Last night was the Oscars. I had seen if not all of the movies nominated at least some of them so I was interested in more than the fashions of the evening. I was pulling for a few underdogs and personal favorites. Yes, I loved Spiderman, Into the Spiderverse getting Best Animated Film of the evening. There were plenty of moments I loved and a few things that seemed just right. I don't have a big must have for the Oscars as an evening. Although, over the years I've always had a few moments that stood out to me. Usually, that was the acceptance speeches. The part that many people think of us blah, blah, blah yeah we know - they thanked their Mama and their families and the director and the guy that held the ladder for their 7th grade school play. But to me - that's the moment that counts the most. The thank you's. And the moment where someone gets their due although I'm sorry for the people who didn't. I'm still stinging over Bill Murray not getting the award for Lost In Translation so I feel it when the hurt comes. But - back to Last night.
My highlight Oscar's moment was when Lady Gaga won for best original song. I loved when she said "There is a discipline to passion." Then she went on to speak to people sitting at home about getting back up after they've been knocked down. Once, twice, three times. She said that she had worked very, hard to get where she is. I believe her. Because art is work.
There may be days that are gloriously inspired but even those require finger to the keys, pencil to sketchpad, smile to face. For all of us. All the creative work that we do and I include the art of being human in that. Maybe, mostly in that. But then there was that word - passion. It's a buzzword of mine. When it comes up, I listen. When I say it, I mean it. When I live my life from that passionate place I am spot on, following my true north, and answering the call that is my life. But it still requires me showing up. Although I am extremely passionate about the novel in progress that I am STILL two weeks away from finishing - it requires that other word, Discipline. That word is not one of my favorites in my workbook of words. I've tried it on for size from time to time. For instance - little known fact - for awhile in my life I was what I'd consider a gym-rat. Funny thing that. Day one, day two, day three - not so much of a difference. Day sixty-two, day ninety-one, day two hundred - mind blown what you can accomplish. What things can emerge, change, develop - find their way to completion.
I've always been good on the lock-down. The retreat. The all or nothing. Today -we will move that mountain over there and put it over here. OK. Good deal. Let's go move a mountain. I'm in. But instead if you say to me - today - we are going to go over there with this little shovel and move one shovel of dirt to this spot to that one - I'm out. I'm not a one shovel a day kind of girl. It's why I don't like housework. Because most of it has to be done everyday. Some. A little. Everyday. I don't mind Spring cleaning and painting the shutters and working hard for days or weeks on end. But every, single, day. A little bit. Where you have to get up and do it again. What is this but some strange turn the wheel insanity. It's like saying River, do you want to drive to Clarksville, Tennessee? No, I do not Sam I Am. But hey - River? Do you want to get in the car and drive insanely across the country so that we can watch the sun drop and set into the Pacific. Yes! I'm in.
Back to Gaga. And to Divine Timing because that was in the title up there somewhere.
I have a new book coming out April 2. (The sneak preview kick-off party is at Parnassuss Books Friday March 29 at 6:30 and the whole world is invited.) That strange, peculiar little, genre-busting book is about being a southerner, a novelist, about believing in signs and wonders and it looks like it just appeared from thin air. No book. Ta-da! Book!
But it was actually four years or more in the writing. One draft. The editor liked it and said it just needs a re-write. I rewrote it. The editor liked it and said it just needed a slight tightening and a rewrite. I went through some life changes and when I returned to that draft I didn't like any of it. I threw out the entire book. The whole thing. I sat down and wrote a different book. The editor loved it. And, said it needed a rewrite to just clarify a few things. I rewrote it. Then line edits. It amounts to - a lot of work but it's the work I was born to do. I'm a storyteller. But I can't just lie in bed and the stories find their way to the page. In spite of the fact that the new novel runs through my mind twelve hours a day - it doesn't get the words to you unless I write them down.
If you are a writer, an artist, painter, musician, songwriter, toy train maker, then your work is the same. We must return to the space, the place, the moment, the studio, the sunbeam whatever it is that is the gym of our creating. For a little while in my life I was that girl lifting weights and running on a treadmill six days a week in the gym. That was discipline. For a number of years (not one but many) I said a prayer for a stranger everyday and most days I told someone they were my stranger. That's a different kind of discipline. We'll call that one - inspiration.
What I'd like to live is a passionately, inspired, disciplined life. To realize that the word discipline doesn't distract from the passion because I can't stand the idea that something - anything - would water down my passion.
When Gaga stood up there and said those words I realized, Yeah, when you are as passionate as I am about story, it takes a certain amount of discipline to contain and direct the fire, so that the power ends up where it's meant to be. Maybe, and here's a crazy thought, the more passion present, the more discipline required.
Let me try to connect that Divine Timing thing.
Here's a story of me finding a book at a used book store that had been cast aside. Just lying there. A really old library book from another state. No doubt headed to the trash bin. But when I saw it I knew it was mine. That little free book. Something I wouldn't have bought, ordered, picked up or even read if a friend had pressed it into my hands and said read this. I'd have thought - nope, too old, too outdated, too conservative. Not my cup of Christian - thanks - I'll get my cup filled over here.
The book I found?- Harry Emersons Foskick's The Meaning of Prayer. It was first published in 1949 by - get this - the National Board of the Young Men's Christian Associations. You get my drift on why I wouldn't have bought this book, right? I have a reprint that looks as old as that mountain I was moving earlier in this story. It was reprinted in 1962 and again in the 70s.
The first line of this reprint has a preface that begins,
"This book was first published forty-seven years ago. I was then a young minister in my first parish, still bearing the scars of a nervous breakdown which I had suffered in seminary days."
Stop. the. clock. When honesty abounds in a story, I listen. The preface goes on to talk about how Mr. Fosdick sent off his manuscript saying he didn't think there would be much demand for such a book on prayer and thought if they could ever sell even two thousand copies they'd be lucky. Almost fifty years later he wrote the preface when it had been translated into eighteen languages, and sold close to a million copies. Then this battered little, old copy that was taken from a church library in Kentucky found it's way to me. I have read and underlined and highlighted portions. I have feasted on the words in small portion because they are serious words full of wisdom.
And they were the first thing I thought of during Lady Gaga's speech.
How can you possibly take a cultural icon like Gaga and partner her up with a some old, pastor of Christian theology. Passion. Discipline. Hard work. Faith and fortitude.
Fosdick wrote about a few examples in his work unanswered prayer. About how God has given mankind the ability to pray, the power of prayer but also given us intellect, the ability to think and to work and that one is not to be substituted for the other but to work in Divine partnership together. Like inspiration and writing novels. It still takes some thinking. And some working. I imagine that Lady Gaga has seen a few ups and downs in her life. I actually know very, little about her. But I do know a lot of authors who are either famous, well-known, or on the verge of being discovered. They have all paid their dues and put in their time at the page. They have employed - and here's that word I don't like - discipline.
Today - as I wrap this wordy blog entry - I am praying that your passion finds a new discipline. Because I pray for you what I need for myself. Should you be lacking in passion for any reason, I'll give you some of mine. I've got more than enough to go around. Fosdick quotes The Book of Nehemiah from the Bible which happens to be one of my favorite books from the Bible which surprises people. (I'll tell you why later to save us both some time.) About how Nehemiah prayed to God - and set a watch day and night. About how Cromwell said, "Trust God and keep your powder dry." And, how Spurgeon said, "Pray to God but keep the hammer going."
For writers maybe it means we keep our laptops charged, our pens and notebooks at the ready. Whatever our tools may be I know that it requires that same discipline those gym-rats use to get great biceps. It requires that we show up at the page. Not just on weekend of that wild, wonderful full moon but each and every day. Shoveling that mountain of a novel, one sentence, one word at a time.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to sit down with you in a diner and tell you this face to face. But, I blew it. Just freaking blew it. And, it has haunted me ever since.
I want to finally thank you for making the movie, The Razors Edge and exposing me to the work of W. Somerset Maugham. After watching the movie I went to the library and checked out, The Razor's Edge. Then I went on to read everything W. Somerset Maugham had ever written that I could get my hands on.
So, here's the moment I missed telling you this so many years ago the way I would have preferred, face-to- face.
It was cold. A winter in the city kind of cold. I'm a native of the Gulf Coast of Florida and I don't do cold well.
I was in New York for the very, first time with Cousin Deb for the weekend adventure to visit fellow playwright Nancy Hasty. Nancy had offered to open her door to us for a visit. Adventures in the city ensued including almost getting robbed on the streets but then - When your cousin shouts at the top of her lungs in a southern accent, "Look, It's Radio City Music Hall! Mama said we should come see that!" you are just asking for the guy leaning on the wall watching you to get off the wall and begin to follow you into a deserted street. But, that's not the story at hand here. It's all about thou.
So we get up early one morning and decide to take off in search of breakfast. We do what one does in Manhattan - we walk. And because Cousin Deb was in a rush we didn't put on make-up, or get polished up worth anything. Sloppy hair, sloppy clothes. Not even gloss on the lips much less a full monty on the face.
After hoofing in the cold for awhile we look up and see a diner that looks promising. We cross the street and step inside. The place is crazy busy. Absolutely packed. The guys behind the grill are slammed solid. We spot the only empty seats in the place. Two along the wall in the back, left corner. In the process of getting there we have to squeeze through a few tables, one of them being yours. Only at the time we didn't know it. A four-seater, plenty of room, and you are sitting there alone as we jostle the chairs, bump them into the table. I can feel you looking at us as we bang and rattle every chair and finally pass by and sit down only a few feet from you and facing you.
I look at you. You look at me. I whisper to Deb, "Don't say anything, and don't look now but that is Bill Murray."
She looks. She says something. She says it loud enough for every diner in the place to hear.
"No FREAKING way!" Only freaking was not in vogue then so she just went old school. She went old school again, and again, then added FREAK ME!
We ordered. We ate. I tried not to look at you after such a charming entrance and Deb's public acknowledgement of you being so - ummm - genuine and starstruck.
And starstruck we were. It's cute but unfortunate in this case for two reasons. We really wanted to respect your privacy or at least what was left of it at this point. And, did I mention we weren't wearing make-up? Which being older now, needing make-up so much more, I wouldn't care one twit if I bumped your chairs, had on no make-up, was dressed like a bum. Given the opportunity I would take the moment over. I'd tell you exactly what I had thought from the beginning about The Razor's Edge, about how much I loved your performance and appreciated your taking the time and risk to make the movie. (A remake from many years before but one that deserved to be remade and remade well.)
I wanted to tell you that sometimes the things we do that are good and right and that should get more attention, be an obvious success, often go on to achieve things we may never know or realize.
Case in point. I wrote a novel years ago titled, The Gin Girl. A smokey, moody murder mystery set in the Everglades. When I first landed an agent she thought it would get a six-figure deal and an instant contract for a movie. Didn't happen. It was finally published by an unknown Indie, and for the most part other than a few great reviews, went undiscovered. Years of work down the drain. All my expectations and hopes for that great novel dried up to dust.
A few years ago I received an email. One that began, "I doubt you'll ever read this but if by chance you do I'm writing it anyway."
It told the story of this young woman who had to be committed to a psychiatric ward one night and how her mother had brought her something to read, my novel The Gin Girl. She went on to say how much those characters helped her get through that long, dark night. How she didn't feel frightened when she began reading it because she felt they were right there with her and that she wasn't alone. Then she said some other nice things.
I sat there after reading that and thinking - If it was all for only this, this one letter, then it was worth it.
I don't expect my letter to make you feel the same way about making, The Razor's Edge. But it's important to me that I say them. It's my simple thank you for not only doing excellent work in supporting the power of story, but opening up an entirely new world to me, of exposing me to an author that I may have otherwise missed entirely.
I wish I could replay that cold day in New York. You had the most beautiful leather coat, and leather messenger bag. I watched you stand, put on the coat, pick up your bag, and put on your hat as you walked out the door. The entire time that small voice inside of me saying, "Tell him now. Get up. Go tell him now. Stop him now before he leaves. Tell him now. Go after him. Go after him down the street. Stop him on the sidewalk."
I let you - and the moment slip away.
But not this one.
Thank you for the film and the inspiration and Godspeed on your current and future endeavors.
But - Fair warning - Make up or no, next time I bump into you at an empty table I'm pulling up a chair and sitting down. There will be some stories told. Without apology.
*Had to repost the love in honor of Groundhog Day (and Bill of course)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.