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.
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
It's the then some that'll get you. That's the part that has you in St. Paul, MN where they love my accent and I say - What accent? - where I lost my Drivers License, Bank card 1 (the mortgage acct and all serious bill bank), bank card 2 (the lipstick account), my passport card, my insurance card, and my cosco card. All together in a nifty little pouch I wore around my neck to make certain I didn't LOSE these things. But at the time I was getting ready to speak and go on stage so I jerked it off my neck, wrapped the chain around it and threw it into a book bag. The book bag looked just like the other book bags that one thousand fourteen hundred women were carrying. I knew it was a bad decision when I did it - and I did it anyway.
When I went on stage I started the conversation (as I consider any booked engagement keynote or no) by making a little annoucement to these women - Just in case, if you have seen, and so on. There was an audible groan of "Oh, no!" To which I replied, OH, DON'T WORRY - I do this type of thing ALL THE TIME. Because the fact is - I'm a Mess. Which became my impromptu title of my talk which was scheduled to be about Divine Meetings with Strangers (I think - more on title talks later).
I went on to tell the story for instance of me recently speaking in Phoenix, AZ for the organization that cares for, educated, trains, feeds, houses, the homeless. It was their annual fundraising breakfast and I had toured the facilities the day before, met some of their graduates from training programs and witnessed the amazing work they were doing opening up a restaurant. A great event. Then I went on to spend a few nights with friends in Scottsdale. Where I took it upon myself to pluck one grapefruit and one lemon from their trees. A spring of Jasmine, put it all in my carry on bag, sprayed myself with Chanel and went to the airport. It was one of the times I had the preferred security clearance. Short line. No shoes off. No laptop out of bag. No hassle. Except there was a little problem. When I walked through the scanner an alarm went off.
"No problem," the guard told me, "We just need to swipe your hands."
She swiped. I watched. She put the little swipey thing in a machine. It said - EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.
"We just need to reswipe you, just one minute."
She put it in the machine. It read "EXPLOSIVES DETECTED"
I had an sinking feeling that I was no longer in the no hassle line but had bumped into some trouble.
"Why does it say explosives on that machine?"
"Oh, it just does that sometime. Are you wearing perfume."
"Oh, Chanel for sure will do it."
She put the swipey thing in another machine. EXPOSIVES DETECTED.
" We are going to have to ask you to step aside."
The step aside led to a private room, two women guards. A shake down, frisk down, then they called in the bomb squad. Searched me and my bags again. Had a little conversation with me about why I was in town. "Here to help the homeless."
"All the way from Nashville?"
I would have gone on to explain I was the speaker but a man appeared at the door and whispered to the bomb expert that they had discovered "a residue of white powder".
"Goodie Powders," I tell him. It's just goodies. Headache powders they are. I can't deny it I have a habit. It's that kick of caffeine in them I think that has me hooked.
I was finally packed up cleared and made my flight just in time. It's the first time I've been early to a plane in my life. Thought I'd have a lovely few hours in the airport to work.
Flash forward, present day.
I tell the women I really need those cards to get on the plane so if they find them . . . . As women are in the book signing line they are all a tad concerned about me making that flight out. "Don't worry, I'll get through security somehow."
Then someone pointed out, "Yes, River but that was before. NOW they have you on the bomb list."
Tomi Wiley, Book Publicist extraudinare flew in with me to assist (and was invaluable in all things needed including procuring my drivers license number for me from secret sources just in time for me to get through security. But it wasn't without the frisk down.
That went a bit like this.
Mamn, I'm gonna have to pat pat and then pat pat, and some more (charlie brown mother voice) while you (more wahwahwah) . There are people walking all around me. As the guard begins to pat pat pat, HELLO THERE, that's personal, pat pat pat, shake shake shake. Hokey pokey leg out, leg in.
Are you ok, Mamn?
Oh, sure, closest thing to a massage I've had all year. Have you seen my assistant? I hope she's getting this for facebook.
"Yes, I think she is the blond over there. She keeps checking on you." Pat, Pat, pat pat.
Now I need you to put one leg out, are you ok? Do you need to get a room?
Um, nope, think I"m good right out here in front of a thousand people doing this? Do you need a room?
Needless to say - I'm not writing this from jail so I made it through. Tomi Wiley reported two things - That she was highly insulted that the TSA prison guard thought she was a blond when she was clearly a redhead. And that two - She told her husband only River Jordan would have a guard cracking up and laughing the whole time they are frisking her down.
I am in the process of replacing everything but so far have only managed to get a Cosco card. I'm carrying it around as my official id because it has that little picture thing on it. I went in just to ask them if they had any I-phone cases. "You know, the ones you can put all your id and bank cards in?"
I figure if I'm gonna lose stuff, I need to make certain it's the kitchen sink and then some.
How are things in your world today?
Most authors I know are not athletes. Now, mind you I am impressed and inspired by so many of them. I have author soul sisters who write like the wind while staying in great shape balancing life, mind, body, soul work. And the business of writing. Some like author friend Patti Callahan Henry are yoga enthusiasts while author buddy Shellie Rushing Tomlinson lifts weights while curling her lashes and talking on her phone (she's a real multi-tasker) and so many others who are in just real fine shape but I still hold to the fact that MOST of the writing friends are not true athletes. Given the choice between running two miles or writing two thousand words most of them would choose the word count.
Years ago I arrived to give a talk at the MTSU Writer's Loft program annual dinner. When I walked into the event location something seemed odd. I realized everyone around me was really toned and muscled and downright buff. I thought - man, writers have really changed since I came out of the cave from writing my last book. When did this happen?? Then I discovered that there was a body building thingy going on down the hall to my left and my writer thingy was going on down the hall to the right. I entered the room where everyone looked a little more - relaxed. Not like they were doing a hundred curls and crunches just before I walked in the door. Enter official sigh of relief here. There hasn't been a major shift in the writing game. It's much the same.
So although I wasn't born an athlete there are incredible lessons to be learned from those who were. There is a particular quality of focus, mental preparation, and strong-willed determination. The type that leads across that finish line, home plate, the end zone.
In the news today front and center is the incredible Serena Williams winning her 23rd Grand Slam. "You fight!" was her battle cry to push herself to play to win in the midst of that final match against her sister, Venus. (Perhaps writers need a battle cry at the keyboard. YOU TYPE!!!) At an author Dutch Lunch in Nashville a few years ago someone asked - If you could be anyone for just one day who would you choose? My answer was Serena Williams. Everyone laughed because they said it seemed like a bizarre choice for me. But I wondered - What would it feel like to wake up in the body for just one day? To have that kind of physical power and control. To have the strength that could move mountains.
Perhaps we all need a battle cry when we are staring down the thing. When we decide we're going to keep play again in spite of - what happened, what frightens us, what challenges us. That showing up and playing it safe is not playing at all. It's pretending to play and there's a big difference.
I know so many wonderful women who have fought the battle of breast cancer and faced that fear and that fight with incredible courage. Who have stood tall, worked hard, and continued to offer words of encouragement to others around them in the middle of a fight for their lives. If you saw these people walking their walk you'd never know what weight rested heavy on their shoulders.
"You fight!" is something that many of us need to say as we open our eyes. As we look in the mirror. As we balance a bank account. Pay another bill. Hammer another nail. Sometimes fighting means saying grace, giving thanks, counting a blessings in the midst of a mess. Finding the one thing that can make you smile, making someone else smile - sometimes that's a struggle. But it's a worthy one.
Mom and I watched an old episode of Frasier last night. We laughed at the stupidity of those two brothers, the entire episode a comedy of errors. We needed that laugh.
Today as I thought about Serena and her win, about that battle cry, I realized I've moved a lot of mountains this year. I bet you have too. I'm still pushing. Shirt sleeves rolled up, dirt on my face. I came to play. I'm back in the game. And, I intend to win. For myself, for my family, and those who touch my life.
That would be you.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.