There's nothing like it. Being on the road. Being on the road for book tour and then being on the road with Mama for miles and miles. Her telling me stories. I thought I blogged about it but realize now it was a Facebook post. About the air in the car going out. About her declaring with the windows down, the wind in our hair, her feet on the dash where they belonged - "This is just like being back in the cotton fields" and me saying - "Now Mama! You know this is NOT cotton field hot!" Like I have picked cotton all of my life. I have never stood in the middle of the hot, blaring sun of the south in the dirt of a cotton field in my life. But you wouldn't know it by the way I KNOW Cotton field hot because I have listened to the stories of my people all of my life. Like an introvert. Like a quiet child. Like a writer. We are always listening. Absorbing like a sponge. We are the witness to life and and the keeper of story.
Mama was a trooper. Broken air and all. We made it to Panama City where I got to read and speak to people that included friends from Bay High school. And past board members of the Children's Advocacy Center where I used to be the Executive Director once upon the time in another life. From the Books Alive history of work at the Northwest Florida Library Country Library. From my writer days in Panama City. Friends. My Cousin. My Mama. My life. And man - did they not all honor and surprise me. Every single one of them.
I have not properly captured - anything. Much. I mean to take photos. I mean to ask someone to take photos. I don't do either one. I gather a few here and there but they are rare. I thought I'd finish my novel on the road. Hahahaha. No. I have not. I thought I'd blog everyday to share the wonderful experiences of meeting readers on the road. I have not.
But I can tell you this. I believe more than ever in the power of story that sustains and connects us. I believe that Confessions of a Christian Mystic in all it's glorious strange title has touched lives here and there and everywhere. I've continued to be blown away by your notes and comments on Facebook and privately about what the book has meant to you. It means I'm still breathing for a reason. Still writing and that words in our lives are so important. A special thank you to readers who have driven two hours or more to get to an event. Some who have read my books previously and others who just caught news and were captivated and came as if on pilgrimage.
I'm so thankful for every minute and mile and for your time. I want to wander in your lives and share the mystical moments that have happened on this tour. I want to revisit my moments on the beach, to write about Panama City and the rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. To write about the retired Episcopal Priest who came last night to the signing and a man who also attended, came in early that day - bought my book and read the ENTIRE thing- before the event. Then they saw each other.- He happened to be in her parish 30 years ago as a single dad with his sons and they hadn't seen each other for 30 years until - last night. At my book event. And I will not lie. I live for these moments. I mean, I travel a thousand miles for these moments. I count all won and lost in these moments. The value of human life and this power of story. Of us being together.
In the midst of tour the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. Burned. The cross hung untouched. Glowing in the ashes. The world stopped. Watched. Prayed. My heart went sick and heavy. I wrote on Instagram that sometimes something happens where you feel the gravity of the earth shift, an important piece of the puzzle of us fall away. This was one of those moments. One where we didn't know something was so important to us until it was in flames. Smoke. Ashes. No longer there. Then the photo that captured my heart the most. The one of the firefighters staring at the cross that remained. It's the heart of humanity connecting with the Divine that changes the equation to me. It makes it - everything.
Today I've been held up in Fairhope, Alabama after a great event last night at Page and Palette. I'm working my way to New Orleans. To Garden District Books tomorrow night. They say A storm is brewing. NOLA has seen a few storms, some hurricanes. They say - come on. We are ready for you and waiting with open arms. And I say- alright. I'm coming. Headed on down the road.
Right now, Frankie is playing on the speakers, a woman just said - I'm so out of it. I just rolled in. And the customer said - Rolled in with some stories I take it.
And I wanted to say - Amen. Rolled in with some stories. Gonna share some stores. Listen and collect some stories.
I so hope to see you out there on the road. I'll be in NOLA at Garden District Books tomorrow night and next week at Novel in Memphis, TN. Please come visit. You rock my world when you do.
Peace and Love from out here. Wishing you traveling mercies in all that you do
Reflections on Lent - Day 4
The storms have found us. Lightning strike, thunder boom. It has been a surprise for me today up on this hill. Was I not looking? Not paying attention to the weather? Apparently, that's a no go. I was working on the new novel when my alarm sounded. It was time for the live Reader Posse Round up at high-noon and I was looking forward to connecting with my readers, giving them a sneak peek of some new words from the page. But instead I kept repeating myself, finally gave in to giving up, hanging up. Calling it done. Later, I sent them an original short story as apology. Thanks for tuning in but today has been called due to weather.
My Lent embarkment has been to remember how to pray silently for a stranger each day. How to keep someone, place someone, on my heart in such a way it matters to me. Where I connect with someone human in a short, small way that reminds me to be human. 40 days. That's all. Surely, after having done this for three years running and then some I can pull off 40 days.
Then the storm. The things that waylay us. Storms in everyday. Storms in life. Things that derail us so easily from the goal we had, the lofty thing, the desire for better than we were before. But today - oh my, what a surprise. As I said, I was writing. Nested in. There had been grey skies and some clouds and so early on I built a fire just for purpose. The kind where you gaze and snuggle down and work sitting on the floor, laptop in - well, lap. Literally. I live up the hill without a basement much to speak of. More crawl space that I would think if I was crawling in the house would cave in upon me. Sometimes there seems to be no safe place. I have that closet I've written of. The one beneath the stairs. Close enough it's what I've got.
Today, I didn't venture out so no strangers met but still some find their way to mind. People used to ask me, "What do you do if you don't leave home that day? Then what? What prayers are lifted up or said?"
"There's always someone," I would reply. "An unknown authors name on the spine of novel laying out. The face in a newspaper, the voice on a radio."
Our worlds are encased with strangers.
Today, as the lightening struck near the house, connecting to the ground singing something out there somewhere, as thunder explodes even now as I write these words in such a way I start and jump, think - Will there be no end to this today? And the weather service sends me yet again an alarm that says Lightning has struck closer than a mile.
I want to tell them, Yes, I know. I'm living here. I was raised in the deep south. Full of storms and summers. This is the stuff that I was made of.
And I think of that first cousin to my stomping grounds, Alabama and her recent heartbreak. My stranger then today is this. Those who lost and are grieving still from storms that shook and killed and wiped away hearts and worlds. For them I bow my head today.
The lightning makes me jump, the thunderclaps are way too bold and truth be told the smallest vein of fear dares to run amok in me. But, I am not afraid to pray. For Peace be still. For kingdom come. Thy will be done. Even when my flesh opposes me.
Tonight, again - Alabama rests heavy on my heart. Because I know the storms have passed but the hurt lingers on. Always will. And the best we can do is to continue loving and try to understand.
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,
Morning has broken. The rooster down the hill, crowing. More fervently today. More frequently. Morning has broken indeed, he says. Awake! Arise! The great night of the storm has passed. We are still here. On this hill. All is well and all shall be well and all is well.
The storm last night was a doozy. Wind blow, gusts roar, rain deluge. Tornado watches and threats. Worry, toil, trouble. Rescue Kevin was antsy because I brought him inside as the winds picked up, screaming and roaring up the valley and into the ridge, rolling up over us. He bounced, he barked. He picked up an old Christmas tree ornament he found in a corner and ran with it, the hook dangling from his mouth as I chased him saying, Give me that! Give me that right now! Then I put him out again and followed him to the edge of the porch where he bounded down stairs, turned and looked back at with me with a smile, saying - Let's play! It is wild tonight and we are free beasts to roam and roar back at the wind.
I said, the rains are starting dog. I'm going to bed. An hour later when the deluge hit, I got up again, opened the door and called. Toweled him off and declared lay down. He still pranced nervous until I got a blanket and went downstairs tried to sleep on the couch, be in the lower level close to the closet beneath the stairs. To the bed, to the couch I went. Then finally, to my bed in the dark, my head nestled in covers thinking maybe they alone could protect me.
This morning. I open my window. The clean, clear air. The rooster. The all clear sound. My thankfulness. The house has stood yet another storm. The storms I've faced down in life in the natural and in the human would fill a multitude of books. Some, I've simply just survived. I'm sure you, too. We are simple and same like this. We face our storms. Or we hide our heads beneath our blankets and pray for them to pass. But always, the clear morning air, the all is well sound relieves our soul.
This week - The taxman I had to meet. Downtown in Nashville. Clearing up some old business that wasn't mine to do but looks like now it is. I check in and take a seat. The office full to overflowing. Men, tired at midday. Tried from work and strife and troubles stared at their boots. Women waited, coupled whispered consolations and assurances. A man came in to make an appointment. But you can only make appointments by stepping out the door and calling a different number. He took some brochures, said ok. Then he turned to go. He was built like Santa with a beard and suspenders. He glanced around the room before he left and said, "Good Luck, Everybody," with a booming voice. A heartfelt hope. There was no sarcasm there. No frustration. A ripple of laugher rolled across the room. Then an echo of thank you, thank you, thank you. From everyones lips including mine. There was something special about it, about him. About that sincere moment where he cared what happened to the people waiting. He saw us all. He took us in. And, stepping outside whatever trouble he might be in, he offered a peaceful benediction. The room felt lighter when he left. Less concerned.
I have the oil lamp lit on my desk. I had readied everything in the storm. Prepared for our lights out moments. I trimmed the wick. It's amazing how the lamp burns more evenly when you do this. How much more light it casts when you wash the globe. Our souls must be like this. Our lives. Needing pruning, care, a little time and consideration.
This week - The Undercover Reader Posse began. (A nod to my Daddy's birthday, also this week and a great personal anniversary for me. To my Daddy's love of westerns. To me and sister loving to watch them with him.) Early readers will be riding shotgun with me as I finish this new novel and bring it home. This alliance is something brand new and fills me with the excitement and expectation that new births are filled with. Not just the novel but this early connection with readers and story lovers. You can read more about it here. (Or find in navigation bar if page changes)
Yesterday. I read in Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal published after her death. The prayers are filled with angst and love and longing. Sometimes, too intimate to touch. Like this -
"I am one of the weak. I am so weak that God has give me everything, all the tools, instructions for their use, even a good brain to use them with, a creative brain to make them immediate for others. God is feeding me and what I'm praying for is an appetite."
I've been that way before I can relate. Praying for abundance when my mouth is full of blessings.
This week - We continued the amazing Mastermind Writer Series with Session Two. 100 percent of the class decided to enroll again. To stay with it. To keep working on their writing with me in this small conference class group with one-on-one conference calls. This week I'm kicking off a new Fiction Writing Workshop series. For any who are interested you can find out more here. And look for updated posts on the coming fiction series Monday.
That rooster. Boy, is he proud this morning. Relieved and happy. I suspect he might crow all day.
I had planned to work this am so early on the novel. But the novel is a page turner, a mystery. Better to write in the midst of the stormy night beneath the covers. So, I'll turn my eyes to peaceful words and worlds. Kevin went back out at four after the big storm passed. But still the rains were there. This morning he heard me making coffee at 6:30 looked up at the window from outside. His resting now on the couch, milk bones in his belly. The night has passed, the day at hand, the all clear sound. He knows finally his watch is through and he can sleep.
I pray your week holds victory, peace and sustenance in all the ways you need it most.
At some point I fell in love with the fog that rises up on this hill. Then I fell in love with it again and yet again. The fog rises from the water along the bay where I am from so that many mornings you couldn't see a car a foot from you. Everything shrouded, moving as if we were each of us a ship sailing though open waters.
This house up on this hill, the same. It's the odd thing that has hooked and attached me to Tennessee. The Gulf Coast salt water girl in me realizing, ahhh, the fog, the wind. Like sisters of familiarity that wrap me close and help me to remember who I am. Not so far from things I've known.
Along the Gulf the wind is a constant on most days. Some light, some heavier but a constant that is not realized until it stops in the dead of summer. In dog days with heat lightning and a stillness that will weight down the steps of the youngest, strongest man. Otherwise it's constant. It has taken me awhile to understand my happiest days are when the wind hits the house on this hill with such force we take sail. It whistles and moans and the house breathes and we move along at the breakneck speed of nothing. But something in it sounds like the familiarity of home and it settles my soul in its whining.
This year in a desperate attempt to save Mom's Florida plants - great palms and rose bushes and gardenias and all manner of things I have no name for that were not planted in the ground (she the green thumb, mine the black) I had a friend nail up thick visquine around the porch. So thick it blocks the view. My favorite thing - gone. So now when we look out the living room windows we see a haze of plastic instead of trees etched against the sky, rolling off into the air, the ridge beyond. My mother finds it comforting I think. A flatlander at heart. It's a simply lovely grey and is more grounding. She has the most beautiful views from her bedroom windows. She keeps the curtains closed. This is a life-long battle of mine that I should soon forget, give up, it's over. Let's keep it cozy, she would say while I scream for light. Air. Freedom.
I would do good to live at sea.
The plastic. It had to be reinforced around the little porch top to bottom and to the side. It's where I'd made rescue Kevin's bed, blankets upon blankets by the chairs. A heating pad for freezing nights. His food bowls. Out of the cold and wind. He eyes the plastic suspiciously. I sat with him on the porch floor, my back against the wall as the great wind rolled up the hill and slammed into that visquine and filled it like a mighty sail, released it and then slammed and filled it up again. He rolled his eyes at me. It's ok boy, I said. We're just like a ship at sea. His doubt etched deep into his eyes. When I'm not there he sneaks down the stairs to the leaves on the side of the house, hunkered down into the certainty of the ground of Tennessee. No boats life for he.
The last two nights the coyotes have came calling. Down the hill in the direction of the old farm. It started up low and then quickly grew and then it seemed a hundred of them howling and calling. I rose from my Nyquil slumber having been hit with this dystopian wildfire flu that assails the country and hung my head out the window. I'm not much a party to screens for this reason. I fight those blasted bugs just because I long to lean, to see the moon, the branches etched against the ground in that strange light of night that remains a wonder - after all these years. Me still child like hanging out beneath the stars. And there they sang and then Kevin joined in but his song is a deeper one - a low lament because it sings, I am alone and I am alone, because that's the only song he knew before I brought him home.
He has other words, bear growls and grumbles that he uses when I pet him, stroke his fur. But these are different, these are at once, thank you and don't leave me and what took you so long to find me and you don't know the trouble I've seen and I've been so alone.
Because unlike Big Dog Titan who would wake and bark from inside the house when the coyotes started it up, he never had a human to wrap an arm around his big shoulder, pat his head and say, There, there boy, it'll be alright. It's just coyotes singing and soon the morning light. Now, let's go back to bed.
Tomorrow the meadow goes to auction, all one hundred seventeen acres of it. And I think the coyotes know. I think they sing a song of mourning, of moving on. Of change to come. Surely they feel it in their bones. They'll be searching for higher ground. Somewhere safe to live in shadow.
Like most of us. That song. That lament. Searching for home. For someone to say - there, there, it will be alright. Soon, so, very soon - morning light.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.