Well, I wrote a nice long eloquent blog for us all and then hit the wrong button and it deleted. So no pretty words. Just the bottom line.
Like most or many of you we are on lock down. It's amazing how much you love your space until you can't leave it. Right? Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just itchy. Hankering for a road trip with none forthcoming for a good while. So me and Mama - on the hill. Have some precious family we still see because we have all been shut in and exposed to one another and no one else. If that changes - no visitors. No tea with Sister or laughing with my son Chris and his little wolf pack or my beautiful niece and handsome nephew. Our tribe will downsize if and when that happens to two. Me and Mama on the hill. The way it's been for a long long time. But. - You guys are missing loved ones too. Thank God for Skype, FaceTime, zoom - take your pick. Tech suddenly matters more than it ever has.
In our world. I am covered in paint. There is paint in my hair. I have not worried about washing it out. Who cares? I don't. I have painted the kitchen. cabinets and the baseboards and the pantry. It has made a gallon of paint seem like the stuff the universe was born from. Like magical stardust I tell you. Like a fairy godmother came along and gave me a wish and I said - Geez maybe you could do something with those old nasty brown cabinets and that spider ridden mouse attracting pantry. Voila. She did. Only the she was me. Day in and out. Write, work, record. Then paint. Sometimes wander downstairs exhausted at 5:30 and then pick up a paint brush to paint while I cooked dinner and while I ate. I have drug (as we southerners are prone to say) Mama's rocking chair into the kitchen so she can sit and eat and watch and drink coffee and say - you missed a spot. And she is delighted. I also figured out how to string up a light in the pantry of dark-y dark darkness where cans always fell on your foot and you could grope around for days with a flashlight trying to find something you were looking for. If I should die from Covid next week you guys should know - that girl can paint. But she can be a little messy with it. Not on the walls - those are good. Trim, good. Cabinets good. Pantry pristine. Like - dudes - I've always imagined the property brothers coming in the house to tell me - this house just doesn't have any good bones to start with. you gotta bulldoze. And I'll say - NOT THE PANTRY. Cause I figured out to hide a fuse box the size of weather balloon. This pantry was never meant to be a pantry. It was - a spider holder. A mouse farm. BUT now - It's a freaking pantry and that's what I would tell them. Take the house if you must but leave me the pantry because it may be one of the single greatest accomplishments of my life. Yes, this is what corona has done to me thank you very much.
That and I've come down to only two major important food groups. Coffee. Red wine. That's it. I mean I'm going straight up basics.
Sure - I have flour, beans, rice. Yes - people can live on that for years according to my depression era rural poor family. All we ate was one biscuit a day and we were glad to get it. On Christmas it came with a little syrup on the side. That's it. And we pulled cotton in the cotton field in the hot sun - note to ya'll - do not ever open the door to get stories about picking cotton in the hot sun because I can tell you it is the worst work you can ever get but by God if you do it and keep doing it to survive you are one of the strongest people on the planet. I was raised working yes but also lying on the beach in the sun with Banana Boat intense MUST TAN BEFORE YOU WEAR THIS tanning lotion and baby oil and Iodine. I tanned professionally. Seriously. And my dear Grandmother who would move heaven and earth to be with me and protect me looked at me like I was crazy. Slightly. Not full on cause she loved me too much but she would say honey, stay out of that sun. That's because I didn't have to pick cotton sunup to sundown to survive in that hot dusty field with only one biscuit to eat all day. So the sun meant something else to me. It was like - an accessory for the skin.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, the plague. Writers. Stories and so forth.
We should be writing fabulous stories filled with pages of life changing words. But because writers can also be shape shifters many of us fill the pain a little close to the bone of every person who has died around the globe knowing that each one is attached to their life story and the stories of all the people who loved them and never got to say goodbye so we are having a hard time CONCENTRATING.
Yes, that is a little bit of an issue. And then we have a flip side of - I just don't care that I'm not concentrating. What difference does it make anyway? And also an underlying anxiety that I AM NOT PRODUCING because - maybe it's me, a writer thing, an American thing - I don't know but I am always wanting to hustle, produce, create, finish, record, promote. Hang Ten. So this strange ball of confusion engulfs me where I don't know should I rush out of the bed and do sit-ups and push ups? Or check all the socials? Socials win. I've never been so dependent on social media to connect me to other people who like me are disconnected.
I'm thinking tomorrow I'll wake up ready to rock and roll and be my old self. But tomorrow hasn't come.
In January - January 21 when I first saw the videos leaking out of China I went to bed at night, barely slept, and saw what was heading our way and would not be stopped. For days I kept checking the numbers in China not believing them for a moment and watching the flight trajectory's of the last planes leaving Wuhan and the trains stations. And, I knew. So what did I do?
I watched four seasons of THE EXPANSE on Amazon Prime and painted cabinets. After all, this was serious times and took serious measures. But I realized somethings - the big pictures, the national picture, the safety of all humanity was out of my hands. I hate that when it happens. But hasn't it now?
So - as I told my son, Nick yesterday on FaceTime - I'm not afraid of dying - I'm more afraid of letting your nana die. My primary focus has been to help her stay alive into her 90s so this monster has put me in the awkward position of protecting her from - everything. Infection. people. Marauders. Hopelessness. Fear. Hunger. I forget. She's a babe of the depression. She's tough as nails and stronger than I am. No, she can't go out or be infected but mentally - I asked her once - What was it like Mama in the depression? She said - Hell, we don't know there was a depression. It just leveled the playing ground. We had always been depressed.
See what I mean?
So when I say hey - I've got firewood if the power goes out. We've got iron skillets and beans and flour and water. And she says - We can live a year off that. She means it.
In the meantime - while we are still in this spot and living on the edge I will not lie. I am not taking this time- at least not yet -- to embark on some new GEEZ isn't this just. A GREAT TIME to get into fighting shape and meditate and fast and pray. Not. yet. I told a friend the other night on a l zoom social - I should be fasting and praying not drinking. And he sagely said - I think there is a time for fasting and a time for prayer and a time for drinking. And that this is a time for drinking.
The world has turned topsy turvy. The writers I know and love who are friends of mine had book tours scheduled and new releases coming out. The kids were in school looking toward family vacation. Now everyone is sheltered in place and nothing is the same. we watch posts from friends who are doctors and nurses working twelve -fourteen hour shifts without the proper medical supplies and we cry with them to survive. And our stories suffer a little. They do. The ones we are meant to be writing. But that won't be forever. Out of this many stories will be born. Wait and see. I promise you.
I cling to every shred of good news and human kindness. I love that Willie and Paul Simon were playing for free with a host of others. I love that writers are offering free readings, lessons, artists of all kinds the same. That we are embracing one another across all of our social distances the best we can. And many of us preciously appreciating every golden moment.
There hasn't been a moment of this time that I have forgotten about my readers, my friends, my family far and wide. Or my stories waiting to be told. I've just been caught in a limbo of sorts. A what was and what will be. I've thought - geez I should have learned to work a garden like my Grandaddy Skipper but it was easier for me to be in the city of NY where I could pick up food every night at the week from the bogettara down the street. Which would allow me more time to write and record and produce. That's been my hustle and love and passion and lifestyle along with loving my family for many years. Now? Should I learn to bake bread? Grow Potatoes? Cut my own hair? (I'm about thirty minutes out of doing this?) Do I sit and wait or create a new lifestyle. Have things changed for a little while or have they changed forever? Only time will tell.
In the meantime - I encourage you to - well, not be like me. To not be anxious, for anything. To reach out by phone and FaceTime or whatever portal works for you to connect with people. If you can't concentrate on a new book - pick up one of your favorite old ones and reread it. Sometimes that is more soothing. Binge watching a new series. Oh, for heaven's sake - YES. If there was ever a time for you to get lost in discovering the excellence of Stranger Things in all it's glorious 80s then it is now. I do believe in daily sending out what I believe is light, peace, goodness, healing - to the entire planet. To - as one Italian man told me in Lorca, Italy one night - It's a party not just for some of the peoples but FOR ALL THE PEOPLES. If there has ever been a time that we are going through something together as one people on this planet this is it. My tag line in some of my bios is - A southern girl with a global heart. (Someone once said - I don't know what that means) I hope you do now. I've never known a time that we were as connected, that we needed to share ideas, discoveries, hope, laughter, and love with people from every corner of the world then now.
Perhaps tomorrow, this real tomorrow, I'll get up and get back into the stories I'm writing and they will flow as freely as red wine. But if they don't - I'll be gentle with myself knowing that time will come. Surely, it will come. And take solace in the fact that Mama can rock in the kitchen while I make peas and cornbread. That we can sit on the porch and watch the sunset. That in the am - dawn will come. And, with it there is always a glorious chance for the resurrection of hope.
Peace, Light and Love to you All.
* We are a tough people we humans. We surprise ourselves at every turn. And if we have in the course of modern society taken a few things for granted, fast food - movie theaters, gathering easily with friends, hugs, kisses, love, life - we'll come out of this on the other side with a little more wisdom for the worry.
This famous photo:
This woman is Florence Thompson, age 32, and the mother of five children. She was a peapicker in California. When this picture was taken by Dorothea Lange, Florence had just sold her family's home for money to buy food. The home was a tent.
In an interview available on YouTube, Florence revealed that her husband Cleo died in 1931. She picked 450 pounds of cotton a day. She moved to Modesto in 1945 and got a job in a hospital.
When I've been away from my blog and away from you for oh so long, too long - I always want to begin as my friend Kaya McLaren does in her most excellent facebook posts - For Friends Who Like Long Letters - because I can let you know right up front that way this will be long and it will be rambling in the same wonderful way that Kaya unravels the threads of her life before us in her words to share what is happening in her world. I often try to share her posts and am always frustrated and surprised when I find I can't share them because she hasn't set the post to share. And I also admire the fact that she basically is saying you don't own my words and can't free fling them into the universe where people may not understand me. These words are for my friends and for them alone. They have come here to this page of their own accord and are kind and gentle souls who understand the wildness of my spirit and the pathos of my soul. She is a warrior I would follow into battle and sit with in peace. Friend her and you will be able to discover these wondrous musings of hers that I am unable to share.
Where do I begin? The world has shifted seemingly overnight or in a week in our country. Although it only seems this way. I'll show you where I've been. Many of you know that last year I went to Scotland for research on a book titled The Ancient Way. It was a wondrous journey and the telling of it became more than research the journey became the story. I can't wait to share it with you. I think its even available for pre-order now but that's not the purpose of my post. Those will come later, closer to pub time. Today I am thinking of the things that happen that we don't realize are happening as they are happening. Like, if we are saying our last words for the last time but we don't know that we are. Or if someone is leaving us before our very eyes and saying goodbye in so many ways but we're blind to this happening because we are going about our normal in our natural habitat. Like, I am right now. Writing to you from my office upstairs that looks out over the hill where the skies today are grey. Yesterday they were bright blue and the day was glorious and I wanted to go outside and soak up some sun to heal me from all manner of maladies - a sinus infection, and general aches and pains and such but the sun she heals me all the time. Always has. Lying on a beach, suntan oil drenched, gulf coast waves washing in and the sun warming me all the way through to my bones. Me and cousin Deb laughing and that AM radio blaring WDLP - Here Comes The Sun - And I say it's Alright. We lived in glory days. Our entire community of Panama City Beach - high school one big rambling group of chill if you ask me. Neighborhoods and clubs and clicques aside - all I remember was we were just all alright together. That there was natural weaving in and out of our days. And whatever darkness any of us were dealing with at home was somehow left behind when we entered those doors at Bay High or hit the beach. Life was good.
Where was I? The sun. I wanted to go sit on the hill. Take a book. Let the sun heal me inside and out. But instead I opened a paint can and started again. The kitchen cabinets that have been a busted dirty brown for God knows how many years. All my years of being here and all the years before - suddenly I decided they must be white. Could be white. Would be white. Granted I didn't have the money to rip them out and replace them like they needed but by Glory I could hit that little boutique down the street known as Wal Mart (love it or hate it it's what we got) and get a gallon and a brush, put on my ball cap and my jeans and earphones and start knocking it out. And out and out and out. And yesterday was my finishing of a sort. Got them covered. Most with a couple coats. Patched the holes. Silcone. My hands look like - well a working woman's hands. Like a cabinet maker. Skin ate up with scrubbing paint off. Gloves slow me down. Paint thinner burns a little but it works just fine.
I woke Mama up most mornings and said - Time to Go to Work. I drug her rocking chair in the kitchen where she could drink coffee and watch me. She said - You got a talent for this. You might be able to make some money at this you know. (Last year I painted the living room while she watched amazed that I could cover the walls, climb the ladder, roll it out, trim and tape.) Yep, I tell her. There's some hope in that. Maybe I could make some money painting. - -
I think you like it, she says. Seems so.
Let's my hands busy while my mind thinks Mama. Right now I gotta story running through my head. It involves a woman in the woods feeding wild coyotes. She's got a plan. Is up to something.
Hmmm, she says.
She is better with the concrete manner of things. Let the painting just be the painting, no stories hiding there. Let it all be what we see. Just what we see, nothing more and nothing less. An honest days work where at the end of the day something can be weighed and measured for its worth.
Hard to do that with words. So nebulous. So quiet.
Mom says look at all that hard work. You did that. It's amazing.
And I think - writers need someone who says this when they close their laptops at the end of the day. When they've done good work, when the work just wouldn't come out right. When they had to start over and over and over again. One more time.
So yesterday, there was that glorious sunshine and me on my knees with the paintbrush, me on the stool with the paintbrush, over the stove with the paintbrush. One more cabinet, one more inch, one more cabinet. Then the knobs. Take off those thirty year old knobs with stripped screws. Screw in new knob. One drawer, one cabinet, one drawer, one cabinet. One by one. One more time.
Before the glory of my Bay High days I went to a little Middle School called a Jr High then by the name of Jinks Jr. High. Hornets were our mascot. I don't know why. But they are formidable I'll give you that. It's just yesterday and I'm in 7th grade and I tell my teacher that I want to study Dante and read it in the original language. I think he asked me what I planned to do when I grew up or what I wanted to study in college or some such thing. He looked at me a little strange and said - Why would you want to do that?
To which I'd have to answer as the beautiful Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo once told me over lunch when I lived there - In our language there is no word for Why.
Let's just call it a Divine quest for lack of better reasons. Dante's Divine Comedy. A journey through the Inferno, Purgatory and on to Paradise. Must be a reason.
Life goes on. The beach waves roll in. Baby's come along to rock and raise. Life threads between our fingers all the time. Songs to be said and laughs to share. Tears to weep and weep and weep. And then to wonder - why was I crying? I forget now.
The birds outside the window on the hill are fussing something serious. We've been out of seed for days and it seems they've had enough of it. Demand that we restock supplies. Get back on schedule. Some kind of schedule. But schedules are strange things. They're there until they aren't. Till the world shifts into shadows.
Thursday I'll be on a plane heading to Seattle and then on to Whitbey Island to SPU MFA program. This quarter we are studying Dante. We are studying the translation that features the original Italian on each facing page. Imagine. Divine quests. In due time.
January China made public notice that a new virus was wrecking havoc in Wuhan. The news reports were sketchy - far apart. But the twitter feed. Different story. Escaped footage. Whistleblowers. Real faces in real time saying - it's not what you hear. It's not what you see. It's fast. It's worse. Seven people dead. Ten. Seventeen. The city of Wuhan shut down. Bulldozers pulled in to tear up roads. Blocking escape. Go home, speakers said. Stay home. Infected. 1000. I looked at the roads. The videos. The police. The healthcare workers sending out illegal pleas that were soon erased. I poured a glass of wine, went to bed. Called my sister. Told her forty million people are locked down. She asked the number again. I repeated it. Caught my breath. Then I went downstairs. Showed my mother videos of funny dogs, kittens, flowers.
Went back to bed. Watched the lock down in real time. Watched the last planes leaving Wuhan. Watched the actual flights in real time and where they were landing - everywhere. Around the world. I woke up, picked up my phone. Checked the numbers out of Wuhan. Numbers I couldn't trust as far as I could spit. And made a cup of coffee and said my prayers.
I went on Twitter. Searched for the top virologists, the experts, the people paying attention. Starting making a list. I stopped when I got to 100. I followed people who had thousands. I followed people the experts followed. I checked that list, that feed. I watched the leaked videos. of Mothers in china having to say goodbye to children to go to the hospital in another city to work never expecting to come home again. I watched the doctors on the front lines working until they were infected and died. They were thirty five years old.
I made Mama coffee, said - Look at the birds.
It's a woodpecker, a red bird, a new bird.
I wrote a story. Made more edits to -The Ancient Way. Lingered over the words about the light. The light. The light. I thought about the light of Iona. The eternal everlasting light. Here I found some peace.
I wrote a blog on Psychology Today about praying everyday at noon for the people on the front lines of the Corona Virus that still didn't have a name. I went to sleep praying for those people - the sick, the frightened, the healthcare workers, the first responders. I watched videos of houses being nailed shut. With people inside. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see.
I stared at my plane ticket for Seattle. I read Dante's Inferno. Thought about divine plans. And how the world spins and spins and spins and something spins out of control.
I recorded a radio show with my friend Kaya about her radio show - The All Women All Country radio show and was proud of that. Giving space and airtime to these great women of song often overlooked or not known. I read a book. Watched an episode of The Expanse - series set in the future far out in space. It seemed a good place to be. Far, far away.
I cooked peas and cornbread and collards and corn for Mama and she said - Boy, that was good. I think I'll have some more.
I made coffee and sat on the porch with dirty old wild dog Kevin. We looked out over the hill and thought about one day soon it would be spring. And we waited for what we knew was coming.
Seattle. Ground zero. The first case of the unknown virus made itself known. The patient was being treated in isolation with a robotic arm by health care people wearing hazmat suits. Do tell. I poured a glass of wine. Said my prayers. Started thinking how great my life has been. How damn great. Regrets. Not so much. A shadow here, a turn there. Wish I had been a little wiser in some ways. For the most part I've been decent. Stayed true.
Back when I grew up that beach was a paradise. That's what we grew up on. Sand dunes far as you could see. Sea Oates that rustled. Sandcastles down by the wash of the waves. There was no better place to be. I've seen a thousand sunsets over that Gulf. Can hear the waves down deep in my soul. They'll never be erased.
This day is not going to see the sun. The grey has settled, planted its cloudy feet. Determined. A hawk sails over the sky searching for red birds, tiny bits of things, mice. Rabbits on the run. One day last week a flock of vultures landed in a tree. Nothing dead. Hopeful, resting, waiting. Kevin barked wild, non stop, circled the tree. They flapped their black wings. I laughed at his insistence. He was out of breath when he climbed the hill but smiling, successful. I said - Good dog.
Another country, another case. I checked the numbers in China every morning like the stock market. Then went on instagram. Found something pretty to look at. Tried to push the novel, Station Eleven from brain as I told everyone you should read it. Now. Listened to people say this is just a little virus. Like the flu. Nothing but a virus. Don't you know - nothing but a virus is also called a plague. But what are words? So light. No weight. No substance.
I wore out my prayer beads until they broke. In and out of my pocket. My purse. My fingers. Finally they are unspooling. I try to keep them but the beads fall to the floor, the sheet, the chair. One by one, roll and disappear. I make a note. Need new prayer beads.
I found a funny photo of puppy. Mom thinks it is the funniest thing. A Siberian husky and he is so little but looks so mean. I understand they are not. They are friendly to a fault. And trouble. I think someday I'll get one. For company when Kevin's gone. I hope that is a long, long time. He is unruly and some trouble. Is not big Dog Titan. Doesn't sleep in my room but on the hill watching over all as we sleep. But he love me something fierce like I am something special. Everyone should feel like that.
I check the numbers, watching the cases lighting up in countries around the globe. Pack my bags in faith. In that bizarre follow my destiny kind of faith. I watch the calendar of days. I know science. I know what fourteen means and twenty one. I understand the world exponential.
My mother used to managed a restaurant on the beach. Right on the water. I worked there when I was eleven, twelve, and so on. Eventually graduated in age from morning shift to night shift where the college kids worked. Spent all those years, every summer right there looking at the waves in sunlight, moonlight. Rain or fog. Saltwater in the air. Paradise.
When I was a kid and then a teenager there was the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. That is a mouthful but it was a big deal. A family affair. My Memaw road through the Haunted House. You could hear her scream all the way to the Ferris wheel. The night, the lights, the spinning rides, the smell of corndogs and cotton candy. Paradise.
This hill has been a comfort to me and to mine. For years The Adorables came every summer for a month and played furiously in their 'clubhouse' out back. Spun stories, arranged rocks in odd patterns. I left them there for seven years. Couldn't bare to unstack them. Like they might come back, return to their childhood and expect to find them there, like I did my sandcastles. And the baby boys - those Charmings have done the same. Their clubhouse, their little three dollar swimming pool, the water hose, watermelon dripping down there arms, their faces wide in happy grins. Paradise.
My Mama though, she misses Florida and always will. She misses flat land. But still she says look out there today - It looks like Old London Town - when the fog is rising, lingering, settling around the house. Or the wind is whipping up the hill, whistling through the house. Just listen she'll say. Just listen.
It's almost time to plant the window boxes again. Just yesterday the trees budded out all over Nashville. New life. New season. The world goes on in spite of. In the middle of.
I check the numbers out of China. Check Italy. Iran. New Zealand reports first case. Brazil reports first case. Argentina reports first case. I buy Mama tulips just because.
I show Mama funny pictures of a little dog leaning to howl, a little girl crying because she got a new kitten saying, Can we keep him? We can? We can keep him?. And I cry and she cries cause the little girl is crying.
I look at the cabinets. Put in my earphones, put on Willin by Little Feat, open the paint can. Dip in the brush. Make a difference where I can. A little white paint. A hard days work. Something to show.
I get quiet. Go off line a bit. Don't write much on the socials. Don't post on my Reader posse videos. Cause I'm painting and thinking and thinking and painting. And praying.
Just the flu someone says. And I watch the numbers. Count hospitals beds, healthcare workers with hazmat suits. Healthcare workers with no hazmat suits. China called in the army. Italy closed all the schools. Locked down. A doctor in the US calls the ER and says - I've got a fever, I' think I've got it. They tell him to stay home. They can't provide quarantined space right now. He calls back, is transferred to a recorded line about CoVID 19.
I open the paint can at night. Pour a glass of wine. Paint another cabinet. Another coat. Mama says - I sure am proud of you. That's looks so good. Thanks Mama.
I got a storm rolling up in my soul. Do you feel like a do? I turn the music up.
I think about things. What's important. What's not. What's lest and what's most. What adds up and what needs to be laid down. Now. By everyone. While there is still time. All those sharp edges. Degrees of you and me. Me and them. This side, that side and upside down. We're down to us. Us and us and us. Now and now and now. Here's where we stand.
Now I check Seattle numbers every morning instead of China. Then I flip to Italy. Watch Italy. Real time in real numbers.
It's better to use paint with built in primer. Makes it easier anyway. Still. Sometimes you need more than one coast. More than two. Sometimes it take a whole lot to make something old look something new.
Got a new baby one the way. He's growing everyday. The Adorables have cornered the market on that pet name. The Charmings are a little ahead of him. But I know he will be adorable. He will be charming. Already is. I watch the videos of his ultrasounds in wonder. He sucks his fingers. Hungry to be alive. To see the world.
I think I'll plant Ivy again. It's something green I can grow. Something enteral. And I'm gonna try something new this year. A butterfly garden in the flower boxes. Because I can. Because you never know.
The world's going in quarantine. The schools in Seattle close - go to online classes. The University of Seattle goes to on line classes. The University of Seattle Pacific goes to on line classes. I read Dante. Watch my plane ticket go up in smoke. Unpack my suitcase. My calendar still has the two weeks blocked out in red - SPU MFA - DANTE.
I go to the church, pull up to buy new prayer beads. As I'm about to get out the first case of COVID19 is reported in my city. The next day the first case in my hometown. No place it seems is left untouched.
I come home. Tell Mama let's find a movie to watch. Cook something I don't remember. Breathe. Just breath. Kitchen's looking good she says.
Getting there, I tell her.
It's March. On the inside I'm getting quieter. Stiller. In January - way back in January I was calling my sister, talking to friends, my sons sounding a little panicked. I'm not panicked anymore. I'm painting. Earphones in. Little Pink Houses. Ain't that America. Home of the free.
I've been working on that story about the woman, the coyotes. Yesterday - out of the blue in turned into a full blown novel. In the split of second. Seven sisters. Each one with a story that leads into a story. It just might be a Southern Gothic Tour de Force. Never know. It can happened.
Back sometime in one year me and Cousin Deb drove up to Dothan Alabama to see Joe Cocker in concert. Feelin' Alright - turn it up. I just can't waste my time. I must get by. There's too much to do before I die. Feelin' alright. Not feeling too good myself. Feelin' alright.
And so it goes up on this hill. Everything's just as normal as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
And in the middle of it I've never stopped thinking about you. Wondering how you are. What you're doing. Thinking about time and destiny. About this amazing life I've lived. This charmed hard knocks down and out up and down life I've lived. Counting my blessings like precious stones.
I want to tell you everything's gonna be alright, stay alright. It's gonna be what it's gonna be. We've reached a turning place. But everyday we have a choice. To walk into the day with brave hearts, to say our prayers, to lay down our swords. Need a little holy, healing water out there we do.
Wishing you peace and light, peace and light, peace and light in spite of everything. And a way for you to settle what's most important in your heart. To talk to your family and your neighbors. I don't know. Maybe plant a tree. Make some soup. Write a song. Cause all in all - the world must go on.
Think I'm gonna go write now. There's a baby boy on the way ready to be born soon. And, he needs some stories to be told.
I love these missives I receive from friend and soul sister Kaya McLaren. Sometimes she actually writes me handwritten letters but I also love the ones she posts on FACEBOOK that read - For Friends Who Love Long Letters . . . and then she goes off into a menagerie of words about her journey, her life, her work, her friends, THE TREES and carries me along with her.
I think so often how about I want to say words about this or that, share this little thing or that big happening, but I keep rushing, rushing , rushing into the future while my words fall alway. Time keeps on slipping . . . and here we are all caught up into the fall of the year. Snap. It happened. Just like that. Our lack of rain produced a lack of glorious colors this year on the hill like we had last year. No brilliant reds and bursts of gold. Lots of brown, sneaky peeks of autumn colors. But the chill in the air is here. The leaves still fall. I still become wistful for all that ever was or will be good in this world. The smell in the air stirs up memories of childhood sometimes so thick I have to brush them from my mind to carry on. But it also brings to the surface a deep, resounding sense of gratefulness. Thankfullness. I can understand why we approach Thanksgiving season and why it is cradled in this season. No matter the history. There is something about this time of year that leads me into a deepness that is silent worship. Me looking out through the thinning trees and being so moved by the experience that it has been to be alive. Ever. At all. Anywhere. Anytime.
Maybe that's what moving into the winter season is all about. The settling. The introspection. Those great books that call to us to read them by the fire and only by the fire. At a slower days pace. Spring finds me giddy. Every year I yell and jump and say - look what we've survived, we're still alive! But by fall, I'm just so thankful that we've survived any of it after all.
I had the strangest dream. More of a thought wrapped in a dream. My year has been filled with pressures and deadlines. To-dos and near misses. A few disappointments, mishaps and some certifiable exhaustion. But in my dream - suddenly I saw my year from a different perspective. I saw all the good things. They stood out like bright beacons, an absolute string of stars. Brilliant, intoxicating. And in my dream I said with a sense of amazed wonder - This has been the best year of my life! - And what stood out to me was that it had. Only, I hadn't noticed. I had been so busy working, striving, hurting, worrying and so on that I hadn't noticed this phenomenon amazing occurrence that was the joy of my days when looked at from a different perspective. Maybe from a healthier distance. From a distance . . .
There are so many things I want to share with you. The stellar people that God has brought into my life this year and the projects I've been able co-work on. Next week I'll get to venture into those waters and share the details in the meantime - I want to talk about - you.
It's come to my attention recently that a few friends - good friends - people I adore with all my heart - have been having a tough go of it this year. Dark times. Silent storms. But here's the thing - from their facebook posts you'd never know it. I know, I know. Some people write beautifully about the burdens they carry or the shadows that assail them and put it out there for all of us. No one did that with more beauty or transparency than Kaya during her walk through the valley of death that is cancer. What is remarkable now is watching her as she has climbed into the sunshine on the other side and into a new day. But some of us, some of you, will never pull back the curtain on that shade of our lives on social media. Not that we wouldn't do it or you wouldn't do it over a cup of tea with a friend or a stranger but to do so in other places doesn't work for you/us/them. It feels too vulnerable, invasive, or - - - - fill in whatever word works for you here. But in spite of this - and not to put a spin on things - we continue putting sunsets and flower pictures and happy moments or share photos of family and friends we love and who make us so proud. What got to me was these friends were having dark times and I DIDN'T KNOW IT. I was keeping up with them only through their facebook posts and sporadically. Or through the posts of other people. So, I just want to encourage you with whatever you're going through today - and I know some of you are walking through tough times. Don't worry about all those perfect sunset pictures and don't strive so hard to be something when you already are something.
A beautiful letter from a reader came to my box a few weeks ago. I shared part of that letter with the River Jordan Reader Posse group on facebook. But the letter also came with a book by the sender - To Hear the Forest Sing, Some Musings on the Divine, by Margaret Dulaney and a few days ago I finally opened it and began to read. I want to back up and underline portions I've already read in the first essay but mostly I want to share with all of you - please find and order this book. I don't even know where or how but I'm sure it's out there on line somewhere. At least I hope it is. That it's still in print and you can get your hands on a copy. Because it is amazing medicine for the soul. And down deep, no matter what ails us, that's the medicine we need most.
Hold fast dear friends. Hold fast. To your faith and your hope in the face of evils that are so dark that seem that they should be spoken in whispers. Spend some time on the internet searching statistics on child abuse, sex trafficking, or the sexual exploitation of children and you'll want to crawl into a hole fathoms deep - or become so angry that you spend your life in a hopeless fit wanting to right those wrongs and seek justice. Make donations, support awareness, vow to contribute something to the causes that burn in your heart. And all the while. - hold fast. Because otherwise you slip down that chasm that brings no one out into the light. And I rather think we are here for this purpose, to hold hands and walk out into the light together. To be the light ourselves in the face of all that darkness. If we aren't - what then?
I realized this morning that somehow I had gone from one photo that captured my attention to having just looked at twenty photos of celebrities just walking down the street. Just photos of celebrities doing nothing but looking cool walking down the street being rich, famous, in shape, wearing cool, casual clothes and great haircuts. Insert some kind of little cartoon face here because it dawned on me - I'm doing nothing but looking at cool photos of famous people walking down the street and I don't even know why I'm doing this.
But then I realized why.
Because last night I had read about all those statistics about children and my heart broke so deeply I couldn't even cry. My wonder about the level of horrid was exactly that. I was horrified by everything I had read - and I kept reading and reading until I knew more than I ever wanted to know. And then - I had to look away. This morning my subconscious mind still knew the damage. My conscious mind was screaming look away. Look away. Rich, tan people in casual clothes abounding with blonde hair and perfect white teeth. All is well with the world.
But all is not well, is it? With the world? Or With us? We are all dancing as fast as we can to some piper that is beating a drum that demands more than we can give.
Until we stop. Until we listen. And realize. This isn't the spirit of which I am made up of. This is not the music of the spheres or the dance that I'm called to. This is my life. To reach out to right wrongs where I can, as I can. To show a cup of kindness to someone near or far. To do the best I can with who I am where I'm standing today. And, to not worry that the world doesn't see the battles that I'm fighting or understand me right now. My place is to see the dark battles that others are fighting and to strike a match where I can, when I can, as long as I am able.
Some days - I'm more able than others. Like most of us. We lean on one another. For a kind word, a cup of soup, a tiny prayer.
I've loved to watch Melissa Conroy's drawings all year on Instagram. She began doing something with - well, just go see them. Circles. light. shadow. movement. And recently my prayers have been shaped like her drawings. I think of someone and when I do I send them those circles of light. I think this are good prayers. I think they hold power and count for something.
Today on this Sunday on this hill Sister and I will be cleaning out a storage shed. Shaking old boxes, dodging mice and spiders. We're having to get 'our minds right' like in that old Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. But eventually, the job will be done. Then I'll shower immediately with Dawn like Sister has told me we must do. (By the way - I dreamed once Dawn detergent cured Zombies. - Just make a note of that) Then I will make a cup of tea and sit on my porch and watch a few more leaves fall. The squirrels will chatter and dash up and down the trees stealing the corn I put out for the deer to eat so Mom could watch them. The birds will gather at the feeders. The sun will lower and the sky will cast that shade of red long and slow the way it does through the branches here in Tennessee. The day will tidy and tuck itself in. And I will think of you and all you do to remain human in this beat up, bruised old world.
Be gentle with yourself. All is not lost. We are still here in this thing together.
Peace, love and light.
Happy SEPTEMBER! Hang on for a wild ride!
*( If you're in. hurry and need to dash - jump to the bottom of this newsletter and the most important part - my prayer for you for September!)
It's my birthday month and that makes it one of my favorites. Well, actually, it's those cooler temps at five am that promise fall is coming that make it a favorite and the fact that the leaves are already changing up on the hill. It's also the month of the Autumn Equinox. I love the idea of a perfect balance. AND believe it WOULD HAVE BEEN MY BIRTHDAY if the doctor hadn't induced labor so my Army Daddy would be there for the birth. You can read all about that in the opening chapter of Confessions. Which is pretty funny from this side of the story all these years later. Not so funny at the moment the doctor was trying to pull me into the world with forceps and me screaming, "WAIT I'm NOT READY! I don't want to be introduced! No, no. I'm a CAT. Don't force me into the noise and lights. WAIT FOR ME TO DECIDE WHEN IT's TIME. No such luck.
FUN FACTS ABOUT SEPTEMBER:
The word September comes from the Latin word "septem" which means seven. Because in the old Roman calendar September was the 7th month of the year which started in March during Spring which is a really good time for new beginnings. And of course as I said it's the month of the Autumn Equinox The staircases at the main Maya pyramid, El Castillo, at Chichen Itza, Mexico are built at a carefully calculated angle which makes it look like a snake of sunlight slithers down the stairs the moment the equinox occurs. I was thinking of doing this exact same thing with my porch stairs this year but just decided it was cheaper to jack them up so they were level and I didn't slither down them like a snake and break my neck. Fact: These fun facts were stolen from various sources on the internet.
THE NEW NOVEL IN PROGRESS is no longer in progress.
IT IS FINISHED! THE END are two of the sweetest words I know. And the thing about typing THE END is you can't do it six chapters early. You can't just decide like I did when I was giving birth to my son Chris and was having natural childbirth that I had had enough of this ridiculous pain and was just going to get my purse and leave the hospital. It was just time to go home and I'd have the baby another day. But it doesn't work that way giving birth to a novel either. You can't just type - the end and they lived happily ever after. The end again. And yes, it is very, much like labor. Delivery is delivery. The working title of the novel is, TOO FAST A MERCYwhich is a line that the main character says. It may not end up being the published title because titles go through rounds of discussion with publishers, editors and agents. I happen to love the title but the important thing is for it to accurately reflect the story.
This is a SUPERNATURAL SUSPENSE THRILLER with gutsy southern characters set in the city of Nashville. Early readers say it is destined to be a television series so - from their mouth to God's ear. I'd love to drag my directors chair around and set it up on a series location. Even if they didn't invite me. I'd put it way, way in the back to be near the action. THE MAIN THING IS if you loved my novel THE GIN GIRL - You are going to LOVE this novel. I'll be reading a short excerpt and talking about some of the special props that the Smart sisters carry with them Saturday at HIGH NOON on the River Jordan Reader Posse Round UP. Facebook Group. If you haven't signed up please just hit request and we'll get you in on the fun insider news, chats and giveaways.
News FROM THE HILL
The hummingbirds are in full out sugar wars as they tank up getting ready for their big flight out of here until next year. Life on the hill is full of glorious, mystical, magical moments. Cicadas and shooting stars, fireflies and rainstorms. All the kind of summertime fanciful that can lull you into putting your feet up on the porch and leaving them there all day until evening falls.
UNLESS of course you happen to be running a fever that you are self-treating by drinking a gallon of water a day while you are working on finishing your novel which lands you in the ER which lands you into getting admitted into the hospital because you have BOTTOMED OUT YOUR SODIUM. Which causes you to like - see little green men and go in a coma and stuff. So, yeah that happened. BUT no worries. I was two points north of hallucinating and dropping over. My sister did a great job of staying by my bed and taking good care of me in the hospital and my niece and nephew came to visit and actually sat by the bed and I do so appreciate them choosing to come hang in the hospital instead of all those other options. AND A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO MY NEW SPONSORS. Dear Gatorade, you are my new bff for life because I am back in the electrolyte saddle. (YOU GUYS NEED A NEW SPOKESPERSON? I'M GAME!)
FROM THE MAILBAG
Saints in Limbo, my novel set in the fictional town of Echo, Florida (which was really my Daddy's old place on Holmes creek) garnered some great praise from reviewers when it came out. And words from some of my favorite authors like these from Ron Rash - “River Jordan’s Saints in Limbo is a compelling story of the mysteries of existence and, specially, the mysteries of the human heart.”
Paste Magazine called it "A Southern Gothic Masterpiece."
Those kind of high praises are literary candy for a writer but the solid gold - and I mean this from the bottom of my heart - are words that come from readers talking about how a book has touched their lives and made a difference. These words were from a reader I've never met -
"I just finished your book -Saints in Limbo--- wow---just loved it, couldn't put it down and even when I did parts of it kept coming back to me...it called to me... I felt parts of this book, tears came with this book, I'm keeping the "fear, doubt, regret" quote--- it's a truth I had overlooked............ thank you ." Mrs. Valerie G.
I want you guys to know how much your words, letters, emails and comments all have meant to me over the years. I try to make certain I respond to every, single one and that I save them forever and a day. When I'm trying to finish a new novel or just put one foot in front of the other - I pull them out and reread them. They are literally the wind beneath my wings. Author Claire Fullerton recently read Saints in Limbo and posted this surprise review on Facebook with her own photo creation. Saints is available now for only $3.99 in some places. So take advantage of it if you haven't read a copy yet. And also Please checkout Confessions below with Links to Indiebound where you can support your local bookstores and show some love for the people who have stories running though their bloodstream.
NPR INTERVIEW FOR CONFESSIONS - ON THE PORCH WITH SILAS HOUSE
SUNDAY 9/8 at 7:00PM CENTRAL TIME - 8:00 EASTERN TIME I'll be in conversation with the great, southern author Silas House and hope you can join us for his NPR program. He asks wonderful, thought provoking questions and then actually gives me the time and space to answer them. And his voice is like pure Kentucky wildflower honey. You will want to eat it up by the spoonful so set your alarm to tune in now. 91.3 WUKY.org
More EXCITING RADIO NEWS
Clearstory Radio is moving to a sassy new time slot! We'll be kicking off at 1:00PM Central every Friday starting later this month. Look for a special announcement of the stellar line up of guests and a hot, new mind-blowing tapestry of story. It's gonna be all kinds of literary, mystical, and masterly with a scent of science geek. Think - Fresh Air meets On Being meets This American Life meets Dr. Who. All with the same eclectic mix of great tunes you've come to know, love and downright -crave.
FOR BOOK CLUBS and SMALL GROUPS
I'll be happy to SKYPE or FACETIME with your book club or group as my schedule permits. I'd love to see and visit with you!l AND HERE'S THE KICKER - You don't have to be reading MY BOOK! I'll visit with you if you are reading a multitude of authors which I hope includes some of my friends and favorites. Reading something wonderful you think I should be reading too??? SKYPE me in and let's talk about it!
STORYTELLING on the BIG STAGE
Some of the best moments of my life have been in my travels to speak at various events around the country. I kid you not. From the girl who walked out of the auditorium, straight up to the book table and thew her arms around my neck crying and she would just look at me and say, "You know," over and over. And I replied - "Yes, I do." There was an old pastor that was rattling my chair over and over because someone kept talking to me and he wanted his turn. Then he said - You know the promised land can be on both sides of the Jordan River. You don't have to wait till you get to the other side to get what God promises you and I said, "I do." To the young Autistic man who felt comfortable talking to me and wrote me a note that I have to this day and treasure. The city-wide fund raiser in Montana where the people staying at the Rescue Mission were the ones that proudly prepared the banquet. It was the first time they'd done this and they were beaming with pride and pleasure. Or the young woman who came up to me at a conference of two thousand and whispered - "You're the reason I'm here. What you said is what I needed to hear." I think the title of that speech was I'm a mess! And had lost my wallet and ID at the conference and wasn't going to have an easy time flying out and making it through security. I was in Minneapolis at the time and was so sorry I didn't have time to make a dash for the Purple Rain Prince tour.
These experiences have provided me with an opportunity to connect with people by the thousands. As much as I love intimate dinners and small group chats I would never be able to touch this many hearts and minds with the power of story if it weren't for the chance to speak on the larger stage. Whether it's for a fundraiser for the Homeless, a Library Foundation, a Civic Organization, Church, University or Retreat, I love the opportunity to help people laugh at all of our messy humanity in the midst of our glorious, imperfect lives. City after city, story after story, one thing remains the same. The power of story in our lives is where we find our common ground. It is the great unifier and the holy ground we walk on every day. If you're organization, church, or community needs someone to share great stories with a sense of humor and a powerful message - click here to contact The Ashley Agency for booking engagement information and scheduling.
If you've made it this far in this long, missive - WOW! Thanks for hanging in here and allowing me to catch up.
I know so many of you personally now after all these years of writing and conferences or bookstore visits where I'm able to meet you in person.
I know some of you have recently lost a loved one, had a particular challenge your facing, health or financial issues, or simple life challenges and changes. All of these things brought these words to mind.
These words from John O'Donohue's To Bless the Space Between Us are my September prayer for you.
These are the ones that stood out to me when I thought of you.
"May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere where the presences that have left you dwell . . .
May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life.
May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging.
May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and twilight are one.
May your longing inhabit its dreams within the Great Belonging."
Wishing you blessings in the days and weeks ahead as we step into this beautiful, seasonal change known as Autumn.
Peace, Love and Light -
(PS: If you are getting this out of the blue and don't have a clue who I am a lot of people signed up for this newsletter during the recent Confessions of a Christian Mystic Book Tour back in April or May - I do so hope I read all those handwritten notes and addresses correctly. BUT if I squinted my eyes when I should have squeenched them. Please forgive and gently delete and unsubscribe. Our royal apologies.)
Warning: There most certainly shall be errors contained herein and forthwith. We shall roll with it, baby.
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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.