A little News From the Hill
Recently FACEBOOK popped up on my phone with a notice that said - While you weren't looking - and then went on to explain in detail what people were doing in my absence. I found this slightly strange. Oddly disconcerting. As if there was a tad of guilt attached to that observation. But I thought I'd use that on this update sans the guilt. No guilt here. Besides, it's hard for you not to be looking when I'm not sending you words. While you weren't looking . . . storms rolled through Tennessee that have left thousands of us without power. It's an inconvenience to be certain. We are geared for things being charged and ways to see around the dark corners. Thankfully there has to my knowledge been no breakdown of civility. Case in point I stopped my car in the middle of the road after making a coffee run this early am to talk to some strangers I saw in their yards.
"Morning. Ya'll got any power?"
"No, honey. This here is my daughter's house and she is with CEMC. They got lights on. I live back down the road that away." She points in the direction of where I'm headed up the hill to my house. "And we got nothin."
"Me neither. Well, ya'll hang in there."
I drive up the hill thinking how pretty and green everything is. Wondering who bought that house with the pretty yard that looks out over the meadow and the river because my thoughts can go that way. Then I make it in the dark house and wake Mama up to say, "If you want your coffee at least lukewarm you better sit up in bed and drink it now." She does and asks me if I will bring mine in the bedroom to sit with her and so I do. Cause I can be like that too.
We talk about how by now everything in the fridge and freezer has gone bad. She wants to know if the Power company is gone give us some kind of credit for these days in the dark and tells me it's been too long now. I agree. It's been too long. Too long for comfort. And I think about all the friends and family who endured no power for weeks after Hurricane Michael and the residents of Puerto Rico who went months without power and how life can change on a dime or with a storm.
For just a moment I have enough charge to reach internet. Enough charge left on laptop to write. Imagine weeks of nothing. No communication. No way to connect with the outside world. To tell the news or receive it. Share a story or a recipe. The new dark ages they would be.
A slight breeze picks up, finds the window. It's still early enough that the air is cool compared to what it will be. Maybe I should open all the windows now. Try to fill the house with air while there is air to be had.
Yesterday. The storms rolled in again. Me and Mama sat in the dark of the living room. She asked me if I wanted to go sit awhile on the porch and I said ok but we have to hurry before it hits. She hurry's as best she can. Then we sit and the dogs sit. They will tolerate a little of this - the wind whipping and the trees blowing - but at the first loud clap of thunder they are ready for shelter and not the silliness of watching a storm roll in.
Mama says - "Do you remember me rocking with you and us watching the storms through the window?"
"I do Mama."
"I never wanted you to be afraid. I was so afraid of storms so I didn't want my child to afraid like me so I rocked you but I'm sure I put the chair back away from the window. We weren't in danger or anything."
"You also held me in your arms and we stood right by the window and watched them."
"Well, I just didn't want you to be afraid." She rocks and thinks a minute. "When I was six and that's a big girl to be so afraid I started crying and I remember I went to another room, we called it the side room cause it was just a little room on the side of the porch where company slept and that's where I went to cry cause I was ashamed and didn't want anyone to see me. John found me and come and picked me up and told me it was okay. Was nothing to be afraid of and I was alright."
I can tell by the way she is telling it that the memory is up close. Something that feels like right now and yesterday. John was the Uncle John of my stories. When we happened to both be living in South Florida close to Miami he pulled me outside during a storm to watch heat lighting in the clouds putting on a show worth laying your money down for. He was about ten years older than Mama but died now what seems like over twenty years ago. How does that happen? These people of ours passing though leaving such big footprints behind. We never imagined in all of our years, in all of their coming, there would come the day of there going and staying gone.
"One night during a big storm lightning struck our television and a ball of fire shot out of it and rolled across the floor. A ball I tell you. There was a big sound like an explosion when it hit and then I watched as this ball of fire rolled out of the TV set and across the floor until it disappeared."
"Where was I?"
"I imagine in a storm like that I had you in my arms because that's what I would have done unless I had laid you down for a minute. But you weren't on the floor with the fireball I can tell you that much."
"And I guess that television was history."
"Oh, it was history alright. Wasn't nothing left of it."
"Well, Mama that was something to see."
"A fireball rolling across the floor."
"Yes, it was sure something."
A fireball. Vaguely I have a strange memory. One of the air changing with the hiss of expectation to explosion, of a ball Made of all the colors of red and orange and yellow at once stirred together into something alive and magnetic, something powerful escaping the confines of that old Zeneth tv console. At the edges of my mind there is my mother young and frightened and full of wonder. The memory is either mine from ages past or something I've inherited now. A story passed down for the taking. As all stories are.
We sit till the trees bend low, the birds find shelter and the dogs lead us back inside where we will spend the night in silence that come with a street tossed to the darkness of dreams. Where everyone hopes and imagines they will wake suddenly to the flash of lights, the hum of machines kicking on again, the air conditioner sighing with relief as it resumes its long, trudge uphill against the summer.
Blessings to each of you as you walk that tightrope of your days between the darkness and the 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
Mama had a gorgeous photo on her phone and I asked her where that was? She said - the porch. Ahh, yes. The memories. Only a few short months ago and the bug lanterns were lit, the trees were green, the ferns were green and we were in our Summertime mode. Painting and planting. Dirt smells and cricket yells. Now the fog has rolled in and as Mama says we look like we are in old London Town.
Yesterday it hit 69 up on the hill. A stormy tropical balm settling in. Which meant I was pulling things out of the closet under the stairs and putting Momma's camp chair in there while the weather channel forecasted Tornado weather. That's my total prep. Mom's camp chair. (for her) Two old pillows. (for me) And a gallon of water. I had an emergency light with corroded batteries and began taking the batteries out and one got stuck and then I was off working on something else. So - that's about as far as I made it on my Emergency plan. Glad the storm passed or it was about to cozy. And dark.
The Charmings came over and spent the night. They were perfect right up until the time they weren't. We cooked pigs in a blanket mini style. They told school stories - which cracked us up because the four year old only answers questions with an angry the cops are questioning me mode tone. In other words he answers in ALL CAPS!!! The boys read books, watched puppy pals, and rocked with Nana. They called Kevin who ran up on the porch so happy they were here and rushed to get inside. Only Kevin had found something really SPECIAL to roll in that was strong enough Damon started gagging and saying, WHAT IS THAT SMELL??? And I said - that's a dog's happy place. And then we ran inside and locked the door in case he developed thumbs. They brushed teeth, put on pajamas. Got into bed. And then started cracking up and laughing and rolling out of bed, and changing places, until - ZAZA said - ENOUGH! And Happy New Year. Go to sleep! This morning we had pancakes and they had very, sleepy eyes. Their sleepy eyes do not compare with MY sleepy eyes.
When they went home I tried to go back to sleep. For the day. But I started thinking that the PULPWOOD QUEENS GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY WEEKEND AND BIG HAIR BALL book club event of the season is basically TWO WEEKS away and that I will be headed to Jefferson, TEXAS because they have made CONFESSIONS OF A CHRISTIAN MYSTIC as their April Book Club of the month. Ok, that's the official sounding reason. BUT I also get to be on a panel that is like a wish list before I die panel on Thursday (if you want to call it a panel because we are the entertainment) for one of the greatest events known as the AUTHOR DINNER. But get this - it's where the AUTHORS serve the BOOK CLUB MEMBERS AND Attendees DINNER. Imagine looking up to see Pat Conroy pouring your ice tea. Yes, this is the kind of event it is and so I will be there as a contributor to the Southern Writers on Writing Anthology and as the April book club author and more than that as a friend to the Pulpwood Queen book club members who have been with me since my very, first novel, The Gin Girl. It's an honor to be in the company of such great readers, the writers they support, and Kathy Murphy the wild woman who founded the whole thing. I hope if you have a way to clear your schedule and check on remaining tickets and treat yourself to a way to kick off your New Year in one of the most memorable ways possible.
All that to say - I got excited about Texas and thinking of the million things I needed to do before I got there and I couldn't go back to sleep. Perhaps, at some point today - a nap.
SIDENOTE SPIDER RANT: I just killed a spider the size of Texas in my kitchen. I THINK I brought him in on Kevin's food bowl. BUT - it is not a good thing to have a spider the size of TEXAS within five miles of your house much less in your kitchen. On the counter. I was on the phone with a good friend who was in Nashville for the night and apologizing for being ZAZA wiped out and that I couldn't meet her which is really just a crying shame and then suddenly I went crazy sailor on her began to explain at least she was safe from the spider. I could not find a sledgehammer to kill this massive beastive so I found an old can of RAID that had a smidgen of ant killer in it and then I sprayed it till it coughed twice. And picked up speed. Which is when I dropped the can and ran and found that old deep woods off from the porch summertime days and let go of a cloud that is still hanging around the kitchen downstairs as I write this. (Mama had managed to go back to sleep so she has been safe in her room during this entire show-down) I suspect that I will go down the stairs and the spider will have come to life and crawled away the way that sneaky scorpions do pretending to die but they do not so you have to cut them into little pieces. I am sorry if this offends you but if you have never been in a cabin that has become infested with scorpions when you are trying to complete a novel under deadline and have woken up with a scorpion ON YOUR PILLOW STARING AT YOU and one UNDER YOUR PILLOW WAITING FOR YOU - then you will not know the depths of my anti-scorpian behavior. You may be able to possibly search this blog and find reference to this chilling moments. (For the record. I stayed. I became Ramboette. I slept with my shoes on. Tied my hair in a scarf. Moved the bed to the middle of the room. And I killed Scorpions by the dozen daily. When you are a writer and you are serious about your deadlines you will do these things. ) Back to the spider. I once had a wolf spider walk under my arm while I was holding a hammer. He was just asking for it. This spider was asking for it because he came in my house. I have forty thousand acres of woods around my house. They can live there and I have no problem with them and their lifestyle choices. They may NOT come to my house and eat my grandchildren. End of story.
Everybody has been reflecting on the past year And I have been sick. When you are sick you are not good at reflecting. You don't care. I was so sick I didn't even watch tv. Watching tv when you are sick is a good thing because you don't feel like doing anything else. It gives you an official card - I CAN WATCH TV IF I WANT TO AND OLD EPISODES OF THE TWILIGHTZONE ARE JUST FINE. I just laid in bed and thought about how being sick was not fun. And that I was an immense admirer of all the brave strong souls that are fighting terrible diseases and overcoming cancer and carrying on in their lives to the best of their ability every single day. You guys are all awesome. And for people who are depressed and have trouble putting on both their shoes and walking out the door and they do anyway. All the people in the world who keep carrying on in the middle of what they are going through - this moment's for you. You deserve someone to say - atta girl, atta boy, - and Happy New Year to you to. I hope you get well, get healthy, get something special just for you.
Reflection: I kept Mama busy with those plants for awhile this summer. Well, really, that's the other way around. That was a lot of flower boxes and water and dirt. Mama says keeping stuff alive is not easy. I wanted to tell her yeah, well all this digging feels like it's killing me but it didn't and was probably a healthy thing in the long run. Except now. I don't have a green house. And I keep dragging plants in and out, in and out, and covering things up and I need grow lights and the ferns are looking puny and sad and like they wish I would just buy them a ticket to the south of somewhere. (PS - I have learned that I can grow ivy. Probably this means anyone can grow Ivy but me learning I can grow Ivy and not kill Ivy is a major surprise.) So this experience stands out to me.
Reflection from this year: My native hometown of Panama City was hit hard by Hurricane Michael and is still on the long road to recovery. My heart was heaviest this year over that loss and the burden its put on the Panhandle and so many friends and family. But it has amazed me to watch how they pulled together down there and without thought of political party or church affiliation - set out to be true neighbors. Showing up, sharing food, rescuing people from trapped houses. Making new friends for life when they didn't have power or water. What one writer called 'the new normal.' having a true view of the priorities in life that changes everything. That's something that I'm carrying with me into the New Year. Deciding what my 'new normal' will look like. Not accepting the limitations of my own preconceptions and prejudices to keep me locked in where I don't belong. Out there. We all belong out there. Helping each other.
News from the HILL: Cousin Deb of Cousin Deb fame was just here for Christmas. I was supposed to be happily selling books when she showed up so son picked her up from airport but I was home sick in bed. Ho Ho HO. Not a fun way to start your vacation. She picked up the mantle and took on the Christmas shopping and cooking. (There was a method to my madness of NOT telling her I was sick before she got on that plane) And Deb said - WOW - you can grow IVY!!!????
Then suddenly Christmas turned into New Years Eve and Reflections were in order. This past year a lot of great things happened. They happened one at a time, a little here and little there. One day rolled into the next without me counting them. Sometimes, my blessings snuck up on me while I was busy with something else. When I wasn't looking. Or I was focusing too hard on the wrong thing. Looking hard at where the glass was half full. Where my deadline wasn't finished. Funny that. And all the time here is the rain pouring down of blessing upon blessing upon blessing.
Confessions of a Christian Mystic was completed, edited, put to bed, and soon - and very soon - will find it's way to bookstores and readers. The advance praise has been astounding and I thank every single person who gave it an early read endorsement. You can now preorder the book here at all of your favorite stores. Hachette has tapped me to do the official audio and we begin recording next week. (I'm so excited!). That new novel set in Nashville is nearing completion finally! And a new top secret project is underway that I can't wait to announce to you in a few weeks. In the world of writing 2018 was a grand year but just a whisper compared to what's to come. (And TO ALL OF YOU who have been reading my words for years, cheering me on and waiting for more I LOVE YOU LIKE HAPPY CRAZY!!)
Reflection: Another year of teaching writing in small groups brought some great, new friends into my life by way of students. They have wowed me with their work, their love of the written word and their energy. It has been one of my greatest pleasures in watching them grow and succeed. It's something I love doing and as time and space and writer conference opportunities open up I'll continue to do more.
Reflection: So Many great things happened that it's only in listing them I realize how I've waisted a lot of time to the nonsense of worry, toil and trouble. My oldest son married his partner in time and I was able to travel with the youngest son (who showed his Mom a whole lot of patience on that trip) to celebrate the marriage in style on the beach. I was able to vacation with all the family as they hit PC (before the Hurricane) to visit with Nana. Most of all - this past year I counted my blessings of family and friends being safe and healthy and being able to spend time with them. (I've lost a few loved ones due to illness, I've cried over the loss of so many strangers to the fires of Paradise, California- but it does bring to mind to be thankful for our days - all of our days.)
I think it has a good ring to it. I think it holds some promise. Something good to come. This year I'll be on the road again, traveling to stores, meeting readers where they live and I hope to see you out there. In the meantime, my prayers are for you and all that hold dear. For all of us overcoming, growing, holding onto each other in process of our everyday lives and challenges. And remembering what it means to be human. In our most glorious, moments. I must leave you here with the words that Author Silas House posted on his Facebook page:
So, excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” to usher in the new year.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching...
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice...
May we each find the voice we were gifted at birth, the one we need to use to carry into a New Year and in doing so bring a much needed light into the world.
Wishing you a year filled with Peace and Love,
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.