I love these missives I receive from friend and soul sister Kaya McLaren. Sometimes she actually writes me handwritten letters but I also love the ones she posts on FACEBOOK that read - For Friends Who Love Long Letters . . . and then she goes off into a menagerie of words about her journey, her life, her work, her friends, THE TREES and carries me along with her.
I think so often how about I want to say words about this or that, share this little thing or that big happening, but I keep rushing, rushing , rushing into the future while my words fall alway. Time keeps on slipping . . . and here we are all caught up into the fall of the year. Snap. It happened. Just like that. Our lack of rain produced a lack of glorious colors this year on the hill like we had last year. No brilliant reds and bursts of gold. Lots of brown, sneaky peeks of autumn colors. But the chill in the air is here. The leaves still fall. I still become wistful for all that ever was or will be good in this world. The smell in the air stirs up memories of childhood sometimes so thick I have to brush them from my mind to carry on. But it also brings to the surface a deep, resounding sense of gratefulness. Thankfullness. I can understand why we approach Thanksgiving season and why it is cradled in this season. No matter the history. There is something about this time of year that leads me into a deepness that is silent worship. Me looking out through the thinning trees and being so moved by the experience that it has been to be alive. Ever. At all. Anywhere. Anytime.
Maybe that's what moving into the winter season is all about. The settling. The introspection. Those great books that call to us to read them by the fire and only by the fire. At a slower days pace. Spring finds me giddy. Every year I yell and jump and say - look what we've survived, we're still alive! But by fall, I'm just so thankful that we've survived any of it after all.
I had the strangest dream. More of a thought wrapped in a dream. My year has been filled with pressures and deadlines. To-dos and near misses. A few disappointments, mishaps and some certifiable exhaustion. But in my dream - suddenly I saw my year from a different perspective. I saw all the good things. They stood out like bright beacons, an absolute string of stars. Brilliant, intoxicating. And in my dream I said with a sense of amazed wonder - This has been the best year of my life! - And what stood out to me was that it had. Only, I hadn't noticed. I had been so busy working, striving, hurting, worrying and so on that I hadn't noticed this phenomenon amazing occurrence that was the joy of my days when looked at from a different perspective. Maybe from a healthier distance. From a distance . . .
There are so many things I want to share with you. The stellar people that God has brought into my life this year and the projects I've been able co-work on. Next week I'll get to venture into those waters and share the details in the meantime - I want to talk about - you.
It's come to my attention recently that a few friends - good friends - people I adore with all my heart - have been having a tough go of it this year. Dark times. Silent storms. But here's the thing - from their facebook posts you'd never know it. I know, I know. Some people write beautifully about the burdens they carry or the shadows that assail them and put it out there for all of us. No one did that with more beauty or transparency than Kaya during her walk through the valley of death that is cancer. What is remarkable now is watching her as she has climbed into the sunshine on the other side and into a new day. But some of us, some of you, will never pull back the curtain on that shade of our lives on social media. Not that we wouldn't do it or you wouldn't do it over a cup of tea with a friend or a stranger but to do so in other places doesn't work for you/us/them. It feels too vulnerable, invasive, or - - - - fill in whatever word works for you here. But in spite of this - and not to put a spin on things - we continue putting sunsets and flower pictures and happy moments or share photos of family and friends we love and who make us so proud. What got to me was these friends were having dark times and I DIDN'T KNOW IT. I was keeping up with them only through their facebook posts and sporadically. Or through the posts of other people. So, I just want to encourage you with whatever you're going through today - and I know some of you are walking through tough times. Don't worry about all those perfect sunset pictures and don't strive so hard to be something when you already are something.
A beautiful letter from a reader came to my box a few weeks ago. I shared part of that letter with the River Jordan Reader Posse group on facebook. But the letter also came with a book by the sender - To Hear the Forest Sing, Some Musings on the Divine, by Margaret Dulaney and a few days ago I finally opened it and began to read. I want to back up and underline portions I've already read in the first essay but mostly I want to share with all of you - please find and order this book. I don't even know where or how but I'm sure it's out there on line somewhere. At least I hope it is. That it's still in print and you can get your hands on a copy. Because it is amazing medicine for the soul. And down deep, no matter what ails us, that's the medicine we need most.
Hold fast dear friends. Hold fast. To your faith and your hope in the face of evils that are so dark that seem that they should be spoken in whispers. Spend some time on the internet searching statistics on child abuse, sex trafficking, or the sexual exploitation of children and you'll want to crawl into a hole fathoms deep - or become so angry that you spend your life in a hopeless fit wanting to right those wrongs and seek justice. Make donations, support awareness, vow to contribute something to the causes that burn in your heart. And all the while. - hold fast. Because otherwise you slip down that chasm that brings no one out into the light. And I rather think we are here for this purpose, to hold hands and walk out into the light together. To be the light ourselves in the face of all that darkness. If we aren't - what then?
I realized this morning that somehow I had gone from one photo that captured my attention to having just looked at twenty photos of celebrities just walking down the street. Just photos of celebrities doing nothing but looking cool walking down the street being rich, famous, in shape, wearing cool, casual clothes and great haircuts. Insert some kind of little cartoon face here because it dawned on me - I'm doing nothing but looking at cool photos of famous people walking down the street and I don't even know why I'm doing this.
But then I realized why.
Because last night I had read about all those statistics about children and my heart broke so deeply I couldn't even cry. My wonder about the level of horrid was exactly that. I was horrified by everything I had read - and I kept reading and reading until I knew more than I ever wanted to know. And then - I had to look away. This morning my subconscious mind still knew the damage. My conscious mind was screaming look away. Look away. Rich, tan people in casual clothes abounding with blonde hair and perfect white teeth. All is well with the world.
But all is not well, is it? With the world? Or With us? We are all dancing as fast as we can to some piper that is beating a drum that demands more than we can give.
Until we stop. Until we listen. And realize. This isn't the spirit of which I am made up of. This is not the music of the spheres or the dance that I'm called to. This is my life. To reach out to right wrongs where I can, as I can. To show a cup of kindness to someone near or far. To do the best I can with who I am where I'm standing today. And, to not worry that the world doesn't see the battles that I'm fighting or understand me right now. My place is to see the dark battles that others are fighting and to strike a match where I can, when I can, as long as I am able.
Some days - I'm more able than others. Like most of us. We lean on one another. For a kind word, a cup of soup, a tiny prayer.
I've loved to watch Melissa Conroy's drawings all year on Instagram. She began doing something with - well, just go see them. Circles. light. shadow. movement. And recently my prayers have been shaped like her drawings. I think of someone and when I do I send them those circles of light. I think this are good prayers. I think they hold power and count for something.
Today on this Sunday on this hill Sister and I will be cleaning out a storage shed. Shaking old boxes, dodging mice and spiders. We're having to get 'our minds right' like in that old Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. But eventually, the job will be done. Then I'll shower immediately with Dawn like Sister has told me we must do. (By the way - I dreamed once Dawn detergent cured Zombies. - Just make a note of that) Then I will make a cup of tea and sit on my porch and watch a few more leaves fall. The squirrels will chatter and dash up and down the trees stealing the corn I put out for the deer to eat so Mom could watch them. The birds will gather at the feeders. The sun will lower and the sky will cast that shade of red long and slow the way it does through the branches here in Tennessee. The day will tidy and tuck itself in. And I will think of you and all you do to remain human in this beat up, bruised old world.
Be gentle with yourself. All is not lost. We are still here in this thing together.
Peace, love and light.
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
And so it has begun. The road trip. The book tour. The seeing people on the road. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook their are more photos than I can post here but I am moved by every single soul I meet along the way. That includes the strangers, the surprises.
I grabbed Little Miss Sunshine and hit the road. (She's pictured here at a writer's hideaway in Oxford, MS before my visit to Square Books. Can you tell she's smiling. Well, she is. ) For those who haven't followed years of road trips and book tours Sunshine is the name I gave to a carry-on bag I purchased years ago for a book tour. It was me going very against type because I normally wear black on black with a side of black. Carry a black bag. And a black suitcase. I was in a professional luggage years ago preparing for book tour and had decided I would invest in a piece of luggage that would survive the miles ahead of me. Something with those magical 360 wheels that glided and rolled and zippers that refused to be broken. A hard case worthy of a few hard miles. I was checking out with a black bag when I turned and looked up and saw this multi colored case on high display in the corner of the store. "Wait!" I said - "I think - I want to see that one." They took her down, I rolled her around. Contemplated color. That wild splash of color. And thought - yeah, she's going with me.
My journey with Little Miss Sunshine as I named her started and we went coast to coast to coast. Airline security smiled when they saw her coming. Passengers commented. Hotel clerks. She brought sunshine wherever she went. Eventually, the metal started sticking out of the edges of the handle, her paint peeled off. She got battered, worn, weary. Just like me. It took years but I finally put her in the back of the closet. Ordered a set of three white metal cases one Black Friday super sale on line. They arrived. I looked at them suspiciously. They didn't even blink at me. I thought - well, I'll just cover them with travel stickers. Places I've been and others I've longed to see. I took them on one trip to Residency. Crammed with too much stuff, too many books, things to stay warm. Their wheels drug a little bit. They didn't have the - dare I say it - magic of Little Miss Sunshine. And they didn't smile at me from the corner of a hotel room when I went to bed at night in a strange city miles from home. They. Did. Not. They also turned out to be the bane of my existence when I had to end up on a Greyhound Bus in between cities that was delayed for a day and that is another travel story entirely. One I've written but not published. You cannot spend days in a Greyhound Station or on the bus with three white suitcases, a laptop bag, and a purse. If only I had just little Miss Sunshine and My Backpack we would have been in fine shape.
BACK to - the moment at hand. It was time to hit the road for Confessions of a Christian Mystic Road trip. I pushed those white suitcases to the corner of the room, reached far back into the closet and drug out the battered, metal baring, paint peeling old friend. Little Miss Sunshine rides again.
THE MAGIC OF THE MOMENT
Amazing things happen on the road. Surprising things. People come into your life that you weren't expected. With it, they bring their stores. There is the conference of crossing lives that doesn't happen unless we are out on the road, out of comfort zones, our normal agenda's. It brings to mind so many stories after so many books and so many years. Taxi drivers in New York who told me stores about how they arrived, where they came from. About what they read to their children. Sherlock Holmes comes to Mind. A taxi driver told me of reading the series to his daughter when she was young and for the rest of their lives he called her Sherlock and she called him Watson. Those are the kinds of stories you pick up on the road. The power of real lives.
I stopped at a rest stop to use the rest-room and get right back on the road but when I was walking to my car an old man was standing outside is car, maybe he could have been my Daddy's age if he'd be living now. He had a metal arm, wore a cap that showed he was a Vet, been in the service, served maybe more than just a few years for certain. He still had that air of military on him. Of having served. And as I tried to walk right past him and hurry to the car my feet pulled up to a sudden stop. I mean, full on stop. I sort of just stood there looking at him and said So, how are you doing today? The sun was shining, the sky blue, the miles ahead of me piling up by the minute and me - as is my usual - already falling behind. Already with more to do than time and space allow. He was smoking a cigarette and paused and smiled, surprised. What I didn't say was thank you for your service. That might have been implied. He said, What brings you out on the road on a pretty day like today? So I told him. Book tour. Got a book. Doing a thing.
So you're a writer?
That I am, sir.
Is that a fact? My, my.
And then we talk a bit. He's waiting on his daughter. She just had a baby and they were coming back from Nashville headed home to Memphis. The baby had been premature he said. Not but a few pounds. But now - "He's all the way up to twelve pounds. Just had his checkup. He's doing fine."
So glad to hear it. I dug around in the car. Found my reading copy of Confessions. Signed it for him and passed it on. Then headed on down the road. Because. We have one life, our stories, this Divine moment of compassion and consideration and a moment, just a moment to reach each other. To whisper those words, All is well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
And we are not alone.
Peace and love to you and yours. Me and Little Miss Sunshine got to get on down the road.
Late Reflections during Lent in Real Time. Tis still the season.
From my Instagram this week -
Spring descended on Nashville. I did a live interview on the Drew Marshall show which ran long so I missed an appointment. Realized Percy Warner was a block way, dug out my old sneakers from the car and went - walking. The parking spots were filled to overflowing. There were people reading in the sunshine on the green, little kids wading in the creek, dogs smiling in abundance, people jogging-walking-loving being alive and then someone had the presence of mind to bring BUBBLES! They filled the air, floated across the park and for a minute - we were all free.
Ruminating on Authors
One of my favorite authors, Markus Zusak did this same thing when he presented at Parnassus Books for his new book release, Bridge of Clay. Not only did he have a great smile at the ready - he had that charming Aussie accent. But the single, cutest thing about him, the heart-endearing kind of cute, was that he kept telling stories to a standing room only crowd who would have followed him to Australia to hear him tell just. one. more. And that's what he kept saying - Wait, wait, let me tell you just one more story. That's a writer's writer right there!
Out on the Ledge - Days till Book LAUNCH!
Another writer's writer par excellence is southern author Silas House, Southernmost. He's as great a man as he is a writer, one of the group of guys I call my Mud Brothers. So, when I was informed he'd be doing a guest author Interview with me for Musing, the Parnassus Newsletter I couldn't think of anyone I'd rather have a heart-to-heart with about the upcoming release of Confessions of a Christian Mystic. You can read the interview in full here.
Reflections on Reviews
Another surprise and wonder was the review of Confessions that was just released yesterday by Chapter 16. As I told someone - Wow! You don't really see yourself or your words until these reviews roll out from behind the curtain. Did I say all that? Did I show that? Did I reveal that private thing? Yes, It seems I did. Now, - gotta take the show on the road and get up, stand behind those words in this world. Here's the link to the Chapter 16 review if you'd like to read.
Everything now is coming down to the moment this new collection comes out into the world. I have moments of panic, moments of peace, a strange longing to runaway and hide coupled with a desire to stand on a mountain and tell the truth. My writer friends stay - just breathe. My non-writer friends say - just breathe. The Pulpwood Queens International Book Club (who chose Confessions as their April Book of the Month) say - just breathe. It's the kind of advice I do well to give other people. And as I write these words Sara's playlist from Spotify is playing in my ears and a new song by Elliot Root comes on and he is singing - Don't forget to breathe.
Please check my events page for the cities I'll be visiting which is being updated weekly. Also, verify the time via the bookstores website. In other words - don't trust me to get it right in the middle of this wonderful madness. I do so hope to see you soon and on the road.
First up is the sneak launch party at Parnassus Books March 29 in Nashville. Music by the incredible Ross Holmes and Sara Masat begins at 5:45 so come early to enjoy. I'll be reading and sharing beginning at 6:30. Wine, story and song. It's going to be a great time!
Then I'll be heading south to Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS for the official Launch DAY event April 2 and meeting up with the Pulpwood Queens of Jackson!!!! Yay! And followed by a visit to Southern Literary Mecca of a city, Oxford, MS at Square Books in Oxford (their event location is Off-the-Square).
Words and stories to follow but in the meantime. Look up at that sky. Soak in the blossoms. And remember - just breathe.
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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.