Last night was the Oscars. I had seen if not all of the movies nominated at least some of them so I was interested in more than the fashions of the evening. I was pulling for a few underdogs and personal favorites. Yes, I loved Spiderman, Into the Spiderverse getting Best Animated Film of the evening. There were plenty of moments I loved and a few things that seemed just right. I don't have a big must have for the Oscars as an evening. Although, over the years I've always had a few moments that stood out to me. Usually, that was the acceptance speeches. The part that many people think of us blah, blah, blah yeah we know - they thanked their Mama and their families and the director and the guy that held the ladder for their 7th grade school play. But to me - that's the moment that counts the most. The thank you's. And the moment where someone gets their due although I'm sorry for the people who didn't. I'm still stinging over Bill Murray not getting the award for Lost In Translation so I feel it when the hurt comes. But - back to Last night.
My highlight Oscar's moment was when Lady Gaga won for best original song. I loved when she said "There is a discipline to passion." Then she went on to speak to people sitting at home about getting back up after they've been knocked down. Once, twice, three times. She said that she had worked very, hard to get where she is. I believe her. Because art is work.
There may be days that are gloriously inspired but even those require finger to the keys, pencil to sketchpad, smile to face. For all of us. All the creative work that we do and I include the art of being human in that. Maybe, mostly in that. But then there was that word - passion. It's a buzzword of mine. When it comes up, I listen. When I say it, I mean it. When I live my life from that passionate place I am spot on, following my true north, and answering the call that is my life. But it still requires me showing up. Although I am extremely passionate about the novel in progress that I am STILL two weeks away from finishing - it requires that other word, Discipline. That word is not one of my favorites in my workbook of words. I've tried it on for size from time to time. For instance - little known fact - for awhile in my life I was what I'd consider a gym-rat. Funny thing that. Day one, day two, day three - not so much of a difference. Day sixty-two, day ninety-one, day two hundred - mind blown what you can accomplish. What things can emerge, change, develop - find their way to completion.
I've always been good on the lock-down. The retreat. The all or nothing. Today -we will move that mountain over there and put it over here. OK. Good deal. Let's go move a mountain. I'm in. But instead if you say to me - today - we are going to go over there with this little shovel and move one shovel of dirt to this spot to that one - I'm out. I'm not a one shovel a day kind of girl. It's why I don't like housework. Because most of it has to be done everyday. Some. A little. Everyday. I don't mind Spring cleaning and painting the shutters and working hard for days or weeks on end. But every, single, day. A little bit. Where you have to get up and do it again. What is this but some strange turn the wheel insanity. It's like saying River, do you want to drive to Clarksville, Tennessee? No, I do not Sam I Am. But hey - River? Do you want to get in the car and drive insanely across the country so that we can watch the sun drop and set into the Pacific. Yes! I'm in.
Back to Gaga. And to Divine Timing because that was in the title up there somewhere.
I have a new book coming out April 2. (The sneak preview kick-off party is at Parnassuss Books Friday March 29 at 6:30 and the whole world is invited.) That strange, peculiar little, genre-busting book is about being a southerner, a novelist, about believing in signs and wonders and it looks like it just appeared from thin air. No book. Ta-da! Book!
But it was actually four years or more in the writing. One draft. The editor liked it and said it just needs a re-write. I rewrote it. The editor liked it and said it just needed a slight tightening and a rewrite. I went through some life changes and when I returned to that draft I didn't like any of it. I threw out the entire book. The whole thing. I sat down and wrote a different book. The editor loved it. And, said it needed a rewrite to just clarify a few things. I rewrote it. Then line edits. It amounts to - a lot of work but it's the work I was born to do. I'm a storyteller. But I can't just lie in bed and the stories find their way to the page. In spite of the fact that the new novel runs through my mind twelve hours a day - it doesn't get the words to you unless I write them down.
If you are a writer, an artist, painter, musician, songwriter, toy train maker, then your work is the same. We must return to the space, the place, the moment, the studio, the sunbeam whatever it is that is the gym of our creating. For a little while in my life I was that girl lifting weights and running on a treadmill six days a week in the gym. That was discipline. For a number of years (not one but many) I said a prayer for a stranger everyday and most days I told someone they were my stranger. That's a different kind of discipline. We'll call that one - inspiration.
What I'd like to live is a passionately, inspired, disciplined life. To realize that the word discipline doesn't distract from the passion because I can't stand the idea that something - anything - would water down my passion.
When Gaga stood up there and said those words I realized, Yeah, when you are as passionate as I am about story, it takes a certain amount of discipline to contain and direct the fire, so that the power ends up where it's meant to be. Maybe, and here's a crazy thought, the more passion present, the more discipline required.
Let me try to connect that Divine Timing thing.
Here's a story of me finding a book at a used book store that had been cast aside. Just lying there. A really old library book from another state. No doubt headed to the trash bin. But when I saw it I knew it was mine. That little free book. Something I wouldn't have bought, ordered, picked up or even read if a friend had pressed it into my hands and said read this. I'd have thought - nope, too old, too outdated, too conservative. Not my cup of Christian - thanks - I'll get my cup filled over here.
The book I found?- Harry Emersons Foskick's The Meaning of Prayer. It was first published in 1949 by - get this - the National Board of the Young Men's Christian Associations. You get my drift on why I wouldn't have bought this book, right? I have a reprint that looks as old as that mountain I was moving earlier in this story. It was reprinted in 1962 and again in the 70s.
The first line of this reprint has a preface that begins,
"This book was first published forty-seven years ago. I was then a young minister in my first parish, still bearing the scars of a nervous breakdown which I had suffered in seminary days."
Stop. the. clock. When honesty abounds in a story, I listen. The preface goes on to talk about how Mr. Fosdick sent off his manuscript saying he didn't think there would be much demand for such a book on prayer and thought if they could ever sell even two thousand copies they'd be lucky. Almost fifty years later he wrote the preface when it had been translated into eighteen languages, and sold close to a million copies. Then this battered little, old copy that was taken from a church library in Kentucky found it's way to me. I have read and underlined and highlighted portions. I have feasted on the words in small portion because they are serious words full of wisdom.
And they were the first thing I thought of during Lady Gaga's speech.
How can you possibly take a cultural icon like Gaga and partner her up with a some old, pastor of Christian theology. Passion. Discipline. Hard work. Faith and fortitude.
Fosdick wrote about a few examples in his work unanswered prayer. About how God has given mankind the ability to pray, the power of prayer but also given us intellect, the ability to think and to work and that one is not to be substituted for the other but to work in Divine partnership together. Like inspiration and writing novels. It still takes some thinking. And some working. I imagine that Lady Gaga has seen a few ups and downs in her life. I actually know very, little about her. But I do know a lot of authors who are either famous, well-known, or on the verge of being discovered. They have all paid their dues and put in their time at the page. They have employed - and here's that word I don't like - discipline.
Today - as I wrap this wordy blog entry - I am praying that your passion finds a new discipline. Because I pray for you what I need for myself. Should you be lacking in passion for any reason, I'll give you some of mine. I've got more than enough to go around. Fosdick quotes The Book of Nehemiah from the Bible which happens to be one of my favorite books from the Bible which surprises people. (I'll tell you why later to save us both some time.) About how Nehemiah prayed to God - and set a watch day and night. About how Cromwell said, "Trust God and keep your powder dry." And, how Spurgeon said, "Pray to God but keep the hammer going."
For writers maybe it means we keep our laptops charged, our pens and notebooks at the ready. Whatever our tools may be I know that it requires that same discipline those gym-rats use to get great biceps. It requires that we show up at the page. Not just on weekend of that wild, wonderful full moon but each and every day. Shoveling that mountain of a novel, one sentence, one word at a time.
Yesterday was pure magic. First it was Sunday and it felt like a sabbath. A kind of quiet day given over to prayer and introspection, rest and reflection. To reading. Early in the morning the fog was rising in the little valley but the sun there at the edge of the world at sunrise was promising. The wind had turned and was blowing in from the East. The Summer was past and it let me know that soon the wind would turn, tunnel down from the North and I could feel all these things down in my soul. That it was time to pile wood, to ready for Winter. It was the first day where it felt as if that old clock known as seasons had shifted. No more Indian Summer days that surprised us with warmth and promise. Now the wind held a chill, shook the trees that cast off their leaves by the hundreds. I watched them sweep and pile at my feet. The world on the hill was quiet. The traffic kept its peace.
Lately, I've been embracing Sunday's for reading. A curl up in bed or sit on the porch kind of day to allow myself this luxury. Not reading for work, or after work or just before bed. But reading as a center-point of the day. A spoke of a wheel. And since it is Sunday I've laid aside all types of reading and picked up a habit of reading those things that reflect or embrace a spiritual side of life. In some way. This is a wild, sweep of a description since it encompasses so much. Books like Leif Enger's Peace Like a River would fall into my Sunday category. Yesterday, I picked up Mark Richard's House of Prayer No. 2. Roy Blount, Jr. described this work as "Hot damn! and Glory Be!" and I think that is a fine assessment. I've never met Mr. Richard's but I read this book years ago when an author friend, Michael Morris was kind enough to mail it to me with a note that said - I think you will like this book. And, he was right. I like it as much the 2nd time around as I did the first and am highly recommending it to those people who are studying writing with me to add it to their library of books that lead by example.
So, I read and watched the leaves fall and said my prayers. And read a book on prayer that is meaty and in it's upteeth printing since the 1940s and it requires that I concentrate on the words. And then think about them. And then underline some and think about them some more. It's Harry Emerson Fosdick's book on The Meaning of Prayer. I picked it up in the throw away free books at McKay's when I went in to find season 3 of that very, expensive soap opera known as POLDARK for me and Mama to watch. The Poldark's have just about worn us out with their problems but we are hanging in there trying to help the story find a happy ending. Which may never be forthcoming since PBS is now on Season 4. We are almost caught up with our binge watching evenings and then we will have to return to Antique Road Show and the Golden Girls to find something to agree on until the next big thing comes along.
Last night it grew dark early. Mom had gone over to Sisters to visit, little dog Duncan had gone to the sitters and for a moment Kevin the rescue dog and I sat in the growing evening shadows as I read House of Prayer No. 2 and the house was still and silent. The rain had started and was steady, the wind still shaking the branches, raining down in gusts acorns that are golf ball size and clack, clack, clack against the roof. The birds defied the wind and clung to the feeders eating as they were spun around and around and around. There was a kind of peace that defies the stress that so easily besets us these days. On every level.
For a few moments I quit worrying about things and was just a reading woman, sitting by an empty fireplace. I kept looking up from the page knowing that soon and very, soon I'd be layering log upon log, smoking up the old house in such a way that everything in it including me will smell like wood smoke until Spring. So be it. Seasons come and seasons go. And my soul is learning to rest in this knowledge and to count my blessings.
Today's facebook post was specifically designed for Monday's. If you don't follow or friend yet I hope you will. I realize that there seems to be a world of people out there all in the same boat, trying to keep hope afloat without realizing we are not alone. That we are on this journey together and remembering to be that to each other, fellow travelers, helps lighten our load.
If you haven't signed up for my newsletter on the homepage I hope you will join me there. In the meantime, may your week be bountiful in grace and mercy and all good things.
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.
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