I have witnesses. Let’s establish that fact. Most of my major oh no moments have had someone in the wings to say no. She did that. She really did. This woman is obviously not me. But I don’t have a photo of the day that I blew part of my hair off from lighting a gas oven after I had let the gas build up a litttttle to long while talk to my sister. We were telling important stories. She was listening until she heard an explosion and a scream and then. Silence. I was living in Pensacola attending the University of West Florida and studying Theatre. It was the morning for Dr. Yolanda Reed's Playwriting class which always made things more interesting. My sons were so young they weren't in school yet. They hung out with their gypsy mom and went to rehearsals with me and went to daycare when I was in class and when I was studying for midterms or finals they went to Panama City to hang out with Nana and Pawpaw at the creek. They ate a lot of Ramen Noodles and PBJ's. To their credit, they rolled with it.
And they got to witness on more than one occasion their Mom doing dumb things. Every family has it's stories. I've given them material for a lifetime long after I'm gone.
My sister and I can not have conversations that are a result of both of us being to tired to speak and our plates too full. We've gotten pretty primal with it. Down to a few grunts that we understand. A shorthand for communication. We understand one another. But back in the day we had looooonggg conversations on the phone catching up and telling stories. In detail. When I lived in Kansas City we once talked through an entire episode of some mini-series - for three hours. This was back when there were such a thing as long-distance charges. Then our Daddy got the bill. My younger sister was still living at home and the phone bill of course was still a Daddy thing. Then he went through the roof. But we took our storytelling time seriously. Which was really just us having a nice, long visit. Frequently. Catching up. With what had happened just the day before. In detail. Now when I hear Mama telling me a story that includes all the - And he said, and then she said, and then he told her and she said - I think - and people ask me where I got inspiration as a writer. We are made up of story. Completely. I find it odd when I get stuck somewhere and people are actually managing to have a conversation that doesn't include a story about something.
And on this day I was in the middle of a story when I started the gas on the stove to light the oven and since the pilot light was out I had to strike a match and stick it into the oven where the little flames would ignite. Only being in the mid stream of a story I kept talking after I turned on the gas. And, talking. And, talking. Then I lit the match and opened the door. This is where my sister heard the explosion, my scream, and the sound of the phone flying across the room and hitting the wall.
It's a few minutes before she hears anything else, she keeps calling me, yelling hello, wondering if she needs to call 911 and I pick up the phone and in an exasperated voice say - my hair.
FORGET ABOUT YOUR HAIR!! Are you burned? Are you alright???? She was screaming at me in that kind of frustrated I just thought my sister was dead but she is just complaining about her hair kind of voice.
Yes, I was ok. No, unbelievably I was not burned. But I did have a new-do. The distinct smell of singed hair all around my face. I had bangs where I didn't have bangs a moment ago. A shag where I'd been unlayered.
It was just a stupid thing. A human error caught up in a story kind of thing. No loss of life or limb or eyesight. But there had been a moment.
I"m just fine," I told her. The hair continued falling around my shoulders.
"Jesus, sister. Just, Jesus," she said.
Yes, I inspire people to pray. But not always for reasons you might imagine.
I went on to class, made it almost on time, and declared I blew up my hair. The smell alone as a witness.
My advice for the day - Don't stick your head in gas filled ovens - with or without a match.
It's most important that you keep living your story. And that you survive to tell it.
Mama had a gorgeous photo on her phone and I asked her where that was? She said - the porch. Ahh, yes. The memories. Only a few short months ago and the bug lanterns were lit, the trees were green, the ferns were green and we were in our Summertime mode. Painting and planting. Dirt smells and cricket yells. Now the fog has rolled in and as Mama says we look like we are in old London Town.
Yesterday it hit 69 up on the hill. A stormy tropical balm settling in. Which meant I was pulling things out of the closet under the stairs and putting Momma's camp chair in there while the weather channel forecasted Tornado weather. That's my total prep. Mom's camp chair. (for her) Two old pillows. (for me) And a gallon of water. I had an emergency light with corroded batteries and began taking the batteries out and one got stuck and then I was off working on something else. So - that's about as far as I made it on my Emergency plan. Glad the storm passed or it was about to cozy. And dark.
The Charmings came over and spent the night. They were perfect right up until the time they weren't. We cooked pigs in a blanket mini style. They told school stories - which cracked us up because the four year old only answers questions with an angry the cops are questioning me mode tone. In other words he answers in ALL CAPS!!! The boys read books, watched puppy pals, and rocked with Nana. They called Kevin who ran up on the porch so happy they were here and rushed to get inside. Only Kevin had found something really SPECIAL to roll in that was strong enough Damon started gagging and saying, WHAT IS THAT SMELL??? And I said - that's a dog's happy place. And then we ran inside and locked the door in case he developed thumbs. They brushed teeth, put on pajamas. Got into bed. And then started cracking up and laughing and rolling out of bed, and changing places, until - ZAZA said - ENOUGH! And Happy New Year. Go to sleep! This morning we had pancakes and they had very, sleepy eyes. Their sleepy eyes do not compare with MY sleepy eyes.
When they went home I tried to go back to sleep. For the day. But I started thinking that the PULPWOOD QUEENS GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY WEEKEND AND BIG HAIR BALL book club event of the season is basically TWO WEEKS away and that I will be headed to Jefferson, TEXAS because they have made CONFESSIONS OF A CHRISTIAN MYSTIC as their April Book Club of the month. Ok, that's the official sounding reason. BUT I also get to be on a panel that is like a wish list before I die panel on Thursday (if you want to call it a panel because we are the entertainment) for one of the greatest events known as the AUTHOR DINNER. But get this - it's where the AUTHORS serve the BOOK CLUB MEMBERS AND Attendees DINNER. Imagine looking up to see Pat Conroy pouring your ice tea. Yes, this is the kind of event it is and so I will be there as a contributor to the Southern Writers on Writing Anthology and as the April book club author and more than that as a friend to the Pulpwood Queen book club members who have been with me since my very, first novel, The Gin Girl. It's an honor to be in the company of such great readers, the writers they support, and Kathy Murphy the wild woman who founded the whole thing. I hope if you have a way to clear your schedule and check on remaining tickets and treat yourself to a way to kick off your New Year in one of the most memorable ways possible.
All that to say - I got excited about Texas and thinking of the million things I needed to do before I got there and I couldn't go back to sleep. Perhaps, at some point today - a nap.
SIDENOTE SPIDER RANT: I just killed a spider the size of Texas in my kitchen. I THINK I brought him in on Kevin's food bowl. BUT - it is not a good thing to have a spider the size of TEXAS within five miles of your house much less in your kitchen. On the counter. I was on the phone with a good friend who was in Nashville for the night and apologizing for being ZAZA wiped out and that I couldn't meet her which is really just a crying shame and then suddenly I went crazy sailor on her began to explain at least she was safe from the spider. I could not find a sledgehammer to kill this massive beastive so I found an old can of RAID that had a smidgen of ant killer in it and then I sprayed it till it coughed twice. And picked up speed. Which is when I dropped the can and ran and found that old deep woods off from the porch summertime days and let go of a cloud that is still hanging around the kitchen downstairs as I write this. (Mama had managed to go back to sleep so she has been safe in her room during this entire show-down) I suspect that I will go down the stairs and the spider will have come to life and crawled away the way that sneaky scorpions do pretending to die but they do not so you have to cut them into little pieces. I am sorry if this offends you but if you have never been in a cabin that has become infested with scorpions when you are trying to complete a novel under deadline and have woken up with a scorpion ON YOUR PILLOW STARING AT YOU and one UNDER YOUR PILLOW WAITING FOR YOU - then you will not know the depths of my anti-scorpian behavior. You may be able to possibly search this blog and find reference to this chilling moments. (For the record. I stayed. I became Ramboette. I slept with my shoes on. Tied my hair in a scarf. Moved the bed to the middle of the room. And I killed Scorpions by the dozen daily. When you are a writer and you are serious about your deadlines you will do these things. ) Back to the spider. I once had a wolf spider walk under my arm while I was holding a hammer. He was just asking for it. This spider was asking for it because he came in my house. I have forty thousand acres of woods around my house. They can live there and I have no problem with them and their lifestyle choices. They may NOT come to my house and eat my grandchildren. End of story.
Everybody has been reflecting on the past year And I have been sick. When you are sick you are not good at reflecting. You don't care. I was so sick I didn't even watch tv. Watching tv when you are sick is a good thing because you don't feel like doing anything else. It gives you an official card - I CAN WATCH TV IF I WANT TO AND OLD EPISODES OF THE TWILIGHTZONE ARE JUST FINE. I just laid in bed and thought about how being sick was not fun. And that I was an immense admirer of all the brave strong souls that are fighting terrible diseases and overcoming cancer and carrying on in their lives to the best of their ability every single day. You guys are all awesome. And for people who are depressed and have trouble putting on both their shoes and walking out the door and they do anyway. All the people in the world who keep carrying on in the middle of what they are going through - this moment's for you. You deserve someone to say - atta girl, atta boy, - and Happy New Year to you to. I hope you get well, get healthy, get something special just for you.
Reflection: I kept Mama busy with those plants for awhile this summer. Well, really, that's the other way around. That was a lot of flower boxes and water and dirt. Mama says keeping stuff alive is not easy. I wanted to tell her yeah, well all this digging feels like it's killing me but it didn't and was probably a healthy thing in the long run. Except now. I don't have a green house. And I keep dragging plants in and out, in and out, and covering things up and I need grow lights and the ferns are looking puny and sad and like they wish I would just buy them a ticket to the south of somewhere. (PS - I have learned that I can grow ivy. Probably this means anyone can grow Ivy but me learning I can grow Ivy and not kill Ivy is a major surprise.) So this experience stands out to me.
Reflection from this year: My native hometown of Panama City was hit hard by Hurricane Michael and is still on the long road to recovery. My heart was heaviest this year over that loss and the burden its put on the Panhandle and so many friends and family. But it has amazed me to watch how they pulled together down there and without thought of political party or church affiliation - set out to be true neighbors. Showing up, sharing food, rescuing people from trapped houses. Making new friends for life when they didn't have power or water. What one writer called 'the new normal.' having a true view of the priorities in life that changes everything. That's something that I'm carrying with me into the New Year. Deciding what my 'new normal' will look like. Not accepting the limitations of my own preconceptions and prejudices to keep me locked in where I don't belong. Out there. We all belong out there. Helping each other.
News from the HILL: Cousin Deb of Cousin Deb fame was just here for Christmas. I was supposed to be happily selling books when she showed up so son picked her up from airport but I was home sick in bed. Ho Ho HO. Not a fun way to start your vacation. She picked up the mantle and took on the Christmas shopping and cooking. (There was a method to my madness of NOT telling her I was sick before she got on that plane) And Deb said - WOW - you can grow IVY!!!????
Then suddenly Christmas turned into New Years Eve and Reflections were in order. This past year a lot of great things happened. They happened one at a time, a little here and little there. One day rolled into the next without me counting them. Sometimes, my blessings snuck up on me while I was busy with something else. When I wasn't looking. Or I was focusing too hard on the wrong thing. Looking hard at where the glass was half full. Where my deadline wasn't finished. Funny that. And all the time here is the rain pouring down of blessing upon blessing upon blessing.
Confessions of a Christian Mystic was completed, edited, put to bed, and soon - and very soon - will find it's way to bookstores and readers. The advance praise has been astounding and I thank every single person who gave it an early read endorsement. You can now preorder the book here at all of your favorite stores. Hachette has tapped me to do the official audio and we begin recording next week. (I'm so excited!). That new novel set in Nashville is nearing completion finally! And a new top secret project is underway that I can't wait to announce to you in a few weeks. In the world of writing 2018 was a grand year but just a whisper compared to what's to come. (And TO ALL OF YOU who have been reading my words for years, cheering me on and waiting for more I LOVE YOU LIKE HAPPY CRAZY!!)
Reflection: Another year of teaching writing in small groups brought some great, new friends into my life by way of students. They have wowed me with their work, their love of the written word and their energy. It has been one of my greatest pleasures in watching them grow and succeed. It's something I love doing and as time and space and writer conference opportunities open up I'll continue to do more.
Reflection: So Many great things happened that it's only in listing them I realize how I've waisted a lot of time to the nonsense of worry, toil and trouble. My oldest son married his partner in time and I was able to travel with the youngest son (who showed his Mom a whole lot of patience on that trip) to celebrate the marriage in style on the beach. I was able to vacation with all the family as they hit PC (before the Hurricane) to visit with Nana. Most of all - this past year I counted my blessings of family and friends being safe and healthy and being able to spend time with them. (I've lost a few loved ones due to illness, I've cried over the loss of so many strangers to the fires of Paradise, California- but it does bring to mind to be thankful for our days - all of our days.)
I think it has a good ring to it. I think it holds some promise. Something good to come. This year I'll be on the road again, traveling to stores, meeting readers where they live and I hope to see you out there. In the meantime, my prayers are for you and all that hold dear. For all of us overcoming, growing, holding onto each other in process of our everyday lives and challenges. And remembering what it means to be human. In our most glorious, moments. I must leave you here with the words that Author Silas House posted on his Facebook page:
So, excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” to usher in the new year.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching...
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice...
May we each find the voice we were gifted at birth, the one we need to use to carry into a New Year and in doing so bring a much needed light into the world.
Wishing you a year filled with Peace and Love,
(*This blog was picked up by Psychology Today and chosen as one of their essential reads. You can catch it here.)
I came into the world in the month of September. The great time of hurricanes. My birthday is only a few days away and Florida is heavy on my mind. Weighted on my heart. Saltwater runs through my veins and as I write this looking over this hill from Tennessee I can see those waves crashing, hear the pounding of the Gulf growing angrier by the minute, the slash and snap of the Palms wild from the wind. Along with the rest of the nation my eyes are now turned to the devastation that Irma has left in the Islands and fearing what is yet to come.
I’ve ridden out more tropical storms than I can remember. For about fifteen solid years I’ve made Tennessee my home but right now it’s in my blood to stock up on batteries, water, canned food. To Hunker down and hope.Had our little brick house turned into Noah's Ark full of cousins and animals and family year after year. My mother managed a restaurant right on the beach where I worked every summer. People sat at tables by the water and watched the moonlight on the waves as they rolled up on the shore. Every year we saw that it was bordered up and prayed for the best through the hurricanes. Every single year. A part of life.
I witnessed the destruction first hand after Hurricane Camille - a raging category five - hit the coast of Mississippi on the way to see my Daddy at Ft. Polk right afterwards. My mother crept the car by a warship that had been tossed onto land and into someones yard like a toy boat. The destruction was eerie. It was like driving through a graveyard at the close of day.
Hurricane Opal was downgraded to a three before it hit but the storm surge of Opal came in at high tide and carved molehills out of the backside of condos. From the front they looked perfectly fine but when you walked around to the back of the building there actually was no building there. The storm surge is a deadly thing.
The first time I actually moved away from Northwest Florida was to transfer with my company to south Florida. A world away. The palm trees were taller than the buildings from my hometown. The scent on the air intoxicatingly exotic. The night blooming jasmine, the orchids. I was 21 and didn’t know what to expect. North Florida is a land of old oaks, beautiful beaches, slow talkers, and porch rockers. Pine trees. Ft. Lauderdale was fast. It became home. I gave birth to a baby boy there in Hollywood just north of Miami where I had friends.
I evacuated one time when it looked like a ‘cane was coming in fast and furious and might land as a strong four and my daddy wanted me to get out. Me and sister packed up two cars with two little boys, two dogs, four puppies, one cat, and all the family photos I could carry. My brakes went out as I skirted storms that sent crashing limbs into the roads. Tornadoes chased us all the way to my Aunt Kate’s door up in Georgia. It was days upon days before we could get back (with new brakes), the National Guard still in charge, the power still out.
The world is full of refugees. It’s a clamoring world problem but sometimes a distant drum from our side of the pond. Until Katrina sent refugees scattering everywhere trying to find a toehold to hang onto. Until Harvey just hit and took our breath away. After the big show, when all the tv crews have moved on, the recovery begins. Recovery is slow. Harvey’s price tag might be close to 190 billion. But crunching the numbers says nothing about the amount of lives that will have to be rebuilt. And here’s Irma with Jose right on her tail and barreling up the same path. This time - we are the refugees.
Millions have evacuated. Millions. I can’t even fathom that number on the move in this country trying to avoid disaster, trying to save their loved ones. That’s a lot of tired, scared, thirsty, hungry people. I saw on the news where a city in another state opened a shelter and advertised for Floridians to keep coming north, they have arms open. I was watching the news from Tennessee but I was watching it as a Floridian. Worrying about family and friends there in different counties. Watching the path of the storms twists and turns. Then I realized, I’m not the only one watching. That the entire nation is watching.
Should you be a praying kind of person, now would be a good time to give a pause, to say hello to God for a good cause. For the children losing homes, for the parents clinging to their children, for the first responders everywhere and those that are standing at the ready to work to rebuild what is about to be destroyed and can’t be held back. For order, peace, provision.
Frank Sundram posted on Facebook a reminder from the old movie Starman. When the alien is asked why he wanted to come to Earth he replied, “Unlike the rest of the Universe, the people of Earth are at their best when things are at their worst.”
With a storm that will be felt across the entire state of Florida barreling its way toward us I see the news reporting that campgrounds, hotels, shelters, cities are all opening their gates to evacuees, I cling to that truth. In the survival against what might be the worst to come that we may prove in a million ways be our very best.
Pennies and prayers. They both count more than you know. Give what you can, where you can from the heart of who you are.
Praying for your peace in the middle of all of life’s storms within and without.
Greetings and Good Tidings!
Wanted to share a few mental snapshot thoughts, little flashes that come roll me as I rise and walk through the day. Thank you for following, for subscribing to newsletters, for hanging in here with me on this side of the planet even when it seemed I'd hung up a sign that said, Gone Underground and then disappeared. Well, I did. Thought I'd surface now and stay for awhile. Hang around and sit down. Put my feet up and live this thing called my life. How about you? What you doing this year?
It's a rainy day on the hill I call my home. The fog rises but never clears. Today I live in a cloud. Today I don't mind. It's the time of year where fog and rain bring a little thing known as WARM. Later this week I will see clearly in the sunshine so bright I'll have to wear shades but that will be paired with a coat. I don't own a winter coat right now. Except for my inherited beaver. I wear it sometimes because it is the warmest thing I own and it is soft and I thank the Beavers and God for making furry creatures and my Aunt who owned it once upon a time and my cousin for blessing me with it when she passed so that on freezing days this Florida girl who makes her home in Tennessee doesn't catch pnemonia and die. The "and die" part is a permanent part of my language from my Grandmother who warned us kids about all manner of things that we should be wary of. Don't go down by the creek or the current will get you and you will get pulled in - and die. Don't play in the field or you will get snake bit - and die. Don't go out there without your coat or you will get pnemonia - and die. It's the song of my people. Death is at the doorstep. Defy it. Work hard. Be determined. Set your face like flint to the thing before you and take it down one step, one nail, one board, one broken heart at a time. Survive because you are born from the blood of survivors.
All that great DNA and some days I just get overwhelmed by laundry.
The fog rolls and falls between the naked tree limbs, mist and entity, tangible grey beauty.
Moved Mama in with me. This is a working story in progress. Yelling at Big Dog to shut up because he barks into eternity and it is LOUD and he couldn't care less if I yell shut up because he knows I love him and I'm rolling his medicine in Roast Beast and he doesn't care what I say because he will keep barking, barking, barking until the cows can't stand it. Pack their udders and move to the city just to get some peace and quiet.
Mom: "Don't tell me to shut up! I'm not going to shut up!"
Me: Was talking to the dog Mom. Not you. Not telling you to shut up. It wouldn't do any more good than telling him.
Me to little dog Duncan that came with Mom: - GET up, get up off that cushion.
ME: turning to Mom - What are you doing? Where are you going?
MOM: You told me to get up.
Me: I was talking to the DOG!
We are off to a great adventure. Stay tuned.
IN THE WORKS
On the forefront - 2017 is bringing in great things.
GREAT NEWS! The audio book for Saints in Limbo release. So excited about this project and love this story. Very befitting for the year as it is Mom's favorite of all my novels. I will be doing the reading personally so hope you love it.
FINALLY - Confessions of An American Mystic: Stories of Faith, Fiction, and Faraway Places - actually gets complated this month and goes to the sweet hands of the impossibly talented Adrienne Ingrum from Jericho Books/Hachette. The subtitle is going through all the stages subtitles do - might throw it to you for a mastermind vote :)
Taking a special look back this week at some of my favorite books from 2016 and the ones that I have chosen to kick off 2017. Watch for the post.
An amazing journey lies ahead this year. Within and without. Please stay close as we travel together on this great road trip we call life. And, hang on tight 'cause I hear freedom calling, the scent of green chilis roasting in the air and west coast waves calling. It's going to be a wild ride!
Rocky was movie of the year and fittingly Bowie was singing Golden Years. They were.
I've been no-show for years. Here and there. Popped in at 10 and 20 and had a blast. Then I fell off the earth in a way. I've been busy here and there and swamped with life. Everyone has.
I liked everyone. As I remember it everyone else was just downright nice. (If things were different don't tell me now.) Of course it could have been the High School - Bay High was a true melting pot. We were beach boys, and suntanned girl. We were a bunch of pot smokers, over-achievers, football players, band members. Believers and day-dreamers. We came from every side of the tracks and run of the road. We rolled with that.
So for years we rushed ahead living our lives everything feeling more or less as if we were just a step away from graduation night. Just a few long days and short nights from the halls of ringing bells and laughter. Young couples holding hands. Favorite teachers (Hello Ms. Kelly, Coach Lawson) and each other. Just a step away from our parents being young enough we fought and argued over things like curfews and grades.
Then it happened.
We slipped into stages that were beyond Dan-D Donuts and Talley Ho. We fell out of our neighborhoods and into our lives. We loved and loss. Mates, children, parents. Friends and Family. Each other. We were broken and we healed. We picked up the pieces.
Now as I think about those days I realize even those of us who seemingly had not so much in common but a bus ride have come full circle. We have everything in common now. We've weathered this many years together and apart. We have suffered and survived this beautiful, messy, broken life.
And for just one night on the beach I'm going to celebrate all of that with those who are able to attend.
Right there on that beach, by those waves where I used to wear Banana Boat, swim in the Gulf and run the Miracle Strip at night.
For this one night I'm going to celebrate the fact that in spite of everything, because of everything, we are still alive while remembering that once upon a time we could be anything.
On this one night, on this special year, I intend to raise a glass to celebrate all that we were and all that we've become.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.