take twice a day. Four hours later I call and tell them, JUST FYI - the red line is shooting up my arm to my heart! They tell me to take FOUR antibiotics and they will call in a refill. The weekend arrives. I call the hotline and say - you know, I think this thing is really getting worse. They tell me to go to ER or come into see them the next day. I always have things to do that preclude going to the ER. Like, I'm just gonna read this book and ice my arm and take 47 Ibuprofen and two Benedryl and look at this thing.
Next day. I go to the doctor. I PAINFULLY slide up my sleeve to my bicep. Any sort of thoughts of me saving antibiotics for the Zombie rush have now gone out the window. They order an antibiotic shot STAT and a STERIOD SHOT and call in MUCH STRONGER ANTIBIOTICS and ORDER AN ULTRASOUND at the hospital and SCHEDULE ME FOR BLOOD WORK.
"You guys know I got a thing to do right? Like I'm driving out of town tomorrow?"
Alone? they ask me.
"Don't be silly," tell them. "Of course alone."
My sister the nurse comes to look at my arm. I can tell she doesn't like it. Not one bit. And that she is in her stay calm mode. As in don't let the patient know how serious this is. She gives me instructions about - should this OPEN UP while you are on the road alone. (Actually, she didn't scream those words, she was speaking very softly, they just sounded like they were screaming) you need to wash it with this super -anti-fungal medicine from another planet and then PACK IT WITH THIS SPECIAL DRESSING I'm giving you and rub it down WITH THIS HORSE CREAM I GOT FROM TRACTOR SUPPLY. (I'm not kidding about any of that.)
MY SON, my funny, makes me laugh like nobody else tough as nails not much empathy for Mom's foibles son says - OH MY GOD! Do you want to lose your arm? Do you want to type with both hands? They should have sent you to a surgeon! That should have been opened up! You have to get that POISEN out! Do you know how serious this is???? And the most precious thing in the world is - he truly cares that his Mummy might become well, a mummy. He is worried about me and my having to type with one hand. Okay, he is worried that I am gonna die.
MY OTHER SON who just flew in from some television photo shoot desert thing says and calls me on facetime video and I answer in the dark because I have been up all night in pain with spider bite says - HEY - and I can see his face clear as day because it's day but I have glorious CRAIGSLIST BLACK OUT CURTAINS THAT ARE A SHADE OF EGGPLANT THAT I LOVE AND HAVE HAD FOR FOUR YEARS AND WILL NEVER GET RID OF - pulled because of the light and the night and the spider bite - and he says - MOM!!! WHY are you in the dark?????? And I say, 'because of the spider bite and I've been up all night in pain" and he says - What spider bite? You got bit by a spider? And then I say some stuff and love you and hang up. Then I text him a picture of the spider bite arm. And he text back - OH MY GOD MOM THAT IS AWFUL THAT LOOKS TERRIBLE AND YOUR ARM LOOKS LIKE A ZOMBIE ARM!!! (The Zombies. Always the Zombies.)
And these are guys who have been to war multiple times and they are both tough guys and so I appreciate the level of their concern. And I got to hit the road cause I'm a writer and there are people actually waiting who have bought tickets to see me and hear me talk about my book. Imagine that! I am not paying THEM to sit there and listen to me they have actually paid to listen to me talk about a book I wrote and want them to buy that they are buying. Yes, I'm going to take my antibiotics and my ice pack and I'm going to go be with them and tell stories.
So I'm like some lone cargirl cowgirl driving down the road signing, Me and my spider-bite . . . hihohiho - But it's more like Lone Desert Highway, cool wind in my hair - Cause my air is still broke in my car and I drive with all the windows down doing 80 and when I stop and get out people think I have purposely styled all this hair JUST LIKE THIS BECAUSE WHY ELSE WOULD SHE WALK AROUND WITH ALL THAT HAIR STICKING OUT. But they don't realize -
No, that woman is on medication cause her arm looks like the Zombies got her and she looks slightly crazy so we not gonna mess with her. This is true. People don't mess with me. Because they have a sense that all hell will break loose or there will be a Holy Ghost revival rain down and they just don't know but they know its something strange, something not just ordinary right there about that one.
Lone woman, ice bag on left arm where it looks like I had a bullet wound by some Steampunk Dystopian space gun. And I'm trying to ride this horse to the next town and make it before sundown.
The drive is 4000 hours away. I think I feel the fever coming on. The sun is setting and a storm has whipped up on the Maggie Valley side of the mountains. But the show - the show must go on because it's about the power of story. This thing That is in my blood. More powerful than spider. Full of light and not of shadow. It's about brining the story home. And sharing it with the incredible people who support authors and celebrate new novels and memoirs, these offerings of words on paper.
Wishing you incredible, beautiful ordinary days.
There's nothing like it. Being on the road. Being on the road for book tour and then being on the road with Mama for miles and miles. Her telling me stories. I thought I blogged about it but realize now it was a Facebook post. About the air in the car going out. About her declaring with the windows down, the wind in our hair, her feet on the dash where they belonged - "This is just like being back in the cotton fields" and me saying - "Now Mama! You know this is NOT cotton field hot!" Like I have picked cotton all of my life. I have never stood in the middle of the hot, blaring sun of the south in the dirt of a cotton field in my life. But you wouldn't know it by the way I KNOW Cotton field hot because I have listened to the stories of my people all of my life. Like an introvert. Like a quiet child. Like a writer. We are always listening. Absorbing like a sponge. We are the witness to life and and the keeper of story.
Mama was a trooper. Broken air and all. We made it to Panama City where I got to read and speak to people that included friends from Bay High school. And past board members of the Children's Advocacy Center where I used to be the Executive Director once upon the time in another life. From the Books Alive history of work at the Northwest Florida Library Country Library. From my writer days in Panama City. Friends. My Cousin. My Mama. My life. And man - did they not all honor and surprise me. Every single one of them.
I have not properly captured - anything. Much. I mean to take photos. I mean to ask someone to take photos. I don't do either one. I gather a few here and there but they are rare. I thought I'd finish my novel on the road. Hahahaha. No. I have not. I thought I'd blog everyday to share the wonderful experiences of meeting readers on the road. I have not.
But I can tell you this. I believe more than ever in the power of story that sustains and connects us. I believe that Confessions of a Christian Mystic in all it's glorious strange title has touched lives here and there and everywhere. I've continued to be blown away by your notes and comments on Facebook and privately about what the book has meant to you. It means I'm still breathing for a reason. Still writing and that words in our lives are so important. A special thank you to readers who have driven two hours or more to get to an event. Some who have read my books previously and others who just caught news and were captivated and came as if on pilgrimage.
I'm so thankful for every minute and mile and for your time. I want to wander in your lives and share the mystical moments that have happened on this tour. I want to revisit my moments on the beach, to write about Panama City and the rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. To write about the retired Episcopal Priest who came last night to the signing and a man who also attended, came in early that day - bought my book and read the ENTIRE thing- before the event. Then they saw each other.- He happened to be in her parish 30 years ago as a single dad with his sons and they hadn't seen each other for 30 years until - last night. At my book event. And I will not lie. I live for these moments. I mean, I travel a thousand miles for these moments. I count all won and lost in these moments. The value of human life and this power of story. Of us being together.
In the midst of tour the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. Burned. The cross hung untouched. Glowing in the ashes. The world stopped. Watched. Prayed. My heart went sick and heavy. I wrote on Instagram that sometimes something happens where you feel the gravity of the earth shift, an important piece of the puzzle of us fall away. This was one of those moments. One where we didn't know something was so important to us until it was in flames. Smoke. Ashes. No longer there. Then the photo that captured my heart the most. The one of the firefighters staring at the cross that remained. It's the heart of humanity connecting with the Divine that changes the equation to me. It makes it - everything.
Today I've been held up in Fairhope, Alabama after a great event last night at Page and Palette. I'm working my way to New Orleans. To Garden District Books tomorrow night. They say A storm is brewing. NOLA has seen a few storms, some hurricanes. They say - come on. We are ready for you and waiting with open arms. And I say- alright. I'm coming. Headed on down the road.
Right now, Frankie is playing on the speakers, a woman just said - I'm so out of it. I just rolled in. And the customer said - Rolled in with some stories I take it.
And I wanted to say - Amen. Rolled in with some stories. Gonna share some stores. Listen and collect some stories.
I so hope to see you out there on the road. I'll be in NOLA at Garden District Books tomorrow night and next week at Novel in Memphis, TN. Please come visit. You rock my world when you do.
Peace and Love from out here. Wishing you traveling mercies in all that you do
And so it has begun. The road trip. The book tour. The seeing people on the road. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook their are more photos than I can post here but I am moved by every single soul I meet along the way. That includes the strangers, the surprises.
I grabbed Little Miss Sunshine and hit the road. (She's pictured here at a writer's hideaway in Oxford, MS before my visit to Square Books. Can you tell she's smiling. Well, she is. ) For those who haven't followed years of road trips and book tours Sunshine is the name I gave to a carry-on bag I purchased years ago for a book tour. It was me going very against type because I normally wear black on black with a side of black. Carry a black bag. And a black suitcase. I was in a professional luggage years ago preparing for book tour and had decided I would invest in a piece of luggage that would survive the miles ahead of me. Something with those magical 360 wheels that glided and rolled and zippers that refused to be broken. A hard case worthy of a few hard miles. I was checking out with a black bag when I turned and looked up and saw this multi colored case on high display in the corner of the store. "Wait!" I said - "I think - I want to see that one." They took her down, I rolled her around. Contemplated color. That wild splash of color. And thought - yeah, she's going with me.
My journey with Little Miss Sunshine as I named her started and we went coast to coast to coast. Airline security smiled when they saw her coming. Passengers commented. Hotel clerks. She brought sunshine wherever she went. Eventually, the metal started sticking out of the edges of the handle, her paint peeled off. She got battered, worn, weary. Just like me. It took years but I finally put her in the back of the closet. Ordered a set of three white metal cases one Black Friday super sale on line. They arrived. I looked at them suspiciously. They didn't even blink at me. I thought - well, I'll just cover them with travel stickers. Places I've been and others I've longed to see. I took them on one trip to Residency. Crammed with too much stuff, too many books, things to stay warm. Their wheels drug a little bit. They didn't have the - dare I say it - magic of Little Miss Sunshine. And they didn't smile at me from the corner of a hotel room when I went to bed at night in a strange city miles from home. They. Did. Not. They also turned out to be the bane of my existence when I had to end up on a Greyhound Bus in between cities that was delayed for a day and that is another travel story entirely. One I've written but not published. You cannot spend days in a Greyhound Station or on the bus with three white suitcases, a laptop bag, and a purse. If only I had just little Miss Sunshine and My Backpack we would have been in fine shape.
BACK to - the moment at hand. It was time to hit the road for Confessions of a Christian Mystic Road trip. I pushed those white suitcases to the corner of the room, reached far back into the closet and drug out the battered, metal baring, paint peeling old friend. Little Miss Sunshine rides again.
THE MAGIC OF THE MOMENT
Amazing things happen on the road. Surprising things. People come into your life that you weren't expected. With it, they bring their stores. There is the conference of crossing lives that doesn't happen unless we are out on the road, out of comfort zones, our normal agenda's. It brings to mind so many stories after so many books and so many years. Taxi drivers in New York who told me stores about how they arrived, where they came from. About what they read to their children. Sherlock Holmes comes to Mind. A taxi driver told me of reading the series to his daughter when she was young and for the rest of their lives he called her Sherlock and she called him Watson. Those are the kinds of stories you pick up on the road. The power of real lives.
I stopped at a rest stop to use the rest-room and get right back on the road but when I was walking to my car an old man was standing outside is car, maybe he could have been my Daddy's age if he'd be living now. He had a metal arm, wore a cap that showed he was a Vet, been in the service, served maybe more than just a few years for certain. He still had that air of military on him. Of having served. And as I tried to walk right past him and hurry to the car my feet pulled up to a sudden stop. I mean, full on stop. I sort of just stood there looking at him and said So, how are you doing today? The sun was shining, the sky blue, the miles ahead of me piling up by the minute and me - as is my usual - already falling behind. Already with more to do than time and space allow. He was smoking a cigarette and paused and smiled, surprised. What I didn't say was thank you for your service. That might have been implied. He said, What brings you out on the road on a pretty day like today? So I told him. Book tour. Got a book. Doing a thing.
So you're a writer?
That I am, sir.
Is that a fact? My, my.
And then we talk a bit. He's waiting on his daughter. She just had a baby and they were coming back from Nashville headed home to Memphis. The baby had been premature he said. Not but a few pounds. But now - "He's all the way up to twelve pounds. Just had his checkup. He's doing fine."
So glad to hear it. I dug around in the car. Found my reading copy of Confessions. Signed it for him and passed it on. Then headed on down the road. Because. We have one life, our stories, this Divine moment of compassion and consideration and a moment, just a moment to reach each other. To whisper those words, All is well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
And we are not alone.
Peace and love to you and yours. Me and Little Miss Sunshine got to get on down the road.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.