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.
For months now I've had an itch, an inkling, a constant whisper that I needed to just offer a pop-up creative class for writers and other artists. For those who might not be familiar with the term 'pop-up' it's simply a short handed way of saying it wasn't there and now it is. Seemingly overnight, inspiration hits, the muse speaks, and we all benefit.
I was invited in what seemed like a spur of the moment flourish to speak at 'pop-up' secret group of creatives in the Nashville area. Secret because you had to be a member of the closed group and maybe nominated or added by someone who knew you. Then and only then could you receive last minute invitations to a party, dinner, gathering of like minded cool creatives from all corners of Nashville. So overnight - there is this guy - who sends out an invite and oh, about 40-200 million people show up the next night. POP-up. My invite - I showed up not certain of the group because hey - they could have been strange in all the wrong ways… except I really trusted the person who suggested me and was going. Turns out - they are AMAZING people from all walks of life. Scriptwriters, movie distributors, directors, film-makers (ok, so it's a little wonderfully movie/TV heavy), storytellers, writers, and PR people.
On the drive home I thought - yep, the pop-up has its place. At least for me it means I can guide a class without spending a year planning it.
THE LOW DOWN
Between shootings in Paris, bombings, and threats of nuclear attack from North Korea, ping-pong news about talks about war and peace around the world - ships on the move from Russia, Fleets getting ready - hmmm, this heating up of crazy - I've never been more convinced that the creativity of good people is more needed or in demand. I've never been more certain that storytelling is our lifeblood, and that partnering with the divine in that telling is a sacred act.
All that being said: What is it that would help you get to the next level in the writing of your script, novel, song, or story? What would it take for you to go home and actually pick up your paint brush, get out your easel? Turn off your phone? Who needs to tell you that you don't have to wait for the perfect day, hour, life to embrace that sacred space inside you?
If you are a professional who has hit a wall in your creative thinking - this is for you.
If you just want to add a little jazz to the great work your already doing - this is for you.
If you are at the end of your rope and feel like you are going to just die if you don't simply begin somewhere - this is for you.
It has been my experience in traveling, creating, writing and speaking for more than 20 years now that it is conversation that make people bloom.
Often the Q&A after speeches provide the greatest opportunity for learning and creative growth. The reason being those Q&A's and conversations is a two way street, and the room becomes a roundtable.
One week from today I'll be hosting a gathering for those who would like to take part in a new series:
The Sacred Art of Storytelling.
Teaching and Creative Conversation:
Where: Capitol Coffee Company - Bellevue, TN
When: Friday, April 28
To claim your spot email Tomi Wiley at email@example.com -
Leave it All Behind. Renew Your Muse
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