There's an old song that sings about 'carrying moonbeams home in a jar'. I've always loved that song because it was one my mother used to sing when she was happy. I'm going to put it on my request list for the next sing along which we just do around our house all the time. Which is not the truth. Most of our singing is done in our hearts. We love music and have had some rather talented, musical players in the family but Mom and I don't count ourselves along their company. The funny thing is - I like to hear Mom sing. I don't think she would say the same for me except for one night we were camped around the kitchen table playing rummy and I broke into, King of the Road and she had a surprised look on her face said -
You could sing. I mean you don't sound horrible. You can actually sing that song.
Let's just say the bar is set incredibly low when it comes to my singing abilities. And apparently King of the Road by Roger Miller is the beginning and end of my repertoire but at least I have one go to favorite. I am much more Cameron Diaz character in My Best Friends Wedding singing Karoke at horrible warbler levels. I have had some bad singing experiences (like my 6th grade teacher trying to get me to harmonize with the other girls for a performance and going DON'T YOU GET IT???? WHY DON'T YOU GET IT???? I think she ended up telling me to mouth the words and not sing.) and those kind of things kinda shut down your performance schedule for the next fifty years.
Thankfully if people try to shut me up from telling stories I don't pay attention to them and won't shut up if they ask me to. And I do this thing called RADIO where I talk some, interview others, and play great music. I do not sing along.
I could not sleep. Could. Not. I tried Valerian root, warm milk, reading, no blue screens, more blanket, less blanket, fresh air, not air. Just as I was falling asleep I'd think of something that would startle me awake. I thought I heard Mom calling me in a desperate way. I startled awake, got up to go downstairs to check on her. Nope. Just my imagination. I almost went to sleep again. Startled awake. Wondered if I had forgotten to pour water on the fire I had started outside earlier. Mom was in the swing and me in the chair and we were in catch up mode as she pointed out which flowers needed more water. (watering flowers is Mom's thing and she has the greenest thumb I've ever known. I have figured out I can grow plants that don't have flowers. Ferns and ivy's. And, really, who can ever have enough fern and ivy?) Soooo I said - we should have a fire. And I got the lighter fluid and kept tossing it on the wood and relighting it to the whoosh sound. Mama said - you are gonna set yourself on fire. And I said - no, I'm not. I just like the instant heat. And, by the time we were ready to come in the wood actually caught fire.
Startle awake because suddenly I swear I can smell smoke and if the fire restarted it could blow embers onto my car which would blow up and that would catch the house on fire . . . I put on my garden boots and stomp downstairs and out the door. There is no fire. There is mist hanging on the trees so there is that dripping sound that is just the wet of the night air. But the sky is cloudless, the stars are out. It smells clean and good and I think to my surprise, This is August in the deep south and I could camp tonight by a fire. Camping. Something I haven't done in a while that I miss. (I have a new mastermind camping plan that involves Vespa's, the Natchez Trace, and one great backpack. This is a new plan that was inspired by riding the greyhound bus for forty thousand hours and it's still in the making.) But right now I'm in the backyard and I'm amazed at the peace and the quiet and the light. I decide to go to the front porch to see the moon. So I go back in, lock up that door and go out the front door.
And there was the moon. Pushing to full. And I thought - OH, it's you. No wonder I'm not sleeping. Full moons have a waking effect on me. Even if I can't see them. Call it strange or wondrous or both but like an animal - I am aware. I looked at the moon and at the new lights compliments of Nashville electric that light up the driveway in the dark. The light spills gently through the leaves of the trees and It reminds me so much of Daddy's creek and the light doing the same. I am thankful for the comfort of them. And I stepped to the edge of the porch where it's open and looked up at the sky and there she was in all her glory. A moonbeam! At first I thought I was looking at the milky way but then I realized no, this is something different. This is light. It is - Moonlight. And, it is a moonlight moonbeam shooting over my house and into the sky. I have seen many thing but I have never seen anything exactly like this. It was worth not sleeping.
If I hadn't taken time to sit with Mom and visit a little late yesterday, I wouldn't have seen it. Because I wouldn't have started a fire. And I wouldn't have startled awake in the wee hours to stagger outside have asleep and be accosted by starlight and fresh air and that moon.
I am always amazed at the things in life that catch me unaware. The moments that seem wrapped in surprise. The ways that natural elements combine to create something I see for the very first time. Still. At this age. At any age.
I hope tonight I get some much needed rest. But if I startle awake, out come the boots. I'll make some tea and head to the porch, look up at the sky and sing Moonbeams softly into the night.
Wherever you are hope you are able to catch a sacred, magical moment of your own and carry it gently to bed and into your dreams.
Today I was missing camping but for certain in my neck of the woods it's too cold for camping. There will be a fire in the fireplace tonight but not a fire ring. I've been following Kaya McLaren's daily walk through cancer and her raw, vulnerable letters on facebook. I thought if there was anything I could send her it would be a warm Summer evening where we all camped together, sat around a perfect fire ring, a just right kind of fire so you can see the smiling faces of your friends above the flames on the other side. That kind of perfect evening of drinking some fine wine or herbal tea, sharing stories heartfelt and funny, watching the sky for shooting stars as the fireflies climb higher and higher into the trees before morning light. That's what I'd give her right now if I could. I love the sharing of stories. it's the best kind of medicine.
Sometimes people ask me if I still pray for strangers in the middle of watching Star Trek Discovery and going to see Star Wars and reading great mysteries such as, By Gaslight. Yesterday I wrapped two days of speaking at the Writing for Your Life conference. Nothing excites me more about writing stories but sharing stories about writing stories. Mine and those of my friends. It occurred to me that yesterday I mentioned the name of five author friends, talked about their books and their publishing stories, and even their upcoming titles that weren't out yet to watch for. (And now I'm suddenly looking out the window thinking - Gee - I'm a good friend :) ) ) But seriously - how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who write stories. I'll have to write more about my experiences with those attendees on my teaching page here on this website. But for the record. On that praying thing which I still do in the middle of my Star Trek, mystery loving heart. I do. Mostly. Differently. Sometimes and always.
That is - a woman asked me to sign my book for her at the event yesterday and then she stopped and asked me - Does the book tell about how the experienced changed you? I smiled. Good Question. It does I told her. And I paused for a moment to think back all those years ago at the kind of person I was. I was and still am what you would consider a good person. Kind in all the right ways. Standing up for the weak and the underdog. Protecting small children, stray animals, and those who might be on the outskirts of society. The helpless, the homeless, the forgotten, the beat down. The overlooked.
But - it was those years of Praying for Strangers and telling someone almost daily that they were my stranger for the day that cracked open a part of my heart I didn't know was sealed. It gave me a much better, closer, more intimate look into humanity as a whole. While I may have been willing to stand up for the forgotten I never knew how lonely, forgotten, fearful people were that were surrounded by family and friends. Who maybe went to church regularly but were still in many ways all alone. If people weren't concerned about their situation they were always concerned about the situation of someone they loved. And in that I began to care more deeply than a passing moment when you lock eyes with the woman living in the alley behind that store you frequent.
So how does that play out in real life? Back to the conference. I've been speaking for years at conferences, teaching writing for years at events, workshops, and writing programs. I've always loved my students and connecting with them, celebrating their good words and accomplishments. But last night as I was thinking about the people at the conference and in particular those who had signed up with a one on one with me and taken time to tell me their story, ask my advice in some small way, I prayerfully lifted their writing projects, goals, dreams up in prayer. Hoping that their words found their way to readers the way that mine have done likewise. Praying that they would do so. That they would continue in their good work and write the best story possible.
I closed my talk yesterday by reciting The Artist Prayer that I wrote years ago and have shared on Facebook. Many of the attendees asked me to please send it to them by email which I have but I am also closing with it here. In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from a few words fashioned as a prayer that will help us all bring the story home.
An Artist Prayer
Creator of the deep,
of the secret places,
of the wide, blue skies -
open in me a place today
that may be willing to create.
To write words worthy of my breathing,
to paint images of human longing,
to sing of heart’s satisfaction.
Help me to capture
the softer edges of our existence
to share with my people now and forever.
Let there be a hush,
a holy hush,
in the space of my beating heart
all that is good,
all that is well,
all that will stand the test of time.
Empower me to translate
this amazing existence
we call life.
Yesterday was one of those Sundays that could have been a Saturday because it turned out to be sweep and shake rugs day. Not very Sunday-ish at that point but on the Sabbath of Saturday Me and mama had rested and watched Grantchester on DVD's we discovered at McKay's. It was a quiet and peaceful day in the midst of a dusty house.
Sunday began with me cooking breakfast for us - eggs, bacon and rye toast. I don't like to make breakfast. Except on Sundays. I heard Mom tell someone on the phone as I placed her breakfast on her tray, "Yes, she's made me breakfast. She is being nice to me because it's Sunday. Fact is - I am nice everyday - but the week is so busy and I am always behind deadline on something so breakfast is a quick thing like cereal or oatmeal or protein shakes and then its off to the races. But Sundays are special. They are all about the long breakfast and God and church and football and the paper. For me that means grabbing the New York Times out of the driveway, snatching the Book Review, The Travel Section, the Arts section, a second cup of coffee and then beginning to read about faraway places and books I long to read, the plays I'd love to see. It's a vicarious traveling experience without ever leaving our hill.
In the midst of this ritual when Mama's phone rang I suggested she just tell whoever it was that we were having a leisurely Sunday breakfast and reading The Times. She replied, I don't read the New York Times and answered the phone. (Insert the -She's being nice to me comment here because its Sunday here) I passed her another section of The New York Times she claims not to read. (She has a preference for the wedding section but is enthrawled with the new things she learns about education or science or amazing things that have nothing to do with politics. I sip my coffee, turn a page.
After breakfast we started cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning some more. For those of you who don't know we have been in the midst of moving Mama in with me forever and ever. It has also been in the midst of trying to repair this old house in a hundred ways and then searching for ways to move more things in from her 50 year stay at the little house in Panama City where I grew up. She is a squatter. I am a gypsy traveler with squatter tendencies - because there is no place like home - after you roam. The roaming part is crucial to the homing part being just right. But right now it's been all about blending our lives and lifestyles. More on that later. For now I can say WE bicker. I tell her what to do. She tells me what she won't do - which I consider talking back. It's a lot just like this -
You don't need to watch TV first thing in the morning.
Don't tell me what I need. I'm 80 something years old. I think I know what I need.
Well, I don't think it's good for you. I think you should read a newspaper in the morning because you learn something and it's quiet.
I want the news that happened last night. By the time the paper gets here it's old news.
(She's from a generation that barely had cars and got their news from a neighbor. It's her Iphone that's poisoned her to think this way?)
Look, Mom - if anything really major happens there will be sirens going off or guns firing or something. Just read the paper. You don't need the noise of the TV in the morning.
I know what I need.
OK, let me rephrase that - I don't need to hear the noise of you watching the tv in the morning.
Now, that's an honest statement. And that, I can understand that.
That was all the honesty we could take that early neither of us being the kind of morning people that like to talk to other people in the house so we just shut up and read the paper and drank coffee and watched the birds. Then she wanted to play music and I wanted it to be quiet for an hour while I wrote. So I wrote a little and thanked her for all that understanding and then we played loud music. She asked me if I wanted to hear Creedence Clearwater Revival and I said, Yes, and we cleaned things.
The reward for all our hard work was that we were going to use that fabulous extra hour of daylight to take the dogs for a car ride through the country. We finally had the car loaded up right after sunset, a slight glow of pink in the hovering clouds. By the time we were winding our way though the dark with me determined to show her Bells Bend there was nothing but scraggly trees in the shadows. The timing too late after sunset to see anything. The bare winter trees scraggly points blowing in the wind, rattling against the dark, catching headlights, shaking them off, catching light again.
It's spooky down here. Don't go this way.
No, really Mom. It's nice, It's nice here.
Well, I can't see anything. Let's go back.
We were going to go for a ride and we are going for a ride.
I don't want to ride. I want to go home.
You complain about being stuck in the house so we are going on a ride. 'm gonna show you the park.
You need to Slow down.
I'm going ten miles under the speed limit.
Are there deer out here?
(A few years ago I hit three deer at once, killed all of them and survived. She is using this knowledge in a sneaky way.)
Yes. There are deer everywhere.
So, slow down.
There are nice places here, and a new restaurant down here.
Who would want to build a restaurant way out here and who in the world would want to drive out here to eat? It's spooky.
It's not spooky during the day.
Well right now it's night and its spooky and I want to go back.
I am not speeding but I still pass the entrance before I can swing in.
There it was, that was the entrance to the park. We just passed it.
Thanks for pointing that out to me.
Sorry, I couldn't see it coming up.
Cause it's dark. Nobody can see anything out here.
Okay, we are turning around and then I'm driving in there for just a minute..
The sign posted says park closed at sundown. Only campers are allowed to stay. (She infurates me when she reads the rules. Always has.) We don't belong down here.
I'm just showing you. Look, see? There's a path? A real path where you can walk that stupid dog. (He's not really stupid but he's little and a bother. My 200 pound dog however is no trouble at all.)
Well, that is nice. It looks like a nice path. Now, let's go.
I didn't even know they had camping here. I'd like to come back here to camp.
You would? Really? You like sleeping with sticks poking you in the back and mosquitos and bugs biting you all night.
The woman can douse the smallest dream before it ignites.
No. I like sitting around a campfire and looking at the stars and climbing into a tent really sleepy and snuggling into my sleeping bag.
If you say so. Are we going home now?
Yes, Mama. We are sure enough going home. Straight home.
I turned the car around the path, drove back towards the entrance and we encountered a vision. A low slung yellow moon. So big you would have sworn it was the biggest moon you ever saw. It was a word stopping, awe inspiring moon.
Would you just look at that? I think that's the biggest moon I ever saw.
Me and Mama sat there in the basking in that glow. For that moment life was threaded in perfect balance - us tethered to the moon in the dark. And for once instead of being late for something we were exactly, precisely right on time.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.