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.
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.
We are all wearing paper dresses. They have put us into the 'sub' waiting room. I didn't know that was a category. Apparently, it is. We laughed about that. We came up with many better names than sub-waiting room. That is rather generic.
There's nothing like paper dresses, breast exams and the power of story to help women bond immediately. The room was filled with that odd mixture that is at once both fear and faith combined. I am a private person. I don't discuss these things as my friend Kaya rolls out her journey through breast cancer with the kind of gun-powder prose that should be a best selling memoir instead of free Facebook posts. If you know of a woman walking through cancer or troubled-times I recommend they find Kaya McLaren on Facebook and read her posts back-tracking a few months or years in attempt to fully appreciate her 'for Friends who Like Long letters' posts. And - I take that back. If you are a PERSON who is living a life mixed with all the passion of beautiful bitter-sweet ups and downs of living I recommend reading her.
I've had Kaya on my mind daily keeping up with her but also in walking out my own diagnostic tests today. There is the first room, the dressing room, the drill. The no perfume, no powder, no anti sweaty stinky stuff for days. (My apologies to those who have had to be up close and personal during ladder climbing forays.) So Room number one and room number two and then into the paper gown and sub-room number three where you wait to be called for your turn at THE MACHINE and then return to wait with your gown on frontwards instead of backwards. With other women sitting and waiting for their turn to be called or their turn at receiving their results.
As I was waiting for an Oh Dear or All Clear report I was surrounded by women who began conversations about their surgeons. "Oh, do you have her? She was my surgeon and I just loved her." And a report of how long someone had been 'clean' and others who told so honestly of what they had been through so many years ago. The decisions they had to make. Do you choose the lump or the breast? The meds that will kill all the cancer but also possibly damage your heart. These women - all so beautiful I could weep thinking of them now. All so brave and so strong. Still able to laugh. To be honest, raw, vulnerable. There are days I don't feel worthy of that transparency. I want to cloister myself, close my shell, peep through the crack. Who me? No story here. Nothing to see. Move along.
But that isn't true. My story linked to their stories. For just a few minutes today. But those were some very, deep ocean moments. Entire lives flashing before my eyes. What they had faced and survived. Endured and carried on. I am surrounded by these women. Friends and co-workers. Mothers and sisters from high school. Old friends, new friends.
My news today was the best kind of news. As I told Kaya in a note. Long ago I learned the meaning of benign. It means that you will not die today. That you will die someday surely but not today. Not from this.
The day will come soon when Kaya is back in her Kayak with her dog racing the wind. I want it to be sooner than later. Her passionate embrace of all that life is leads me upward and onward many days. I taste her adventures on my lips through her words. It's what the power of story is about.
As beautiful Kaya and those beautiful women know everyday is a gift presented to us in a new way. Some days taste like dregs, dirt and ashes. Others are so simple we miss the fullness of the blessing of them. Just stomp right on through them taking out the trash, letting out the dog, bringing in the mail. Then there are other days. The ones where the light catches the trees just so and you hear your mother laughing with your grandson and the sound of them - the two of them - having an inside joke and laughing together, is the richest wine of all time. The days you know you'll revisit at deaths door and still breathe a thank you.
If I could manage a strong prayer today it would be to be alive all the days of my life. Really, truly alive. To not take this raggedy, scraggly, mutt of a messy life of mine for granted for one moment. Not even this one while I wait wait in the parking lot of the vets office for Kevin the Rescue dog as he gets his heart-worm treatment.
I whispered to him last night as he stuck his cold nose to my face - Tomorrow buddy we have a big day - you and me - and we're going to go through it. We're going to come up on the other side. And so we are and so we will.
That dog has a bone waiting at home and my son is taking me to see Star Wars tonight. I'm going to go to sleep counting my blessings. But not without thinking of those four women from today, that paper gown brigade, and praying for theirs. May they be blessed with good health and many, many tomorrows.
Peace to you and all those you love.
It's been the kind of regular old life that gets away from you. All the details in the doing. So here's a few of my doings and runaway thoughts and wandering hearts consternations.
Last week I had the awesome honor of being with a group of women that have been a taproot in my life for two years. It was a fast and furious weekend as I was speaking at the Anglican Church event in Alexandria, VA. What a BEAUTIFUL PLACE. And how many photos do I have from the event? Not one. Not one of the gathering of women at their annual event. Not one of the beautiful neighborhoods. Not one of the country club where I spoke that was decorated for Christmas and the Holidays from top to bottom and beyond. Not one with my friends and most important of all - not one with the beautiful faces of the women there and with them as they were buying books! All my new friends! Where is my self-promotional selfie mode? I just don't have it. One of these days as Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and I joked on book tour we will have that brilliant kid from the genius bar somewhere that does a great job covering those things. You'll have to believe me when I say - the women were beautiful. I looked out on that crowd while speaking and thought what beautiful faces of all ages from all places. Next time I promise myself I'll do better. (I have promised myself this at the last five speaking engagements I've had.)
This semester I have had the great honor of teaching students from A Novel Idea program for their Pen and Paper Writing Clubs. I've grown attached to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. How can young people be so smart now? Why wasn't this program a part of my growing up years? It would have changed my life back then to be so involved and encouraged as a writer. This has been one of the highlights of my 2017! How many photos do I have with these students? None. Just one shot from visiting them this Summer at A Novel Idea. I'm looking for that one.
Capturing the Christmas Tree for Mom
We come from a big, live tree family. I was determined to get Mom a real, big live tree. One big enough to hold her thirty years of ornaments. I haggled and bagged the tree in subzero weather - ok - it felt like subzero - the wind was blowing. I drove home twenty miles an hour the long, slow way up River Road with it on top of the car. It was eight feet tall. The only problem is my ceilings are NOT eight feet tall. Somehow I was imagining our old ceilings at home in Panama City. We basically lived in - the Den which was an add-on with higher ceilings than the rest of the house and a big fireplace. I miss those ceilings. I miss that fireplace. Not an inch more than Mom though. Which is why I was trying to get the big tree. That is now smaller. It looked so perfect out in that big, wide open field. Now, if I can only find all those ornaments it will finally be finished. We will leave it up until it is a real fire hazard and has to go. (I have not taken any photos for social media of the work in progress. I am promising myself that soon and very soon I'll do this)
Oh, then this happened. Tom Hanks dropped by Parnassus Books in Nashville on the day I wasn't happily in the store helping customers purchase great gifts for the giving season. REALLY. He went shopping and signed a few copies of his new collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. I actually have cried, teared up, had a moment, about this because HE is one of my favorite famous people. He writes stories. He collects old typewriters. He's still married to his wife. He made a movie about baseball. What's not to love? I DO HAVE THIS PHOTO of me missing Tom Hanks. Who is not in the picture? ME, me, me.
In light of this and keeping it in perfect perspective - I've been reading the Facebook posts almost daily of my friend author Kaya McLaren who is battling and winning the war on Cancer. She writes honest, funny, heartbreaking, raw posts like long letters. She is so much braver than I am. I wrote her and told her this. That I have a diagnostic mamogram next week and I hate that. Kevin the rescue dog starts his official heartworm treatment the same day now that he has finished meds and is strong enough for treatment after his near death scare. We are going to the doctor the same day and then I am attending a Christmas party with my sister and then my son has tickets for me to see Star Wars with him later that night and I think this is a good way to reward myself for doing something I hate doing but must do. There are only two things I hate more than the mamagram. One involves a doctor. One involves a dentist.
I wrote my friend Kaya and told her how stupid it was for me to cry about missing Tom Hanks because her posts about losing her hair and fighting for her life put everything in perspective for me. She wrote back that she loved me. And that missing Tom Hanks is still missing Tom Hanks.
The reason I am able to love Kaya so much is because I know her. I know her because of this little thing called The Pulpwood Queens and their annual celebration known as GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY WEEKEND. There is nothing in the world like this experience. It happens again January 2018. I will be there. If it is not too late to get a package I encourage to try to do so although it may be sold out. It always is. I have made more lifetime friends - both writers and readers - at this event than any other event or happening in my life. The founder, Kathy Murphy is also a writer, a world changer, a ball of fire and energy and is officially this year known as The Comeback Kid. She went back to college when life tried to take her down and out of the game. Tomorrow she earns her degree in Art and the work she has been creating and posting on Facebook the last two years BLOWS MY MIND.
As a quick side-note - you can check out the teaching page on this site for more info on the writing class I've been teaching, The Mastermind Path: Following Your Muse and Finding Your Audience. What a sweet surprise to work with these writing creatives as they explore their voice, write their words, and walk the path of their writing journey. We've had great conversations with other writers including Bren McClain, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Michael Moore, and Joy Jordan-Lake and it's not over. We have a few weeks left in the course and a new one will begin in February.
That's my Wednesday Wild Card! Which didn't go out on time. And is now posted on Thursday. I have no pictures to prove it was actually written on Wednesday.
Sometimes you miss out on meeting famous people but the most important thing is to not miss out on loving the wonderful people in your everyday life.
Love and peace!
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.