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.
Reflections during Lent in Real Time.
The baby has arrived! Ginger called me to the back of Parnassus Books today and said - Hey, River - take a look at this!
The surprise were the boxes hidden away of Confessions of a Christian Mystic which OFFICIALLY arrives April 2. There is a sneak preview party at Parnassus Books March 29 at 6:30 and books will be available.
Me being laden with allergies that do NOT belong to me. I don't know whose allergies these are but I don't want them. This is the kind of thing people go to the doctor to get a shot. I have never been that person but I am the proud owner of a new box of Allegra because that generic stuff I took this am did NOTHING! Tomorrow I have high hopes for a different kind of day.
In the meantime - Catherine was kind enough to let me grab her and ask, Will you hold my book? And she did! And I am dancing for joy - on the inside - because today I was more like . . . a slug. That's how I'd describe me. A slug. BUT ---
Confessions of a Christian Mystic is BEAUTIFUL. I must give kudos to Hachette/Faith Words for doing an OUTSTANDING job and from someone who loves books, printing, publishing, first editions - Oh, MY. I'm a little bit over the moon about.
Mama said - It's bigger than I thought it would be. (Insert your favorite emogi here. ) For me - it was the moment where you are just glad that the baby is healthy. And then you look at the baby and decide it's the most beautiful baby in the world. Because that's the way Mother's are. All babies are the most beautiful. It's creation and new life and glory be.
And - here's another thing. You would be amazed at the difference between an advanced reader copy known as an ARC in the business and holding the REAL DEAL. It's like holding a baby doll and someone saying - this is kinda, like gonna be like your baby. But then the real thing arrives and realize, No, that was nothing like holding the real thing at all.
I started reading Confessions and was surprised at the words. The stories. The honesty. The revelation. The passion. The truth. And, yes, the beauty of it. It is an odd, little quirky work about growing up a little southern gothic girl (that means the stories that surrounded me were of a particular literary genre nature) who was born to be a southern novelist and who believed in signs and wonders.
I read a chapter aloud titled, The Dream Readers and wanted to shout with how much I loved it and how it captured this slice of my growing up, being at my Grandmother's house and the women of the family who believed in Jesus and about signs and dreams and forebodings.
Then I turned to a chapter about the full moon and watching it on a winter night, whispering prayers, being filled with a strange and wondrous Peace and I began to cry. At my own words. Again. I decided to not try to read that chapter aloud.
There's a letter to a friend about being southern and a believer that includes an entire PROLOGUE from a Novel-in-progress, letter to my granddaughters about death and faith and living, a letter to friend about Divorce, a short-short story about a man who sees a light at the window, a chapter where I imagine Death being a train we catch and the angel of Death being a bartender who pours memories and revelations in a glass - one tiny, final sip of this thing called life.
And I fell in love with this story in all it's Southern Gothic, Christian Mystic storytelling ways. In love I tell you. Which is exactly the way a new mother should be. Someone ready to whip out a photo and say - let me tell you about my baby.
I was bold and inspired in the telling. I pray to be so now in the revealing. It's time to take this baby on the road and bring her out into the world to meet you. I do so hope you love her.
God bless and keep you on this March night full of stars and wild with story.
A Smattering of Scattered Thoughts and Appreciations
The long, noisy weekend - the dancing and laughter, readings and connections, have all fallen to the quiet of a Tennessee morning on the hill. We are engulfed in a cloud of grey. Skeleton trees stretch out their limbs. I long for Spring. Or snow. Mostly, Spring. Sunshine, beaches. That old smell of Panama Jack that came with a warning: Must have a Dark Tan before you use this product. I did. It was glorious. Now just grey skies. Forever.
Yesterday morning Mama had a bad dream and I went running down the stairs cause I heard her call out.
I said, "Mama?"
She said, "I'm ok,"
Bad dreams find all of us sometimes. Waking from one can leave you as empty as those trees. Just as lonely. But if there's an old dog nearby or someone that says, "You ok?" that cares about your sleeping and waking hours it can make a difference you can feel. Like a rock that has weight and drops down to a place where you feel like someone or something solid and forever anchors you to this world. Waking up from a bad dream to an empty bed, an empty house, empty arms takes all the substance away. Like you could just float away and nothing in this world would save you 'cept Jesus.
I came home from my trip and rolled up my sleeves to finish this novel. No matter what. The days the hours, the obligations, schedule, promotions and road trips coming. Now, I bring this story home. Going into the deep end, out there, where those characters live and breathe inside of me. And, it's fixin' to get real. My good friend, crazy man, writer, Pulitzer finalist, Charles McNair says writing is something like controlled schizophrenia. Yeah, something Just like that. When you get it right.
On the Air
Did Clearstory Radio yesterday just playing some tunes and sharing a few stories. Next week - the Montage - Live from Jefferson: The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend. Please tune in and share. Wednesday, January 30, 1:00 Central. Special appearances with authors from the week and a great shout out to my #1 man Adam Green for running sound, plugging in his equipment, filling in all my gaps and making it all seem just like the greatest jam session of all time. (And - folks, that boy can dance!) You know you have the right recording partner when you can say, Let's do this! Do some interviews and then yell, Let's DANCE! and take a break. Much fun and Great Love!
Confessions will be out there before I know it. I'll be back on the road, visiting readers at bookstores and bookclubs across the country but right now -
It's Thursday up on this hill. Mama is a late night bird. Always has been. So she's still sleeping and I might get another chapter in before she wakes. But no matter. No matter the hours - morning or midnight - I've dedicated hours every day to this novel set in Nashville that has some surprises up its sleeve. I promise. I've been saying since last summer I was just 2 weeks away from finishing. Something Mr. Clyde Edgerton calls the sweet place. The sweet space just got sweeter 'cause this is the real deal. The last two weeks. It's the time your story possesses you and you just got to get lost in it and let it drive the train. If you see me and my eyes look a little glazed over it's cause I'm not really living in this world. I've got Black Crows playing in my earphones and these people are talking to me, all I hear is them running through my brain. There's a girl sitting in a bar drinking bourbon and talking to ghosts. She's trying to stay out of jail on a murder charge for a night she can't remember and she's about to play a winner take all poker game that has universal implications. If she loses, there goes the farm. And if she wins? Well, she doesn't think about that much. Bad luck don't you know.
Wishing you all the best luck this world has to offer today, angels to guide you, and your heart clear and pure as a clear creek, sun bouncing off that water as you skip a pocket-full of stones, watch them scatter, jump, take flight, and dissipate below the water, like heart-born wishes in the summer heat.
Your friend, River
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.
Did you see all those recent photos on Instagram. Well, they are a lie. Ok, not a lie. Exactly. What you see are these vistas and landscapes. The sea. Dandelions. Feet on the ferry. New friends. Great faces. What you don't see is me in my dorm room thinking - this is a terrible idea. This is crazy. Why am I here? What was I thinking? I want off this Island!!!
For those of you who didn't catch the most recent blog I was off on a new adventure, a dream of a lifetime opportunity, and had been accepted at the MFA program that was my #1 choice for multiple reasons one being - the degree of difficulty. Yes, I am known for being that person that expects it to be hard. Who wants it to be worthy. Who believes climbing the mountain is the reason we get to look out at the view and wax wordy because we climbed the peak. So why was I crying?
I don't know. Because it was all those things. Because I'm an introvert. Because I was cold coming from a heat wave in Tennessee to a charming, foggy island wonderland. Because I twisted my ankle in a classic Chevy Chase fall that curtailed anymore rock climbing. Because it was actually what I was expecting back in application phase. Difficult. Challenging.
To start with the Art and Faith reading was Laurus, the Russian equivalent of The Name of the Rose. And, yes, it's a masterpiece. We were supposed to read it multiple times before residency. Along with a collection of poems I'll discuss later. We also had Chapel everyday at 8:30 (by choice) and Communion on Sunday. I'm down with those things. And that's good because it was Chapel that presented a poem/writing by some 18th century person that will now carry me through the rest of my year. If it hadn't been for chapel that day, and the car keys of a new friend that said - sure, just take my car and get away - that re-centered my entire life in a few hours, I'd still be crying. The lesson behind this is - go to chapel when you can and certainly when the spirit leads - and always take the free car keys.
When you are in a low-residency program as I am where you aren't on campus everyday it means your together time will be distilled down like fine bourbon. You will be shoved into a barrel and aged together. You will eat together, play together, read together, write together, workshop together, attend lectures together. For introverts, this is a LOT OF together. Did I mention I am an introvert? People think I'm not because I will follow you trying to tell you a story till the cows come home but it takes a lot of quiet, alone time to pull off all that extroverted storytelling. And, no, it really doesn't matter that you DON'T WANT TO HEAR the story. It's a compulsion that can't be controlled.
I was called and referred to and painted as - A HOLY Fool. This did not make me cry but laugh and feel downright holy fool proud. (Holy Fool's play a very, important part in Laurus)
So I'm home to a very happy Rescue Kevin who has stayed under my car depressed figuring if the she that mostly feeds me ever comes back this Beasty is one of the first places she will go. (yes she is my best little bff of a beasty on the road.)
That Greyhound bus trip that involved over three buses and ten hours of stories? OH, that is so rich it's going in the NEXT BOOK!
Peace to you all you beautiful wandering souls! I hope you are living your dreams out there and just bouncing off, climbing over, tunneling through all of the obstacles that stand in your way!
(More Pictures and words to follow.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.