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.
A little News From the Hill - Oh, my lovely friends I have had to back track a little to get it all in. And I'm about to hit the road again for South Carolina where I'll be with the beautiful people at Burry Books for A Moveable FEAST tomorrow night for a great evening. If you are on the coast - check it out and see if tickets are still available. Can't WAIT! Now - backtracking on the spider story so I can work my way up to the Snake story, the fireant story and beyond.)
Yes, I was bitten by a brown Recluse. In my bed. At five am. I was not amused. I whipped on the light having known that yes, something has stung me and stung me bad - actually, feels like it may still be stinging me. I suspected Scorpion. I always suspect scorpions. Let's just call it that cabin in the woods writing experience. Once your writing cabin becomes infested with scorpions but you are DETERMINED to stay for a month to finish your deadline you are always suspecting of scorpions thereafter. No Scorpion. I would have fared better. Brown Recluse. How do I know? Cause I found it skutteling on it's spidery legs across my sheet and I gently killed it. Yes, I actually, purposely did this. I killed it with a sock so that I would not obliterate it into a blob of spider goo so that it could be identified by a doctor.
THEN - for the perfect transport I grabbed a box of Michael Farris Smith matches from his book, The Fighter with the cover of The Fighter on the front, dumped matches, stuck the spider in said box and placed it in my crossover bag which I just about wear to bed. Because it is a true crossover that fits like you are crossing over the big ocean and climbing mountains and traveling through the Aussie outback. These are my requirements for the proper purse. Because someone might say - HEY mate! You want to go to Australia today- I've got an extra ticket? And I won't even have to say, wait let me get my purse because I'll be wearing it. But I digress.
Oh, dead spider we will go, dead spider we will go, hi-ho the dairyo-deadspider we will go.
I thought of going to the emergency room at 5:30. But I had an important writerly conference call at 8:30 so I grabbed ice for bit, took Benadryl and drank extra coffee. Could not, would not miss that call. Hung up from call at 9:30 and walked out the door to the doctors. At first they asked, What makes you think it was a brown recluse? Then I pulled the matches from my purse and they were slightly confused by everything. They thought I was gonna light up. Which I can understand if you are sitting in the little room waiting too long after you have waited in the big room. THIS is a COFFIN I tell them and open the box. They are - impressed. Yes, That IS a brown recluse. And all the doctors confer to look at it. I am now The Fighter. I have earned their respect for killing and capturing the creature and bringing it in.Extra respect for not smashing it to smithereens.
The bite is on the inside of left arm. Right where one would receive a blood transfusion. I find all this evil and curious. I am supposed to be leaving in two days to drive across three states for a book luncheon event and to speak. To speak at a book luncheon event. There. That's better. As in - I'm not simply attending - I am the speaker. And showing up is highly favored upon the bookstore owners and the good people who have bought tickets. The show must go on I say. And something to the effect - DOC, you gotta hook me up with some antibiotics. I have read about these things. They tell me that they HATE to give me antibiotics because when the Zombies come and I really need them they won't work because I have built up a resistance. My arm is on fire like a hill of fireants are eating my flesh alive. I tell them I kinda think I need them antibiotics. They give me a tetnus shot. I kinda tell them I'm not leaving without some antibiotics. At this point they see the glazed, crazy look in my eye and consent because they have other patients waiting but me and that spider aren't going anywhere until they give me something. So, they concede and give me a weak antibiotic to take twice a day. Four hours later I call and tell them, JUST FYI - the red line is shooting up my arm to my heart! They tell me to take FOUR antibiotics and they will call in a refill. The weekend arrives. I call the hotline and say - you know, I think this thing is really getting worse. They tell me to go to ER or come into see them the next day. I always have things to do that preclude going to the ER. Like, I'm just gonna read this book and ice my arm and take 47 Ibuprofen and two Benedryl and look at this thing.
Next day. I go to the doctor. I PAINFULLY slide up my sleeve to my bicep. Any sort of thoughts of me saving antibiotics for the Zombie rush have now gone out the window. They order an antibiotic shot STAT and a STERIOD SHOT and call in MUCH STRONGER ANTIBIOTICS and ORDER AN ULTRASOUND at the hospital and SCHEDULE ME FOR BLOOD WORK.
"You guys know I got a thing to do right? Like I'm driving out of town tomorrow?"
Alone? they ask me.
"Don't be silly," tell them. "Of course alone."
My sister the nurse comes to look at my arm. I can tell she doesn't like it. Not one bit. And that she is in her stay calm mode. As in don't let the patient know how serious this is. She gives me instructions about - should this OPEN UP while you are on the road alone. (Actually, she didn't scream those words, she was speaking very softly, they just sounded like they were screaming) you need to wash it with this super -anti-fungal medicine from another planet and then PACK IT WITH THIS SPECIAL DRESSING I'm giving you and rub it down WITH THIS HORSE CREAM I GOT FROM TRACTOR SUPPLY. (I'm not kidding about any of that.)
MY SON, my funny, makes me laugh like nobody else tough as nails not much empathy for Mom's foibles son says - OH MY GOD! Do you want to lose your arm? Do you want to type with both hands? They should have sent you to a surgeon! That should have been opened up! You have to get that POISEN out! Do you know how serious this is???? And the most precious thing in the world is - he truly cares that his Mummy might become well, a mummy. He is worried about me and my having to type with one hand. Okay, he is worried that I am gonna die.
MY OTHER SON who just flew in from some television photo shoot desert thing says and calls me on facetime video and I answer in the dark because I have been up all night in pain with spider bite says - HEY - and I can see his face clear as day because it's day but I have glorious CRAIGSLIST BLACK OUT CURTAINS THAT ARE A SHADE OF EGGPLANT THAT I LOVE AND HAVE HAD FOR FOUR YEARS AND WILL NEVER GET RID OF - pulled because of the light and the night and the spider bite - and he says - MOM!!! WHY are you in the dark?????? And I say, 'because of the spider bite and I've been up all night in pain" and he says - What spider bite? You got bit by a spider? And then I say some stuff and love you and hang up. Then I text him a picture of the spider bite arm. And he text back - OH MY GOD MOM THAT IS AWFUL THAT LOOKS TERRIBLE AND YOUR ARM LOOKS LIKE A ZOMBIE ARM!!! (The Zombies. Always the Zombies.)
And these are guys who have been to war multiple times and they are both tough guys and so I appreciate the level of their concern. And I got to hit the road cause I'm a writer and there are people actually waiting who have bought tickets to see me and hear me talk about my book. Imagine that! I am not paying THEM to sit there and listen to me they have actually paid to listen to me talk about a book I wrote and want them to buy that they are buying. Yes, I'm going to take my antibiotics and my ice pack and I'm going to go be with them and tell stories.
So I'm like some lone cargirl cowgirl driving down the road signing, Me and my spider-bite . . . hihohiho - But it's more like Lone Desert Highway, cool wind in my hair - Cause my air is still broke in my car and I drive with all the windows down doing 80 and when I stop and get out people think I have purposely styled all this hair JUST LIKE THIS BECAUSE WHY ELSE WOULD SHE WALK AROUND WITH ALL THAT HAIR STICKING OUT. But they don't realize -
No, that woman is on medication cause her arm looks like the Zombies got her and she looks slightly crazy so we not gonna mess with her. This is true. People don't mess with me. Because they have a sense that all hell will break loose or there will be a Holy Ghost revival rain down and they just don't know but they know its something strange, something not just ordinary right there about that one.
Lone woman, ice bag on left arm where it looks like I had a bullet wound by some Steampunk Dystopian space gun. And I'm trying to ride this horse to the next town and make it before sundown.
The drive is 4000 hours away. I think I feel the fever coming on. The sun is setting and a storm has whipped up on the Maggie Valley side of the mountains. But the show - the show must go on because it's about the power of story. This thing That is in my blood. More powerful than spider. Full of light and not of shadow. It's about brining the story home. And sharing it with the incredible people who support authors and celebrate new novels and memoirs, these offerings of words on paper.
Wishing you incredible, beautiful ordinary days.
Recently I read and fell in love with Nathan Englander’s new novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. Mr. Englander’s collection of short stories, What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank was a finalist for the Pulitzer Award. It won’t surprise me a bit if his latest walks away with it.
Set in the Middle East in present day it captures the relationship of Prisoner Z and his guard. The story evolves from and around that relationship. It features spies and counter spies, Jewish mothers, Immortal war generals and of course, lovers. It’s the kind of book that makes words that try to describe the novel too trite or too weak. Suffice to say, read it. If it’s your cup of tea - read it. If it’s not your cup of tea - read it. It feels like an important book. A really, timely, important book.
Quite by accident I bumped into an old Psychology Today post which was centered around Nathan Englander and an interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. A reader had posted a comment a year ago that I suddenly just saw. Which led me back to the post. Which led me back to reading it and thinking - that was 2012 - this is 2017. The question is still relevant. The weight on my heart even heavier.
In no way do I mean to embarrass Mr. Englander by posting this memory but the words he shared in that interview are as heart-wrenching and moving to me today as they were then. As is his new novel.
In spite of the news that terrifying news from around the world that seems to pop up on my phone by the minute I lean into the words of Anne Frank as anointed as they ever were.
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Anne Frank
Sometimes you have to listen to your inner instincts. The small voice we hear that whispers, this way, follow me. For some it is the voice of God. For others their sixth sense. For me I’d say it’s a combination of both considering they are one and the same.
Fifteen years ago I moved to Nashville following that voice. That’s the short and simple version of the story but it was that clear. Nashville. No other place on a map filled with other places, many options. I knew no one in the city, had no relatives in the area, and no particular job. It was the city where I had to be. I’ve never regretted following that voice but never more-so than last Monday when the celestial heavens aligned.
While others across the nation had carefully plotted their path for many years I lived oblivious, caught up in the daily rapture and apocalypse of my own life. It was only a few weeks ago that I actually realized the eclipse was headed my way. Or that I was headed toward it. Then I began to feel a bit unsettled. I blamed it on the news, the rolling tide of my emotions. On deadlines or fatigue. On just being me - artistic and emotive, passionate.
Plans were in the making all around me. All of the big events, major parties, bands and eclipse watching gala's. Glasses sold out, were recalled, sold out again. I never bought any. I bought Guinness. There was that small instinctual voice again. Alone, it whispered. So alone it would be. I would sit on my porch, watch and wait with expectation. Experience the unknown of what would come.
I woke up Monday saying Eclipse Day! As if it were Christmas morning. I was giddy. Such a silly word but I felt silly not melancholy. I worked on a short story about a woman waiting for the eclipse. The refrigerator man came to repair the fridge. I looked at my watch. I told him that it was about to penumbra was coming. I told him he could take a Guinness with him. I might have been hinting.
My house is circled with trees. Large Oaks of every kind, Elms and Hickories. I love the light passing through the filter of their leaves. The sun on their bark, the fog that moves through their limbs in the early morning dawn. I have a relationship with these woods.
I sat on my tiny, front porch, watched the shadows shifting forward, opened a beer. There was the singing of the cicadas and the birds. Dogs barked off in the distance down the hill. It was the middle of the day but night was falling, the shadows lengthening. There was the slightest of breezes and I felt the coolness on my skin as the day gave pause, began to bow to the passing of the moon.
I watched this approaching night for the hours it unfolded and then at the speed of atoms splitting, totality crashed over me. It was as if the keys of a thousand doors were unlocked at once and forever. And it took my breath. I whispered Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - not in fear or even in prayer - but in awe and wonder. A word of praise and thanksgiving to have lived in this moment in time, to have lived in the path of this happening and to be experiencing it in such an immediate and profound way.
I stepped out into the open beneath the dark sky where stars had appeared. Fireflies lit up the grass everywhere as if they had been standing by waiting for their orders to lift off. There are few moments in life this powerful and profound.
Day began to slide out from under the moon again, sweep across the yard, shadows being chased away by light until the fullness of day returned. The sound of the crowd miles away at the Riverfront irrupted into cheers.
Late that afternoon I watched the Nasa coverage, the interviews with people from all nations. This moment so exciting, so breathtaking. So unifying.
The following day I was in Parnassus Books greeting customers Visitors who had traveled all these miles to be right where I was all along. Sharing stories of where they’d been, how they’d watched. One man from Texas looked at me and said, “Totality is everything.”
"Yes," I said. “90% isn’t good enough,” he continued, adamant about this. He was preaching to the choir. “No sir,” I said. “Its totality or nothing at all.”
Another couple had traveled from Tampa. The man told me that they had run from the clouds farther up in Kentucky. Ended up pulling off of the interstate and watching from a field behind JC Penny. The woman said it was perfect. Her eyes were still filled with the wonder that I had felt. “An Indian man from New York and his family stood next to us,” he said, “and he watched the whole thing with his hand on his heart. He told me afterwards that in his religion this was a spiritual experience.” He smiled at me, tired from so many miles but so fulfilled. “I told him, buddy in my religion it’s a spiritual experience too.”
Another man told me, “You know, for just a minute we all stopped fighting. It wasn’t about politics or arguing. We were all in the same place. Suddenly we were all on on the same page.”
Eclipse books were on sale. People were buying them up. Opening to the pages for their next pilgrimage. Marking the trajectory. “Argentina,” one woman told me, “I was born there and haven’t been back in thirty years but I’m going for this.”
I realize that the world has scoffers, people who fall into the category of - What is all the noise about? Big deal. Sun, moon, eclipse - I get it. And those that say, Well, that was an interesting show, now let’s get back to business. But there’s another group. The ones who were deeply affected when those celestial bodies aligned, who felt an awakening of bold Illumination. When for those few minutes we became one people, looking heavenward, eclipsed by the vastness of the universe, our politics as small as those distant stars in the horizon. When all the pleasure and pain of simply being human traveling through this vast corridor of time was the greatest miracle of all.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.