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
Well, it's happened again. Over the years I've had this experience of attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway weekend as an author and presenter. I wish I had time to tell you what the FIRST year was like. (later, promises) And, now, I am a Pulpwood Queen - it's just that simple. That's the difference. I went from being shy, introverted, wearing all black and no costumes - to showing up in pink and leopard, jumping out of the car and screaming PULPWOOD QUEENS FOREVER!
Like, just last night I was dancing with a cow. Seriously. No, seriously. The cow had udders as cows tend to do. Author Patti Callahan Henry was screaming - STOP STOP don't do it. Don't ruin your life. (because there were photos being taken and video being shot and special people reading this - you can politely NOT PUT THOSE ON FACEBOOK OR YOUTUBE FOR ME) But the thing is I think Patti was smiling and laughing the entire time I was dancing with the cow. And so was the great author Paula McClain who came with wigs, boots, fringe, cowgirl boots (and I'll find photos of her and Patti as the Judd sisters to share later) - but she was laughing too. Or maybe she was in shock that an author was being so - udderly ridiculous. Yes we were doing some kind of up close rock and roll rumba. What's a girl to do but throw herself in all the way. Not an inch but all the way. Pulpwood Queens - It's an attitude.
Last night author Nicole Sieitz said, "River, you just got to own getting all up in the udders. That's all. Own it - before it owns you."
This is me owning it for this reason. These ladies spend all year buying books, reading books, supporting authors - and . . . taking care of their families, protecting abused children, caring for the elderly, rescuing animals, praying for the world. This one weekend they get to come have FUN! To put on a wig, put on the dog, be the cat's meow, turn back the clock and howl at the moon. I have learned to howl with them.
Late last night, as they were trying to sweep the dance floor and I was still dancing two Pulpwood Queens came up to me to have a serious talk. They said -
"River, you need to do more of this."
And they were in serious advice mode. They meant it like a word from God. They weren't talking about speaking on a panel about Southern Writing. They weren't talking about reading from my new book Confessions of a Christian Mystic. They weren't talking about me sharing stories about my new friend author, Claire Fullerton coming into my room to teach me thigh-sliming ballet moves at 6:30 am or stories about my old friend, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and our 21 city 14 day road trip book tour. They were talking about me DANCING and dancing and dancing. Laughing and laughing and dancing some more.
My answer to them?
I looked them dead in the eye and said - "I don't know how to do this without you."
And, that's the truth. Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend is when I thought of it this morning - a safe place.
I can't say it's that kind of sin city what happens here stays here kind of place. Cause Lord knows from all the facebook posts - that's not true. But still, it's a safe place. Like a church should be. Where your sins aren't being tallied but your life is being celebrated. Where words still matter but your heart is what is worth your weight in gold. It's where people hug one another and say how are you? How are you, really? How can I help? And then go celebrate all weekend long - having as I call it the 'we of us.'
On a recent facebook photo that showed up I wrote -
"How did I get so lucky to live this life with these people? To have this moment on this planet as the stars whir and spin above us. God knows how I love you all. You bless my boots clean off!"
That's my take on it all. How did I get so lucky to fall in love with all of you? Let's just call it Divine Providence. And there's nothing silly about that.
Love to Jefferson and all the Pulpwood Queens in the whole wide world as I turn this body homeward. May you all find a safe place and dance till your hearts and souls fill to overflowing with the passion that is ours for the taking in this wild, wonderful life.
Yesterday was pure magic. First it was Sunday and it felt like a sabbath. A kind of quiet day given over to prayer and introspection, rest and reflection. To reading. Early in the morning the fog was rising in the little valley but the sun there at the edge of the world at sunrise was promising. The wind had turned and was blowing in from the East. The Summer was past and it let me know that soon the wind would turn, tunnel down from the North and I could feel all these things down in my soul. That it was time to pile wood, to ready for Winter. It was the first day where it felt as if that old clock known as seasons had shifted. No more Indian Summer days that surprised us with warmth and promise. Now the wind held a chill, shook the trees that cast off their leaves by the hundreds. I watched them sweep and pile at my feet. The world on the hill was quiet. The traffic kept its peace.
Lately, I've been embracing Sunday's for reading. A curl up in bed or sit on the porch kind of day to allow myself this luxury. Not reading for work, or after work or just before bed. But reading as a center-point of the day. A spoke of a wheel. And since it is Sunday I've laid aside all types of reading and picked up a habit of reading those things that reflect or embrace a spiritual side of life. In some way. This is a wild, sweep of a description since it encompasses so much. Books like Leif Enger's Peace Like a River would fall into my Sunday category. Yesterday, I picked up Mark Richard's House of Prayer No. 2. Roy Blount, Jr. described this work as "Hot damn! and Glory Be!" and I think that is a fine assessment. I've never met Mr. Richard's but I read this book years ago when an author friend, Michael Morris was kind enough to mail it to me with a note that said - I think you will like this book. And, he was right. I like it as much the 2nd time around as I did the first and am highly recommending it to those people who are studying writing with me to add it to their library of books that lead by example.
So, I read and watched the leaves fall and said my prayers. And read a book on prayer that is meaty and in it's upteeth printing since the 1940s and it requires that I concentrate on the words. And then think about them. And then underline some and think about them some more. It's Harry Emerson Fosdick's book on The Meaning of Prayer. I picked it up in the throw away free books at McKay's when I went in to find season 3 of that very, expensive soap opera known as POLDARK for me and Mama to watch. The Poldark's have just about worn us out with their problems but we are hanging in there trying to help the story find a happy ending. Which may never be forthcoming since PBS is now on Season 4. We are almost caught up with our binge watching evenings and then we will have to return to Antique Road Show and the Golden Girls to find something to agree on until the next big thing comes along.
Last night it grew dark early. Mom had gone over to Sisters to visit, little dog Duncan had gone to the sitters and for a moment Kevin the rescue dog and I sat in the growing evening shadows as I read House of Prayer No. 2 and the house was still and silent. The rain had started and was steady, the wind still shaking the branches, raining down in gusts acorns that are golf ball size and clack, clack, clack against the roof. The birds defied the wind and clung to the feeders eating as they were spun around and around and around. There was a kind of peace that defies the stress that so easily besets us these days. On every level.
For a few moments I quit worrying about things and was just a reading woman, sitting by an empty fireplace. I kept looking up from the page knowing that soon and very, soon I'd be layering log upon log, smoking up the old house in such a way that everything in it including me will smell like wood smoke until Spring. So be it. Seasons come and seasons go. And my soul is learning to rest in this knowledge and to count my blessings.
Today's facebook post was specifically designed for Monday's. If you don't follow or friend yet I hope you will. I realize that there seems to be a world of people out there all in the same boat, trying to keep hope afloat without realizing we are not alone. That we are on this journey together and remembering to be that to each other, fellow travelers, helps lighten our load.
If you haven't signed up for my newsletter on the homepage I hope you will join me there. In the meantime, may your week be bountiful in grace and mercy and all good things.
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,
This morning I went walking on the rails to trails in Cheatham County. I discovered that Turkey Junction comfort station is open for business. Last time I was there this was not the case. The big sign said - CLOSED FOR WINTER. But today - Open! This means yes, no matter that the forecast has us dipping below freezing this week - It's Springtime. What an odd, late winter we've had.
As most of you know Momma has been gone down in Florida staying with Cousin Deb and visiting. Which meant I was going to get the new novel finished. Did I? No. I did not. But man oh man - I'm getting there. Every Saturday at High Noon I share some inside stories on writing the novel and new developments and what it's like to be a writer in process with the Undercover Reader Posse. And it's absolutely fabulous! So much so that friends have asked me to please start a page on Patreon so that more people can participate and discover which is ON MY LIST to do. I've promised. BUT FIRST -
Going to get Mama and rounding the corner on 50,000 plus words with the next 40,000 already in my head but they must get the page! I've been like the character who is a writer in Romancing the Stone. She is finishing her novel, has no food, the cat has no food, the house is a mess - - - I so get this. My sister gets it too and I'm so fortunate to have a sister who happens to also be a reader and who loves my novels and cheers me on to the finish line. She called me the other day and said, "Do you have food?" And I said, sure, sure, sure as I vaguely recalled a can of beans and maybe some noodles. There are cans of something in there, I said - and went back to writing. She showed up at my door after church with real food.
So that night I made a burger and ate it on loaf bread with ketchup and mayo seeping through and I thought - Wow! This is like the best thing I've ever eaten in my life! Which made me think about -
The fact that one of our family meals that made us so happy was what you might call Hamburger Helper before there was such a thing. It was macaroni noodles with hamburger and a kinda homemade spaghetti sauce and we ate this with Saltine crackers on the side and I just can't tell you what a great family evening it was EVERY TIME WE HAD THIS MEAL. Why? I don't know. I tried to make it a few months ago but it didn't come out right. It just didn't taste exactly the same. And maybe it was because we needed to all be together, to be in that happy something is coming on TV we all like and we are going to watch it together and eat this homemade something or other. Simple times. No cell phones. No laptops. No screens but the precious blue light of the tv and maybe some western on Daddy wanted to see. And this said meal would be consumed in the Den which was the really only room in the house that mattered. If it had become unmoored from the rest of the house and we had just stayed in that one, big room with the fireplace we would have sailed away happy.
This morning it was all blue skies when I took off for my walk. And I would not have been walking if it had not been for running an errand for Mom at 8am to prepare for going to pick her up this week. But there I was at the head of the trail practically and I thought - well, it's silly not to just jump on it. Then I hit the trail and listened to the birds and the water and the wind in the leaves for awhile before I stuck my headphones in and listened to Johnny Nash singing "I can see clearly now," which is a great little 'let's all start our day in a happy way' song. And suddenly -
I'm fifteen again working on the beach at my Mom's restaurant. It was our second home. Long, busy shifts from Memorial Day to Labor day when the beach used to shut down for the Winter. Right on the Gulf of Mexico so that I could wait on tables and watch the waves crash on the shore at the same time. Let me just say right now there are some facts about my history are absolutely charmed. Growing up in this restaurant on the beach is one of them.
When I turned fifteen my Mom let me move to the 'night shift'. Glory, glory. I was able to then hang out and work with the college students and the teachers who picked up extra dollars waiting on tables for the summer. That summer of 15 I remember so clearly - this song, one teacher, us cleaning the bar before we opened and the waitresses putting in quarters to play the juke box and this young woman playing this song over and over and looking out past the sand dunes, the breaking waves, across all that water to the horizon and after a thoughtful moment saying, "This is my theme song this year." And me asking, "Why?" just as innocent as you please. She thought for a moment and maybe thought about trying to explain a whole lot of things but then she just smiled and said - 'It just is," because I was fifteen and no matter what things I'd been through by then, what maybe I'd seen - I was still fifteen. I wasn't old enough to understand, I can see all obstacles in my way. . . I think I can make it now the pain is gone . . .
Cheesy song from the perspective of years later when I'd be in the middle of a concert waiting for the Allman brothers to come on stage and Wet Willie would open for them and take the stage as the stars came out singing, Keep on Smiling. And that's one of those moments you realize you are in the perfect place at the perfect time no matter what happens after this night. (That's right Andy - Wet Willie.) And it would be Little Feat singing Dixie Chicken years and years later when I was living in South Florida and starting yet another life. Or even years folded into years when I was living in Kansas City watching Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band Turn the Page like nobody's business with the saxophone being everything a saxophone is meant to be.
That was then. And then was good.
Just like now is now. And now is good, too.
The skies have turned all Nashville grey again on me, the temps have dropped, the wind is blowing once again up on this hill. The chimes are getting crazy and I've got a fire blazing in the fireplace. And while I want to turn on the tv, pour a glass of wine and put my feet up - I have these characters that are as full of life as I feel at this moment. And, they have something to say and the funny thing is - I'm the only one that hears them so I have to go write it down.
Peace to you and all you love From the Hill on this High and Holy week.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.