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.)
It's been all monumentally, simple moments up on the hill. Summer has basically come and almost gone while I wasn't looking.
The shutters are still a project. Lying half painted and waiting. I have to admit I'll give them credit they don't yell at me like other inanimate objects. Like my laptop. It whispers all the time. Words, words, words. The shutters wait with a quiet confidence that I'll return and they'll be all firecracker red in no time. The laptop, it sometimes shutters a little in fear. As if all of time will pass by and the words I was meant to write will rest inside of me for all time.
I'm listening in the quiet places. Somedays I live another life instead of writing. Somedays I fill the plastic pool and buy a watermelon and pick up the Charmings (the duo that makes up part of the wolf pack when all the littles are together.) and say HEY - WANT TO HAVE SOME ZAZA FUN? And they act like I walk on water, that I have superpowers, that I am someone really important. Higher ranking than any queen or diplomat. Then they climb in my car and I take them to the pool and cut the watermelon and they stand in one foot of water with watermelon slices, red juice running down their arms and grin at each other and nod their hands like - IS THIS NOT THE BEST LIFE EVER???? Zaza is fighting something and a little under the weather but they don't need to know this and in this moment - it is the best day ever. And then we watered flowers and drew pictures and played with trucks and lit sparklers on the front porch and watched a movie. And that was a very, good day.
Life still opens up slowly up on the hill. The fog lifts and changes shapes, finds the trees, climbs higher. On my better days I'm up in time to watch this show take place. It settles me and sets the tone. Breathe it says. Just breathe. And God says things. Like yes and I know. And, just breathe.
I'm on the road now which seems to be my natural state of being. Wheels moving across the asphalt where they can just keep on moving like we'll just drive into the hereafter if we don't slow down. I've snuck off to a coffee house because the house is still sleeping. Mama and cousins so as soon as I open my eyes and say thank you God I'm still breathing, the world is still spinning, gravity is not lost - I think COFFEE like I need an IV fix, pull on jeans a shirt I've worn three days running, grab laptop bag and find the closest coffee shop. It's a new one for me. I so long to head over the bridge and park in St. Andrews where writer friend Tony Simmons hangs but I'm sticking close to the family this am. So I'm at a new place. Finn's it's called. Attached to the old Mr. Surf's. A hangout of my teenage years.
There's a guy talking Jesus. I know this because he has said Jesus a few times and then mentioned Corinthians. I gotta say, he looks healthy. That kind of tan and juicing healthy that some people look. Not like vampires that have been up late singing King of the Road at Cousin Deb's backyard Karoke bar. I bet he went to bed at an earlier hour. Now I notice praise music is playing on the speakers. They have soy candles for sell and raw almonds and hemp seeds and bottles of wine for sale. This is good. All of it is good.
I put in earphones and play David Gray's Babylon. Again. It's my new over and over and over song.
And read a few pages of Always We Begin Again. The tiniest of books. Evidence that the weight of words isn't measured by the length of them. I make a note to read the meditation, Each Day on the air on Clearstory Radio next Wednesday. Being back on the air is like slipping on an old coat. One I've missed and get to remember brand new all over again. It's a strange little mixture of words and songs all celebrating living a creative life with soul.
The news. Greece hurt me. People driven to cliffs to try to find the sea, to escape. Families clinging to one another in a last embrace knowing they will die. Found that way. A thousand million words couldn't say more to me than that image in my heart which spoke volumes of all that we hold dear and love and the best of who we are. One last embrace.
Today is my friend Fran's Birthday. She happened to be mother to one of my best friends, grandmother to three gorgeous girls who continue to bless my life just by knowing them. But she was also a friend with open arms, a great supporter of so many authors. A lover of story, a compassionate, passionate person full wonder. She was - and still is - a part of the magic that makes up my life.
Today I hope you find the magic that makes your life worthy of every blessed minute we have here together. I'll be back soon.
Peace and promises,
I said I was gonna do this and that. Start Mama's Blog called Go Ask My Mama and publish my new Patreon page. I have not. For a few reasons. One being the shutters. I have been painting the shutters and the porch because Mama said -
It just looks so depressing.
To which I said -
It's not depressed. You're just depressed so you see it through depressed eyes.
(Me and Mama have conversations this way. So don't worry. We have been at this relationship for years. Not much has changed except I would say I think we laugh more. And that's a very good thing. We need it.)
So, Mama wanted me to paint the house. I can't afford to paint the house but I did want to please Mama so I stumbled across a house on Pinterest that looked liked mine but it had painted shutters and window-boxes. I sent that picture to cousin Deb and she said - WOW! What a difference. I had to write back that's not my house. But we did get paint for the shutters. It is called FIRECRACKER. We tried little tiny samples of red this and that and the only one that would POP is the FIRECRACKER. I never knew I wanted to have firecracker shutters but I have always known that I wanted to make Mama happy except for a few times that I was too mad to want to make her happy. One was when I was nineteen and the other might have been fifteen. OH, and two other times but outside of that Mama being happy has always been like a goal of mine. My Daddy was just happy. And he was easy to make happier. It didn't take much. A good day fishing whether we caught anything or not was a great day with Daddy. More on Daddy for fathers day.
Mama. Well making her happy was a good thing cause turns out she is right. An old brown house with brown shutters with a side of brown brick is a lot of brown. I would not survive on Survival Island. I've always thought I would but after painting yesterday for four hours in the middle of the day I realize I would be the first to go. The short straw. The weak link. People tell me you are supposed to drink water and not coffee to undertake these types of challenges. That and maybe not painting when it is 454 degrees in the shade. But I am determined. I do have that going for me. And then I have the tiniest little big of that thing where once you get into something like counting toothpicks you can't stop. So now it's all about MUST FINISH PAINTING THE SHUTTERS. Because the fact is it has picked up Mama's spirits considerably and I count that a great thing. Depression hurts at any age. And if happiness and a little relief from that can be had for the price of a gallon of paint and some muscle work on my part - I'm all in.
Now to the news at hand that has saddened my heart.
I'm not going to write much about Anthony Bourdain except for this because the news is full of it. But It's truly why I didn't post that blog yesterday. I didn't see that one coming. Just like Robin Williams who was someone else I admired immensely. One of my sons had been on the security detail for Robin Williams when he went to entertain the troops and I treasured a photo of them together. Like Robin I have been a true fan of Anthony Bourdain since the beginning of No Reservations. I have his shows recorded. I've loved his books which I own. The most important thing to me was his compassion and understanding of people from all walks of life and all cultures. Someone referred to him as a global ambassador and I thought that fit him perfectly.
Years ago I had a dream where I was hanging out with Anthony (or Tony as his friends called him.) We were eating and talking and laughing like old friends. Having the best time and the best conversation. And I think in the dream I actually called him Tony and told him I hated to go but that I had to be in New York the next day to speak so I had to catch a plane. To which he replied, Well, I'll just come with you. So that we could continue our conversation. It was something I always looked forward to as if I would actually meet him in person and we would just pick up that conversation and laughter where we left off.
My heart goes out to all who loved him, to all of his fans, and to those who are experiencing the darkness that drove him to such despair. I am posting a link here for an article written by my good friend author Kerry Madden which just ran in the L.A. Times about how Anthony's death resurrected her painful past with family members who died too young by their own hand.
Maybe, someday in the wide, strange world of the hereafter I could still pick up that conversation like we had never missed a beat. In the meantime, I'll take a deep breath, and rewatch his shows and keep painting those shutters for Mama while she's in this world.
Be ye kind to one another. And, be kind to yourself. This world so desperately needs a gentle touch if any of us are to carry on. And for those who struggle with the dark edges of a depression that leads you down the path of imaging your death here is the link to the National Suicide Hotline. It's NEVER too early to reach out and get help. And it's never something to be ashamed of. 1-800-273-8255
Peace to you and all you love from The Hill,
Not the movie. My suitcase. Little Miss Sunshine is the name I dubbed my carry-on that has seen about as many miles as I have. She is scratched up, peeled off, dented, beat up and broken. After my last trip I had parked her in my closet but not tossed her out of sentimental reasons. She has been on three book tours with me. Traveled coast to coast to coast. Been on the road for one tour over two months non-stop. She's carried my goods, operated as a sound equipment carry all when I recording Clearstory Radio programs on site at The Southern Festival of the Book and elsewhere. She has been - my friend.
When I first purchased her eons ago it was with an advance check from a book contract. If you are a writer and you are going to purchase something that has full mobility spinner wheels with a ten year warranty and so forth I recommend doing so at a real luggage place when you have said advance. The time will never be better and otherwise you will talk yourself out of this purchase. Don't do it. All those miles are entitled to being able to move stuff from point a to point b.
For years upon years I've worn black on black, carried black with a side of black. This was long before the goth movement or maybe before all New Yorkers wore black as a silent symbol that they were true New Yorkers. I just did. It was my favorite non-color. So when I bought this wild, artist creation of a suitcase it went totally against type. But there she was up on the high ledge. It was kinda a love at first site moment. I saw her and my eyes got all swirly like The Fantastic Mr. Fox movie and I asked them to take her down. I bought her. I took her home. People commented for years that she was certainly - something. And, I said, yes, she is. She was created by an artist. And, they replied like yeah maybe a five year old. And I told them they just didn't appreciate real art.
We had so many miles ahead of us that I had thought I'd make a little video of her traveling in all the cities, airports, backroads. I shot one short video that my Mama loved and I don't have clue where that might be. I thought I'd take a slew of photos like the gnome commercials. Like Kaya McLaren did with her PWQ Barbie trophy. Nope. Didn't do it.
The people who did appreciate her were The Adorables who were young enough back then to think everything I did was cool and me showing up was like a movie star whizzing in. Little Miss Sunshine was the icing on the cake. They like to roll her for me because she had such magnificent wheels. The stewards and pilots and security people in the airport smiled when they saw her coming. A bright cheery little thing in the midst of that boring waving of black black black suitcases all day. I felt like I was doing my little bit of warm, sunshiney part in the world to carry her along. When I arrived in a new hotel room she beamed like a good friend, a steady companion.
Still, the day came when people said, you know - you really need to get a new suitcase. When the airline people kept saying, We have to make a note that she has a broken handle. BUT HER WHEELS! I wanted to protest, they're still really spinn-ey.
Finally, sadly, I realized it was time. Then black Friday rolled around with a group-on special for a set of luggage with spinney wheels. Matching. One, two, three. All black or all white and I chose all-white figuring I'd cover it with bumper stickers or something. It would suffice. It was gloriously inexpensive and not a smidgen of the quality. Still, Little Miss Sunshine had entered cloudy days. I packed her away. Didn't trash her because I just couldn't. After all, coast to coast to coast makes for a lot of memories. I had parked the new, empty luggage behind a piece of furniture that I had my son move into a closet. (Don't ask because it is a long story). I tried to get it out. I could not. I asked my sister to come help. We could not. She said, This is not happening, in her very, practical sister voice. I tugged at the furniture, I tugged at the suitcase handle which I could reach. I stood on my head and tried to force it sideways. Let me repeat, she said, this is not happening. Then she reached for Little Miss Sunshine and said - here. Take this. And throw the rest of your stuff in the backseat. Just throw your clothes in there and go!
Little Miss Sunshine rides again. To Texas. For surely, certainly, most likely the very last time. It's hard to say good bye to people we love but also the things. These lovely inanimate objects that are said not to have a life but the little toaster would argue with this. And the scientist. Those great minds of physics that discuss things like atoms and molecules and all matter and manner of things being made up of the squares that make us but energy. Swirling masses of light and stardust. Every changing, decaying, evolving.
I couldn't think of a better place for LMS to hang up her boots than officially at a Pulpwood Queen Event called Girlfriend getaway weekend. After all, like these women, she has been a good friend of mine.
Again it happens. My first visit to Nashville was based on my being a presenting author for my first novel, The Gin Girl (a swamp noir mystery) at SoFest as we call in here around the city.
So you might say it was Sofest that brought me here and Nashville that kept me. But I have no doubts that move was Divine in its making.
Right now authors are in packing to fly, drive, motorcade or camel back their way to the Athens of the South. Over 200 of them. Wise cracking and snarky, brilliant and inspirational, romantic and historical. Every genre and mood represented. The fact that it's FREE FREE FREE should be enough reason to get in the car, cancel other plans, stop what you are doing and attend. If I could drive to your door and pick you up and bring you I would.
Book festival have become more than a simple celebration of the word or a chance to hear your favorite authors tell funny stories about dropping their pants at the front door (Rick Bragg) or singing a song about Baloney and Beer (Clyde Egerton) - there is some serious stuff in there as well - they are a part of what America is carving out as our new town squares. Our old downtowns where humans actually walked the street and greeted one another. Where you were happy to see another face and you had something in common - you were neighbors sharing the same city and not minding doing so.
This weekend in Nashvlle people who love story, music, books, sunshine, innocent children, old dogs, all that is good in humanity - will converge on Nashville's Memorial Plaza. It will be a grand weekend filled with celebration and great reads.
Please join us and help us celebrate and welcome these 200 Authors to our city.
(I'll be in the Parnassus Book Tent all day Saturday and Sunday so please drop by and say Hi.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.