Reflections during Lent in Real Time
I suppose if I could just sit by this window or on this porch and stare off the hill and do most of nothing - I would. A kind of general pause with no deadlines and no chores and maybe not even eating. I would enter into a kind of laziness just from the need to have a good sit and do nothing. I'd let the cows come home and the sun have it's way, rolling about the sky like it does till it gives way to the moon. It clocks out and the moon clocks in. It's the way they have worked things out.
Last night or so ago I thought I noticed that it was a new moon. Not even a quarter. It was a sliver moon but bright. So bright the whole thing shone beneath the clouds like a stone beneath the rippling water. Fading and coming into view. This was a shock to me, this moon news when I was little. I didn't realize that the moon in all its weaning and waxing wasn't literally changing size and shape each month. That like the oceans it was on the move. A trick of light I later realized. Orbits and what not and such.
Today, I had a heated conversation with a friend. Because he was telling me what he got out of my new book, Confessions - and I was telling him what was in it and the two were not exactly the same. Then I realized the differences in what people have said who have read it, where their focus has lead them to the well of what's inside them. How different people have pulled a cup up from those same words and found the flavor something different. Each one of them. This is what I love about words and storytelling. We bring to the page our own story. We read something and walk away from it more of who we were to start with. The best in literature strengthens who we are - even when we are learning something new like the power of light and shadow and the meaning of penumbra.
I have reader friends who tell me that they love my fiction and can't wait for my new novel. And read friends who say they enjoyed the last novel but what they really love is when I tell stories from my past, my childhood or my everyday. Or as one well-known author told me recently - "You know, you've got some thoughts about God in this book and I really like those parts a lot. I think you should write some more stuff about God. I'd like to see what you put down. I'd like to hear your thoughts." Which is kinda funny cause some people think the whole thing is about God.
Have I mentioned lately that I'm writing a book set in Nashville that has bourbon and bullets and dead bodies? Yes, well I probably have a time or two. That novel that's just two weeks away from being finished. The same two weeks as last year. But I'll tell you this, I'm getting closer all the time. And an early reader just told me she was absolutely captivated (at least that's the words I heard) by the story, the characters, the setting and the mystery of it all. That was good to hear being on the wings of this new book coming out. Because I shock myself in the telling of other stories. Of stories from my life. Stories of my faith. Because It seems to me fiction is my native tongue. Normally, it's what I read, the place I find the deeper, universal truths.
But then that wind picks up, I watch the trees bend and sway and blow and realize as I watch them - there is room for everything. That life has a way of making room for some of this and some of that. For the sun to roll around in that lucky ole sky all day and the moon to light our way by night. For us in spite of darkness to walk in the shadows of that bright light and pluck our way all the way home.
Home. Central time. 5:30am.
Last night I slept like a kid pretending to sleep. This is what it looks like to sleep. Pillow, blanket, eyes shut. Sometimes it worked. I napped for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. Then woke up and looked out at the moon. I did not make tea or go to the porch. This is the problem with being tired and insomniac. You want to sleep. Really, you do. But that brain keeps going clickity, clack down the track. A fun fact about the new novel - it involves two sisters who have inherited the insomniac gene that assails all the women in the family. The men sleep like the dead.
At 5:30 this morning I gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep because of the birds.
It started a long time ago, many, many years ago in fact when Mama and Daddy were at the creek. They spent some years there in retirement if that's what one would call it. They just called it life. They were some of the happiest of their lives. Daddy fished. Mama walked and worked in the flowers. She got some sun and that beautiful pale, skin that doesn't look kin to me got a tan. They both fed 'our birds' as they called them by which they meant the whole swampy creek full of birds. They had multiple feeders with seed For birds who like seed and fruit feeders for birds who loved fruit. They had raccoons that would eat from the porch at night and stare right in the window at them. They had a tribe of wildcats that came up out of the woods and took up residence. We had always had a few dogs and a few cats 'at home' down on the corner of 11th St. but now they had all manner of furry beasts that answered to their call. Even the wild birds came when they called them. They were Tarzan and Jane of Holmes creek.
One day a hawk took up there realizing he'd hit pay dirt. All those birds feeding at feeders were like me passing a fruit stand. I'll have one of those, and a red one and a green one and an orange one and so on. Momma and Daddy became sorely vexed over the situation because they felt attached to the birds that they had watched through this whole circle of life. The mating rituals, the nest building ritual, the baby birds being fed ritual and the fledglings learning to fly ritual.
When I got home recently after days away Mama wanted to tell me she was worried about 'our birds'. Now, this has been an effort of mine to make Mama happy. To hang flower boxes for flowers I don't have time to water so she points out to me - those flowers need watered - but the fact is my efforts to make Mom happy, to paint shutters and plant flowers has resulted in things looking down right lived in around here. Much more like a home than a house where I pull in and go to the computer with blinders on - write, work, write, work.
Now, I've put out multiple feeders. Seed feeders for birds that like seed and fruit feeders for birds that love fruit. Mama tells me she'd seen a hawk out there on more than one occasion the past days gone by and the birds aren't coming to eat at all. She's right. There is seed still down in the feeders. So, when I heard the birds at 5:30 I thought - well, I haven't slept all night why try to sleep now. Just go check on the birds.
Coffee made, to the porch I go.
The rooster is crowing. But it's a different crow. Either it's a new rooster or an old rooster. One finding his crow or losing it. That noise just doesn't sound like the rooster I know. And right I am. Because 'my' rooster answers this crow. Seems that there are now two roosters down the hill now. Maybe they live next door to each other. Down the hill is a good distance for a rooster to be at 5:30 in the morning. It's that kind of poetic ambience you can listen to outside but not one that is crowing at 5:30 in your ear right outside your window.
The birds are singing but only a little. Like they are whisper singing. A mother redbird comes to the feeder but she doesn't relax. She keeps looking up and over her shoulder. The next bird, some kind of finch I'm too tired to get up and get the bird book to identify is so nervous he isn't even getting any seed. He just sits there. Crazy eyed, staring up into the trees.
Bout a hundred years ago, a lifetime away now someone shot that hawk at the creek. Might have been boys on a dare. Or someone that just didn't care. My daddy found him. Brought him to my mother and laid it at her feet on the porch. She looked at the feathers, the span of the beautiful wing and said, 'Oh, how majestic,' through her tears. She still tells me about this. The beauty of that bird. "'They have a right to eat, too," she says, "I just don't want them eating my birds."
I google bird eating hawks. What to do. Move feeders under shelter, it tells me. Good ole google. At 6am it knows just what to do. I go down the steps that need replaced, make a mental note - these steps sure need replaced before they just fall off the house - and gather up the feeders. The seed feeders and fruit feeders and special little suet feeder and bring them back up the rickety steps to the porch and hang them up where I know they will make one heck of a mighty mess. There will be seed everywhere. And other stuff to clean. But, Mama's birds give her some peace.
Eventually, google says, the hawk will grow bored with birds having shelter and move off down the creek somewhere. Go to better hunting grounds. Someone else's backyard feeder.
When Mama gets up she takes her coffee to the porch, says look, "This one hangs upside down. That's just the way he likes it. He's that kind of bird."
These are the brief moments in my life where I know I did good. Where I got it right. And the world hangs for a moment in incredible balance where all is well and all shall be well and all is well with my soul.
Happy Sunday. I pray your soul find peace and comfort today, a perfect balance, in the middle of your busy life. And that you realize more times than not - you did good. You got it right.
ALSO - You can now check out my new Patreon Page here for new ways you can be a part of this wild journey called my writing life. Links for the Undercover Reader Posse, Story Support, the Phonebooth Writer Series and more!
Lots of news from the road and now that I have finally found a plug and set up somewhere that Seattle security will probably ask me to LEAVE and stop acting like I work at the airport -so I'm down to - fast and furious. Expect errors and detours. Gotta talk fast before their on to me.
If you saw the last few posts on Instagram or Facebook you know that I'm up to something. That something is what part of The Thread I'm holding onto. For many years, many, many years actually I have desperately had the overwhelming and powerful desire to get my MFA. But circumstances of various orders and gremlins and minions kept me off that path. VERY SPECIFICALLY - I have desired for ten years to get my MFA from the Seattle Pacific University Low-Residency program.
Last year as I was teaching one Saturday for the A Novel Idea program one of the incredible students showed me his recently published novel. When I opened to the dedication there was my name and some of the most beautiful words anyone could ever write about me and my teaching creative writing. Something about it hit my like an inspired rock. That day I picked up that thread that is my true life and applied without any knowledge of what to do but take the next step. And the one after that.
My acceptance into the program was one of the happiest days of my life and one of the defining moments of my life. The continuation of me taking the next step and the following one has been the result of a tremendous outpouring of support of all kinds from my family and special friends. (And more on that later and back to that special student in another blog.) And a shout out as well to my Parnassus Books 'family' for your enthusiastic support and understanding.
On other fronts some people have asked, River, when you're already a published author, have received accolades from readers and blessedly from some reviewers ( I tell my Mother all the time, 'You know, some of those novels were called 'masterpieces' by reviewers and that's not easy come by. (I jokingly add that she is not impressed but she has made this part of my life possible in more ways than one.) So in spite of that and Because . . . because . . . there is this thing, the thread. That cannot be ignored. Call it intuition. Call it spiritual inspiration. Or just call it the itch that will not be denied.
Let me offer the words of William Stafford as my greatest response.
The Way It Is
There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of that thread.
So that's my answer and I'm sticking to it. (Just had to answer some questions about baggage claim as I am potentially breaking some rules by setting up behind the unmanned info desk and airport model so that I can bogart power for the laptop from the only available plug in. The trick is to act like you belong, know what you are doing, and are very busy. Wearing glasses helps too. )
So - here comes that shuttle and I want to share with you a lot of things. I want to talk about the nice people I have met on this journey and the people on the plane and the mother in front of me that I wanted to hit with a magazine because she might just have gotten frustrated with her daughter and pinched her lips together to make her quit talking. Since I couldn't see through the chair in front of me I just leaned forward and asked if I could offer her a pen and paper for her daughter to draw or show her pictures. And she said - NO, she's just tired and should be asleep. - Then she loudly told the little girl that she was being a DISTURBANCE and bothering everyone on the plane and I decided I didn't like that woman and I haven't prayed for her but that might be a good thing to do. I did lean forward again through the crack and say NO, SHE is not being a disturbance. SHE is not bothering me.
And I prayed for a different lady on the plane who was nice (without her knowledge) and another (ditto) but - - (had to just stop and give out some information on shuttle locations. I'm getting really good at this. I could be Airport Answer Girl. PS - you can just make up anything. It makes people happy to get an answer from anyone.)
Update sidetrack - I stayed at a cheap by the airport kind of hotel for the night. I must! Share my hotel room view with you but it is on my Instagram if you check. The people at the desk were delightful in spite of the room or my lack of sleep. I made it to a Thai restaurant next door for dinner last night and brought the rest back to the desk clerk and asked her if she had had dinner or liked Thai food. She said she had never tasted Thai food. So, I gave her that food (I hadn't eaten off of for the record) and said you are in for a treat! And the reason for this is that as the world seems to get increasingly crazy, as politics in this country seem to be dividing us at the rate of insanity, I have determined my only way to combat this is to perform extra acts of kindness everyday of my life. To operate from a place of being absolutely determined to become more human, more understanding, more accepting. To offer to hold a screaming toddler for a mother to do her banking, or help someone load groceries when I'm already sick of dragging my bags around. I'll let people in in traffic and do a million other things that might normally cross my mind that I am too busy to do. The only thing I know to do to combat this tidal wave of hatred is to step up my kindness game.
So - off of rant and back to the moment -
She was still on duty this am and said it was one of the best things she has ever tasted. it was yellow curry chicken and potatoes.
Gotta dash. More soon as I can but I want you to know I started the day out celebrating the journey by doing Elaine's dance to the tune of Patti LaBelle's Neutron Dance. :)
Keep it real. Hold fast to your thread.
Some years ago I spoke at the Gulf Coast Writers Conference about the act of birthing a new book. I broke the book down into trimesters, comparing the significance and similarities between the stages of conception to delivery. The attendees loved it.
People rushed to ask me, "What book were you reading from? I want to buy that book! I must have that book."
"My journal," I said. "I just wrote this this morning." I got lucky. I was inspired. One of those magic moments when things pour out of you and through you.
And, somewhere in my journals of musings I have that original draft. Wish I could lay hands on it now. But this morning that day and that analogy came back to me so powerfully because I feel that restless, obsessive sense that the time isn't only near, it is arriving. The contractions have begun.
Almost everyone knows there are different stages to giving birth but if you have delivered a baby you have a different perspective. That sense of urgency and that you cannot escape what is happening. You will not eat dinner, watch a movie, or stare at that spot on the wall without thinking of pushing. It's all about the delivery at this point.
The weeks leading up to going into labor are hot, heavy and boring. They were for me. The nursery if you have one has been fixed. The maternity clothes are no longer cute. They are hideous. All those little booties and onesies you awwed over - you are waiting to fill them but bouncy excitement has been replaced with a solid determination. I WILL have this baby! And - it is TIME TO HAVE THIS BABY. When you are 91/2 months pregnant with your first child it feels like 10.5 years. People looked at me and instead of saying all those, "You're just glowing!" declarations they now said, "I'm sooooo sorry," as I waddled on swollen feet.
I went from being afraid of the pain of giving birth as a young mother for the first time to saying - bring it on! After four thousand hours in labor I finally gave birth to a ten pound baby. Then the doctor apologiesed saying he just had no idea and didn't know the baby was that big or they would have done a c-section and so on. (I tried to tell him I couldn't breathe!) But the baby was healthy and I survived the ordeal. Excuse me - miracle of giving birth.
When I had my second son I knew it was D-day the moment I woke up. I told my sister who was going in the delievery room with, "You better get off from work because today is the day." Like the amazing sister she is, she believed me. She did. And on a list of errands a day long while standing in the grocery store marking things off the list I went into labor. We had to leave a few items still on the shelves.
It was not a long delivery but it was an unplanned completely natural one as the only shot person could not be found. Enter the pushing method via all natural method. I didn't ask for natural.
The BIG PUSH
For some (see many) months I've been overdue on my final manuscript submission for Confessions of An American Mystic. But something wasn't right. It wasn't just that life had derailed me, it was more. I was having trouble with the content. Having completed the book once and submitted all it needed was a good rewrite. But when I went back to the pages I thought it needed more. I just didn't know what.
You can't just say - ok, I decided, it's time. I've been elephant pregnant at this point and I'm gonna have someone just take it out. Nope. Doesn't work that way. Conceptions is it's on act. But so is growth, development, and something mystical, a mystery we can't lay our hand on even if we say we can. The miracle of something coming to life. Of the sacred story making it's way - finally - into the world.
The baby is ready to be born. I'm pacing the floor, talking to myself and going back to hitting the keys.
What's being born in your world? Are you going through that moment when inspiration first hits? Like that kid in the picture when that moment first arrives it is pure delight. The big Eureka moment. It's a moment worth savoring and enjoying. Because the time to dig in, roll up your sleeves and begin the real work will start soon. And, there isn't always a certainty of when that looks like.
Sometimes a story midwife needs to be called in. One like the excellent Blake Leyers. I did that recently because I couldn't see forest for the trees. You might need a professional eye on your words. Although a writers critique group can be invaluable sometimes it's a good thing to get a read from a professional outside your circle. The world of editors are worth more than their weight in gold. They illuminate the manuscript, see the parts that need to come to life, or need to be cut away.
That 2nd part of the trimester is not the bubbles moment of conception but it is when you put the words to the page and then work them.
But when the push comes, regardless of who is with you in the delivery room, no matter how many cheerleaders, when it comes to writing a book only you can know exactly when it's time to say -
A story is being born.
Godspeed with your words.
7 Questions with Ariel Lawhon
Today marks the paperback release of the (based on a true story) mystery,
he Wife, The Maid and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon and we are delighted to bring her to the Bona Fide to visit.
Q1. You have written this knock-it-out of the park novel. I don't know if you wrote as a child but did you ever find that you were 'thinking in story'?
Thank you! And yes, I did write as a child! I can remember knowing from an early age--maybe five--that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. So I would scribble my own stories any chance I got. But more often I'd act out the stories that my mother read to me at night. The Hobbit. Anne of Green Gables. All the Narnia tales. I truly believed that Story and my deep, desperate belief in it, not only changed my life but saved it.
Q2. What makes a story one for you personally that you don't want to put down?
I can usually tell from the first page, often the first paragraph if I'm going to love a book. There's something about the tone in those first words that says so much. But beyond that it's about characters and heart and that deep sense of being carried away that a good novel brings. I think of The Thirteenth Tale. Or The Book Thief. Or Outlander. Or Water For Elephants. Or Peace Like A River. All of those books have a soul to them. Something so close to the surface that you can FEEL it when you begin to read. I want a novel to break my heart and then patch it together again at the end. The Time Travelers Wife did this for me. As did The Kite Runner. I want to care so much about the people on those pages that I can't put the book down. I want to think about them when I'm not with them.
Q3. What was it about this particular story, a true crime fact, that made it one you didn't want to put down or leave alone but bring to the page?
It was the judge's wife, Stella and her yearly ritual at a bar in Greenwich Village. Every year on the anniversary of her husband's disappearance Stella would go to a bar called Club Abbey. She would sit in a corner booth, order two shots of whiskey, and raise one in salute of her missing husband. "To Joe! Wherever you are!" Stella would drink her glass then she'd get up and leave the bar, the other shot of whiskey untouched on the table. She did this every year for thirty nine years. Even though she remarried. Even though she moved on with her life. When I read about Stella Crater doing that, she took up permanent residence in my mind. I had to understand why.
Q4. You have written this sexy, sassy novel with three powerful lead female characters that are simply wowzer. Just for the fun of it if we were playing cast a movie, who would you choose for the three main leads?
Ha! I never know how to answer this question. Truly. The women in my mind don't share a face with anyone else. They are their own persons. And if the book was ever made into a film I would have to let go of my idea of who they are. Not that I would mind of course!
(Just for the record we will now have to work on casting this one in our free time. Hollywood hope you're paying attention because there are 3 powerful women out there ready to grab these leads.)
Q5. This is very special time period story but there is something that is candidly alive about it. When reading it I never felt I was reading something historical set in the days of the prohibition but that I was actually there, in the story, in that nightclub, hearing that music. Can you tell us a little of what went into the writing to make that true?
Tears and gnashing of teeth. That's what went into it! I'd never been to New York City before I wrote the novel and I almost didn't write the book because of that. I was afraid I'd get it wrong. And getting a city like New York wrong just isn't an option. It's so iconic. It's so gritty and dark and exotic. Especially at that time. Or at least that's how it seemed to me. But then, a slight miracle happened. I discovered that Stella Crater published a memoir in 1963 (published by Doubleday, ironically--who know I'd end up at the same publisher?). And suddenly I had much of the story in her own words. Stella was able to bring NYC alive for me. I was finally able to see it through her eyes and translate it to the page. What you read in the book truly is Stella Crater's NYC.
Q6. One of our characters is a dancer and there is quite a bit of sashay going on in the novel. Just wondering, can you dance?
Sadly I was born with a tin ear and two left feet. I can not sing, dance, clap in time with music, or write poetry. I'm a one trick pony. Novel writing is all I have.
Q7. If you could have written any work of literature by another writer from any period in time what would it have been and why?
I want to answer this question a thousand different ways. I can think of so many novels that moved me on a deep, primal level. But if I had to pick just one I would say The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It's the first book I ever loved. Lucy Pevensie was the first character I ever wanted to BE. Hell, I still want to be Lucy. She was the one who always saw Aslan first. She was the bravest, the kindest, the most tender, the most honest. And because of Lucy I remember thinking, as a very young child, that if Jesus was anything like Aslan I would love Him too. That's a powerful thing if you think about it. I'm thirty-six years old and I remember that thought, word for word. A book made me feel that. Just paper and ink the thoughts of one man. Never, ever let it be said that books don't matter. They change the world because they change people first. They make people better. They make people hope and laugh and love. They make children aspire to things beyond their reach.
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (Doubleday) is based on a true missing persons case from 1930. Ariel believes in coffee, stories, and friendship. You can find her online at www.ariellawhon.com
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.