Reflections during Lent in Real Time
I suppose if I could just sit by this window or on this porch and stare off the hill and do most of nothing - I would. A kind of general pause with no deadlines and no chores and maybe not even eating. I would enter into a kind of laziness just from the need to have a good sit and do nothing. I'd let the cows come home and the sun have it's way, rolling about the sky like it does till it gives way to the moon. It clocks out and the moon clocks in. It's the way they have worked things out.
Last night or so ago I thought I noticed that it was a new moon. Not even a quarter. It was a sliver moon but bright. So bright the whole thing shone beneath the clouds like a stone beneath the rippling water. Fading and coming into view. This was a shock to me, this moon news when I was little. I didn't realize that the moon in all its weaning and waxing wasn't literally changing size and shape each month. That like the oceans it was on the move. A trick of light I later realized. Orbits and what not and such.
Today, I had a heated conversation with a friend. Because he was telling me what he got out of my new book, Confessions - and I was telling him what was in it and the two were not exactly the same. Then I realized the differences in what people have said who have read it, where their focus has lead them to the well of what's inside them. How different people have pulled a cup up from those same words and found the flavor something different. Each one of them. This is what I love about words and storytelling. We bring to the page our own story. We read something and walk away from it more of who we were to start with. The best in literature strengthens who we are - even when we are learning something new like the power of light and shadow and the meaning of penumbra.
I have reader friends who tell me that they love my fiction and can't wait for my new novel. And read friends who say they enjoyed the last novel but what they really love is when I tell stories from my past, my childhood or my everyday. Or as one well-known author told me recently - "You know, you've got some thoughts about God in this book and I really like those parts a lot. I think you should write some more stuff about God. I'd like to see what you put down. I'd like to hear your thoughts." Which is kinda funny cause some people think the whole thing is about God.
Have I mentioned lately that I'm writing a book set in Nashville that has bourbon and bullets and dead bodies? Yes, well I probably have a time or two. That novel that's just two weeks away from being finished. The same two weeks as last year. But I'll tell you this, I'm getting closer all the time. And an early reader just told me she was absolutely captivated (at least that's the words I heard) by the story, the characters, the setting and the mystery of it all. That was good to hear being on the wings of this new book coming out. Because I shock myself in the telling of other stories. Of stories from my life. Stories of my faith. Because It seems to me fiction is my native tongue. Normally, it's what I read, the place I find the deeper, universal truths.
But then that wind picks up, I watch the trees bend and sway and blow and realize as I watch them - there is room for everything. That life has a way of making room for some of this and some of that. For the sun to roll around in that lucky ole sky all day and the moon to light our way by night. For us in spite of darkness to walk in the shadows of that bright light and pluck our way all the way home.
Lenten Refections in Real Time - Day 6
Every year it happens. A day that there is magic in the air. Where my spirit lifts off. Where the breeze finds my face, I close my eyes and dare to say - Thanks to the great Divine for my being alive.
Today's that day. The first day that my soul feels the kiss of Spring. It happens every year like an unwatched clock. Always an unaware dance. Slips up on me.
This morning I popped into a cafe for a bite, to work a bit and meet a friend and talk Books and the upcoming Confessions Tour.
The old men were talking. Every city I've ever lived in or city I've traveled to internationally - has a spot, a cafe, a coffee shop, a corner - where the old men talk about the trouble in this world. How they'd deal the cards if the deck was theirs. How they'd call the shots. Tell 'em all where to go if it were up to them. They tell stories of where they've been and what's happened. And, I love to hear them tellin it.
This morning I sat at my table, opened my laptop as my ears picked up the end of a story.
"So, I sent it back," he said, "I told 'em - This one didn't stand up to a snake killin'! So they sent me a new watch." There is appreciative chuckles and do-tells.
I wanted to ask him to take it from the top. Start over. Tell me about the snake. Were you under the house? Down by the creek? Up a mountain? Were you protecting a woman or a baby or an old dog? Did you kill it like my Memaw when a tassle of barefoot kids were screaming as a water moccasin chased us hard and fast around that sand yard. She came down three times on his head with her cane pole and the power of a mad Memaw. Mashed snake head flat and picked him up with the end of the pole and slung his dead into the woods. Did you kill it like that? And just how did that watch get in the way? What did that snake do to stop time?
But I didn't ask. I let the old men talk. You can't interrupt a good tellin'. Not on your first stop anyway. If I was there ever day I might end up being the only woman at that table. Trading talk, slinging stories. But I'd try not to make it habit. The old- men - they gotta talk about tigers and hunts and being wild once upon a time. Once. upon. a time.
Today, good is raining down.
I overheard a woman talking on her phone.
"Uh, huh. Shut your mouth. No, she did not."
I stopped writing. Turned my ear toward her.
"When he said, what he said, what I told you he said, when he said it - there was lightning in the sky. Swear. Swear on my dirty pride."
Now, i made that last part up. The dirty pride. That part is all me. Cause words play off my tongue sometimes. I wrote her words down. But I can't find them.
Today it rained down good things.
The sunshine called me. I found Percy Warner like a creature homing. Like old cat, Jake. I'd been babysitting him for a year till my sister moved again. Then she picked him up and took him to the new neighborhood. Jake walked three days through the woods. Braved coyotes and wilderness to sashay right in the back door and say - , I've back and mean to stay.
The sunshine called me out of my routine, my to-do list, that kiss of Spring - it's some kind crazy intoxication. It is. Me, these old, black boots have wed to my feet. No walking clothes. I. did. not. care. I walked. In the mud. Climbed those stairs.
My favorite new addiction. Sara's playlist on Spotify. She named it, Bookstore Vibes. Bear, the Parnassus Books official baby lover and dog greeter is the Image.
I took Sara's playlist on a little walk. And watched the people running by in gear made to run by with. And people like me called from the cars, staring at the sky in wonder, wondering how they got out of the house, away from the screens, like waking up after hibernation. Sometimes, we find we are fully, strangely awake. The pieces of our life, clinking into place. Right where they belong.
I left the park and popped over to St. George's to invite them to the Confessions book party. (Have I told you the whole wide world is invited?) I ended up aimlessly wandering the back halls and because I am a Trinity Girl I found the chapel. This is a part of my silent world.
A friend recently told me - "Knowing you like I do, I was surprised by your book, Praying for Strangers."
This person knows me more as a bourbon drinking Southern writer. Surprise. Yeah, I get that. It surprises me, too. Not the doing. Not the praying. Not the strangers. Not the stories. It's the telling of it that surprises me. I keep my faith cards close to my chest. Or - did. And, now here comes Confessions blowing down the aisle. Here comes the truth and the Amen.
Today, good is raining down.
Trinity girl in the chapel. Lit a candle for my Mama cause today that was on my heart. Said a prayer. Started to back away but then - there are those other lights. Candles flickering in the dark. Lit by hands outstretched, reaching for something. Answers, faith, love, remembrance. I thought about them, too.
The Church bells ring out in the courtyard. From somewhere down the hall, little kindergarten kids march to a gather in a hall where soon bagpipes begin. I run my fingers over prayer beads. Read St. Patricks prayer. Let tears find me fare-the-well. Sometimes, my spirit lifts off, soars in spite of me. My arms rise to my side and I walk the stairs like a two year told, balancing between here and there, fearless and full of faith.
Johnny Swim sings, Ring the Bells.
Good is raining down.
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've been doing stuff this morning. And trying not to post anything to facebook because I have numerous deadlines crashing around me today. BUT I woke up feeling just like I did last Monday except I wasn't as spry with the hope and making myself turn the boat of my emotions around. It was more like - God, I'm sorry but I'm depressed. Yes, I think maybe I'm a little depressed. Or maybe worried. Or maybe anxious. And then I thought of you guys because of all of your comments from LAST MONDAY and I thought - Maybe they feel that way, too. So, before I go off slaying the dragons of my deadlines I want you to know that I'm thinking of you. If you woke up with a little cloud hanging over your head your still not alone. The news of Paradise, California has been heartbreaking and soon the news will move on. Just as it has with my beloved Gulf Coast that still needs prayers, money, hands. Not a word in the media and still roofs are missing as it rains, people are homeless, nothing is normal. That enough gives me reason to be blue on this Monday but it's something more than that. It is a ball of mistakes that have rolled up in my front yard and are screaming at me in my sleep. It's been piling on for days. And no matter where I turn, no matter what I do right (and I do plenty right) it's not that voice that is the loudest. It's some ancient internal voice of judgement that has followed me around since I came out of the womb. It is not God's voice. This I do know. But this voice can be powerful in its condemnation. You should have turned left instead of right. You should have, you could have, you would have. If only you had done this or not done that. You've made a mess of everything. This is all your fault. All of it. What's interested me from the standpoint of being able to be intelligent enough (or maybe spiritual enough) to observe this voice is man, has it been piling it on lately. Every day bringing on a new mountain of mistakes and moments newly discovered or old and revisited added to the previous days list.
In J. Philip Newell's Celtic Benediction book of morning and evening prayers Monday looks like this - "In the turbulence of my own life and the unsettled waters of the world today let there be new birthings of your Spirit. IN the currents of my own heart and the upheavals of the world today let there be new birthings of your Spirit."
I reread those words a few times because the turbulence of my own life, the unsettled waters of both the world and my life all seemed very appropriate. That's what I felt and also like my mistakes were threaded into my bone and muscle and then hanging from my skin like odd ends of frayed thread for all the world to see.
My Monday. Your Monday. They may have some shared similarities or maybe you are skipping around singing, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY! If so God bless you and could you toss up a few notes for the rest of us that are struggling. Could you sing a verse for those of us who just can't sing this morning?
If you have been bombarded lately with feelings of - less than, not enough, too old, too over, too fat, too thin, too tired, too unkept, thin-skinned, wrong color, bad code, no clue. If every time you turn around you just knocked something over, broke somebody's something, tripped on your own tongue, made one more new mistake to add to the mountain that's seems to be crushing you. If you just realized someone just doesn't like you but you don't have a clue why, if you take horrible selfies and then erase them because they all look as old and tired as you feel. If you don't measure up to your own standards much less anyone else's and things don't seem to be getting better but honestly worse by the day and you think - ummm, this doesn't look good. And, then you go out into your day and you SMILE anyway and you like other peoples post and you try to do your job, be you, take care of others, drive another mile, do another thing, sell another widget, cast out another demon and get up and do it again - This prayer is for you.
A New Day
May the light of a new day unfold in your life beginning the moment you read and receive these words. May they begin in you a new work that opens your eyes to the glory of the truth of who you really are. May those old sins of youth or yesterday fall so quickly you are left astonished. May there be in you a smile that defies the gravity of your life situation. In the midst of your battle may you raise your head high, hold out for the strongest kind of magic, and believe with all your might not only in this unseen God but in the power that was gifted you at your birth. That with each continued breath that allows you to remain in this world you may reflect a holy habitation from deep within your soul. May you make eye contact with those around you today and when you do allow them to see the real majesty called - you. May you cling to knowledge that you are a fellow traveler on this journey and were not now or ever meant to be cast off and alone on this wild, ride that is your life. May this day bring with it the surprise of joy. And may that inner voice that declares you broken beyond repair submit to the silence of one final truth, in blessing and beauty you shall continue.
Wishing you an impossible, supernatural peace in the middle of this turbulent world.
Today it is raining on the hill. That old rooster down the hill has been crowing all morning. There's still no dawn just this slice of grey hanging over us and I think he is confused. Or he thinks the next crow will be the one that splits the sky open and ushers in the sun. I for one don't mind if he crows all day and the rain never stops. I'm upstairs in my office, the window open to the world, the green so thick I can't see beyond to the ridge. Every year I threatened to cut down a line of trees, to clear my vision, to open up my world. But then the trees, these living beings, I consider them and I don't. Maybe it's silly. Maybe my son calls me a hippie for thinking things like this. I was a little kid I tell him.
"The sixties happened around me. It wasn't like I was smack in the middle of them going to Woodstock."
"I don't care," he replies. "You're still a hippie."
More likely just an artist who knows trees are alive until you chop them down.
What stops that process more than my pretending the fallen trees will be cut and stacked for firewood and in that way keep on giving like The Giving Tree (that hills too steep. No one is going to bring that wood up here. Not even if I pay them.) is that I know in due season, in the fullness of time (one of my favorite Biblical quotes) the leaves will change, thin out, fall. The view will evolve little by little until the trees are bare then the little valley will open up before me, the ridge rise up from the other side. At night I'll be able to stand at this window and look out, watch headlights from the cars a mile or more away, from far, far down the road, circle and climb the hill. As much as I long for that view now I know that there is something precious in this change. Something that would be lost if I had it at the ready ever day. It's the exchange one makes for the aging of the leaves, the falling with grace and entering into the more silent, solemn moments of winter. With age, we turn from this new year and see that our view of life has changed. It is my birthday month. One that affords me the luxury of considering the passage of time of what it reveals and what it packs away.
The rain continues. Thicker now. This is good. We need the restful quiet.
Yesterday, I dug weeds from around the broken porch that needs to be replaced. I tilled the ground - well, that at least sounds poetic. I scratched at it furiously with a hand tool with pointy things. This is more the truth of my gardening abilities. I turned up 1 snake skin that had been shed. (No sign of the snake which meant I kept my eye open for said snake, 1 Giant toad that had been hiding deep down in the dirt (how was he breathing?) and one large spider that decided he would just go find another home with a quickness that eluded me. I don't like spiders or snakes or frogs. I wanted to be working on getting the word out on my new writing classes but Momma said, "I guess I will just have to go outside and stand on my head and pull weeds even though I"m not able I will try." She is like this. She says these things to me because she knows my head will spin and blow off and I'll pout and put on boots and stomp outside. She is very, smart this way.
Stop right there. I have to give you a little backstory.
If you have been reading these blogs you know Mama moved in with me about three years ago. And that she has a green thumb and I have a brown thumb. But that I now have flowers all around the front porch and back porch in my attempt to please Mama and to honestly brighten her day. And, it has. It has also given me plenty of opportunities to act like an exhasperated fourteen year old that wants to slam the door to her room. You want me to water the plants now??? You want more Rose food when??? I need to dig up what????? What I realize is my mother glories in this. The process of it. The actual work of it. As she said yesterday standing on the porch as I was digging, "I just hate it, hate it when something dies on me." And, I'm thinking - Well, this digging could just be killing me right here and I don't see you worried about that.
Don't get me wrong. The lilies we are planting in all that dirt came from Daddy's Creek. They bloomed for years. They are the largest most amazing lilies you have ever seen. I will adore seeing them in action once it happens. But the process? Not so much. Not like my Mama who loves every step of this. "Keeping things alive is hard work," she says.
"Yeah, well so's writing books when you can't ever get to the page," I say back. She ignores me. She gets sick of hearing me talk about a)writing b) not writing. These are two of my constant subjects because either I just finished x number of words I'm pleased with or I am lamenting that I haven't written any words. Which makes me a little crazy.
I dig the weeds, I pour the dirt. Mom has actually been working hard and adding dirt to potted plants, replanting ones that are root bound. She is ever so good at this. She looks over the railing at the end of the day at my weeded plot of fresh dirt and says -
"That really looks good. I'm proud of what we accomplished today."
I confess I take a little bit of pride in that. It's not that I can't put on rubber boots and stomp in the mud, pulling weeds with the best of them. I put my back into all that I'm doing. I have a good work ethic but I usually save it for having fingers laced around the keyboard. Unfortunately, to some degree all other work pulls on that string that says time, ticking, time ticking, words not written.
Except for when the grands, those Charmings or Adorables enter my world. Then I will stop the clock, close the laptop, shut down my world to be with them. To create magic in the normal spaces of their lives. The watermelon feasts, and sparklers, lightning bugs, and movie nights. Books and naps and nursing boo-boo's.
This month is also my baby boy's birthday. He is a grown man now but still - I took the Charmings shopping for his birthday. But Bless my Heart honest to goodness thought I could do it while I also took Mom shopping for her groceries. It was a master plan until it wasn't. She had a list. I had kids. Getting in the car was one job and getting out of the car at the store was another job and by the time we made it through the door and into two buggies I began to think maybe I have made a mistake.
Now, we have a downpour. This means my driveway is washing away. Again. Yoga breath. Heavy Sigh.
The store. Mom takes the nine year old to help her with her list. I take the four year old and six year old to buy presents. We make it to the cards where one child says he must go to the bathroom. I ask that question that parents have asked in stores for a thousand years - is it number one or two? TWO! who declares and then I ask the next question that parents and grandparents should never ask. I ask this in spite of being part of the potty training brigade for years. Offering to read to kids on the potty, give m&m's to kids on the potty, sing and dance and do a one woman show for kids on the potty - JUST STAY ON THE POTTY till it works. BUT now, on a birthday mission with a Mother buying enough canned goods for the apocolypse that will need to unload I ask - CAN YOU JUST HOLD IT TILL YOU GET HOME???? - Of course the answer is NO. Which is fair because you shouldn't ask that question. It's a bad question. To the bathroom we go. Which turns into a potty party in the handicap stall with lots of conversation going on between the four year old and the six year old and me getting tireder by the moment.
Out of the potty. Wash the hands. Wash, wash, wash the hands. Back to the cards. Then to Pajamas and shirts and the other kid says - NOW, I HAVE TO USE the BATHROOM. Two? You have to do two? Really? Now? Really? Wow. Just, wow. No you cannot use the Man's room. No, I don't care if you are a man. No I am not leaving you in the mans room. Back to the women's bathroom. Back to the stall only now I have to wait outside the door while the four year old and six year old continue to have plenty of conversation. I want to go home. Out of the Potty. To the sinks. Wash, wash, wash the hands. To gift wrapping. Call Mom. She is half way through with her list. I ask her what is left, just go, go go to the register. I'll get the rest now. I don't need the list. I'll memorize it. Run, run with the wind.
This is how I am crazy. This is where my crazy comes in. I am obsessesed with leaving the store the fastest way possible. I rush between milk and bleach and papertowels. I rush to the register. My mother is far, far away with her buggy. Looking for a living cashier. There are no living cashiers in the whole, entire world. Now, I am yelling like a cartoon strip southern character of which I swear I am not - THIS WAY, MAMA, JUST COME BACK AND I'LL DO IT!
We make it to self check out where the four year old stands up in the buggy like he isn't supposed to and starts putting things on the belt and the six year old is doing all the scanning and they think this is the greatest thing in the world. They are as invested in this process as My mother is those plants. I'm shoving things in the bags like a maniac. This one is for presents. Present, present, canned stuff, canned stuff, more canned stuff. Wait what is this? Ice Cream, ice cream and more melting Ice Cream? MOM! WHAT IS THIS????
"Well, they need a little something sweet! It's good for them."
Canned stuff, oatmeal cookies, more ice cream. MOM!!!
"I don't care. They can eat it in the car."
Present, present - wait - WHERE IS THE CARD we spent 45 mins picking out because you guys wanted to read them all? It's missing. Never mind. I bag, bag, bag- I'll go back and get another card while you guys go to the car. JUST GO TO THE CAR. MOVE TOWARD THE CAR.
Crazy. Yes, I know.
I must take the six year old with me because he moves too fast to leave him with a group where someone isn't designated to catch him that might not be fast enough. This is the truth. HE's like the flash.
New card. Out to the car. Forty thousand bags of stuff. Presents. Ice cream that now my mother and the other two children are eating in the parking lot. There is melting ice cream running down their hands. I open the paper towels and pass them out and say Get in the car. Just everybody get in the car.
The children are ever so happy. They have pottyed. And ate ice cream. And bought presents for Daddy. Life is good in their world. UNTIL . . .
The Signing of the card. Which must be done in the back seat while I drive and Mom is in the passenger seat feeling a little better because she had an ice cream pick me up. I am not feeling better. I haven't had an anything pick me up.
A discussion ensues over what will be written on the card and who will do the writing. It is my understanding as I'm driving that the six year old has decided to dictate to the nine year old what will be said because he says he has better handwriting. Then the four year old declares that he wants to write too. Which brings on WWWIII in my backseat. With - HE SNATCHED the Pen Out of my HAND and STOP TRYING TO BREAK MY ARM YOU CANT have it BACK.
And the six year old who is slightly OCD is freaking out because as he says his brother RYDER CAN'T EVEN WRITE AND HE'S JUST GOING TO SCRIBBLE ALL OVER OUR PERFECT WRITING.
And I say, DRAW A CIRCLE ON THE BACK OF THE CARD AND JUST LET HIM SCRIBBLE IN THAT.
And my Mama is laughing and asking me, "Are we having fun, yet?" And I say, "Oh, so much fun. SO MUCH FUN!"
As the boys continue shoving and screaming and fighting with a pen in the back seat as the six year old has a nuclear melt down and the four year old scribbles OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE HE'S SCRIBBLING OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE ON EVERYTHING HE'S RUINING IT ALL!
And I pull up in the driveway of Daddy's house where Mama says, " I think I'll just wait right here."
As I tell the boys ok, here we go everybody get ready to say SURPRISE! And sing happy birthday and one of them takes the present bag and one of them takes the card and they run up the stairs and open the door and scream SURPRISE and they are beside themselves with happy and that grown man baby boy of mine has a look on his face that is absolutely a wonder.
And then he smiles as we all sing Happy Birthday TO YOU! And says, well, you did it, you actually surprised me. And the kids are all grins and giggles and they are so proud of themselves. Happy Birthday, my baby boy and this Mama has got to go.
Mission accomplished. Lilly's and dirt. All in a day's work of being a daughter, a mother, a Zaza.
It could rain all week I don't care. A blanket of rest, a great book, a nap. I could use these things. And if the driveway is gone nothing to worry. We've got enough canned goods to last till Spring.
I hope your life is just as full of love and wonder, of moments to treasure, as it is it's own kind of crazy and that you enjoy your messy, mixed up life to the fullest!
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.