When I've been away from my blog and away from you for oh so long, too long - I always want to begin as my friend Kaya McLaren does in her most excellent facebook posts - For Friends Who Like Long Letters - because I can let you know right up front that way this will be long and it will be rambling in the same wonderful way that Kaya unravels the threads of her life before us in her words to share what is happening in her world. I often try to share her posts and am always frustrated and surprised when I find I can't share them because she hasn't set the post to share. And I also admire the fact that she basically is saying you don't own my words and can't free fling them into the universe where people may not understand me. These words are for my friends and for them alone. They have come here to this page of their own accord and are kind and gentle souls who understand the wildness of my spirit and the pathos of my soul. She is a warrior I would follow into battle and sit with in peace. Friend her and you will be able to discover these wondrous musings of hers that I am unable to share.
Where do I begin? The world has shifted seemingly overnight or in a week in our country. Although it only seems this way. I'll show you where I've been. Many of you know that last year I went to Scotland for research on a book titled The Ancient Way. It was a wondrous journey and the telling of it became more than research the journey became the story. I can't wait to share it with you. I think its even available for pre-order now but that's not the purpose of my post. Those will come later, closer to pub time. Today I am thinking of the things that happen that we don't realize are happening as they are happening. Like, if we are saying our last words for the last time but we don't know that we are. Or if someone is leaving us before our very eyes and saying goodbye in so many ways but we're blind to this happening because we are going about our normal in our natural habitat. Like, I am right now. Writing to you from my office upstairs that looks out over the hill where the skies today are grey. Yesterday they were bright blue and the day was glorious and I wanted to go outside and soak up some sun to heal me from all manner of maladies - a sinus infection, and general aches and pains and such but the sun she heals me all the time. Always has. Lying on a beach, suntan oil drenched, gulf coast waves washing in and the sun warming me all the way through to my bones. Me and cousin Deb laughing and that AM radio blaring WDLP - Here Comes The Sun - And I say it's Alright. We lived in glory days. Our entire community of Panama City Beach - high school one big rambling group of chill if you ask me. Neighborhoods and clubs and clicques aside - all I remember was we were just all alright together. That there was natural weaving in and out of our days. And whatever darkness any of us were dealing with at home was somehow left behind when we entered those doors at Bay High or hit the beach. Life was good.
Where was I? The sun. I wanted to go sit on the hill. Take a book. Let the sun heal me inside and out. But instead I opened a paint can and started again. The kitchen cabinets that have been a busted dirty brown for God knows how many years. All my years of being here and all the years before - suddenly I decided they must be white. Could be white. Would be white. Granted I didn't have the money to rip them out and replace them like they needed but by Glory I could hit that little boutique down the street known as Wal Mart (love it or hate it it's what we got) and get a gallon and a brush, put on my ball cap and my jeans and earphones and start knocking it out. And out and out and out. And yesterday was my finishing of a sort. Got them covered. Most with a couple coats. Patched the holes. Silcone. My hands look like - well a working woman's hands. Like a cabinet maker. Skin ate up with scrubbing paint off. Gloves slow me down. Paint thinner burns a little but it works just fine.
I woke Mama up most mornings and said - Time to Go to Work. I drug her rocking chair in the kitchen where she could drink coffee and watch me. She said - You got a talent for this. You might be able to make some money at this you know. (Last year I painted the living room while she watched amazed that I could cover the walls, climb the ladder, roll it out, trim and tape.) Yep, I tell her. There's some hope in that. Maybe I could make some money painting. - -
I think you like it, she says. Seems so.
Let's my hands busy while my mind thinks Mama. Right now I gotta story running through my head. It involves a woman in the woods feeding wild coyotes. She's got a plan. Is up to something.
Hmmm, she says.
She is better with the concrete manner of things. Let the painting just be the painting, no stories hiding there. Let it all be what we see. Just what we see, nothing more and nothing less. An honest days work where at the end of the day something can be weighed and measured for its worth.
Hard to do that with words. So nebulous. So quiet.
Mom says look at all that hard work. You did that. It's amazing.
And I think - writers need someone who says this when they close their laptops at the end of the day. When they've done good work, when the work just wouldn't come out right. When they had to start over and over and over again. One more time.
So yesterday, there was that glorious sunshine and me on my knees with the paintbrush, me on the stool with the paintbrush, over the stove with the paintbrush. One more cabinet, one more inch, one more cabinet. Then the knobs. Take off those thirty year old knobs with stripped screws. Screw in new knob. One drawer, one cabinet, one drawer, one cabinet. One by one. One more time.
Before the glory of my Bay High days I went to a little Middle School called a Jr High then by the name of Jinks Jr. High. Hornets were our mascot. I don't know why. But they are formidable I'll give you that. It's just yesterday and I'm in 7th grade and I tell my teacher that I want to study Dante and read it in the original language. I think he asked me what I planned to do when I grew up or what I wanted to study in college or some such thing. He looked at me a little strange and said - Why would you want to do that?
To which I'd have to answer as the beautiful Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo once told me over lunch when I lived there - In our language there is no word for Why.
Let's just call it a Divine quest for lack of better reasons. Dante's Divine Comedy. A journey through the Inferno, Purgatory and on to Paradise. Must be a reason.
Life goes on. The beach waves roll in. Baby's come along to rock and raise. Life threads between our fingers all the time. Songs to be said and laughs to share. Tears to weep and weep and weep. And then to wonder - why was I crying? I forget now.
The birds outside the window on the hill are fussing something serious. We've been out of seed for days and it seems they've had enough of it. Demand that we restock supplies. Get back on schedule. Some kind of schedule. But schedules are strange things. They're there until they aren't. Till the world shifts into shadows.
Thursday I'll be on a plane heading to Seattle and then on to Whitbey Island to SPU MFA program. This quarter we are studying Dante. We are studying the translation that features the original Italian on each facing page. Imagine. Divine quests. In due time.
January China made public notice that a new virus was wrecking havoc in Wuhan. The news reports were sketchy - far apart. But the twitter feed. Different story. Escaped footage. Whistleblowers. Real faces in real time saying - it's not what you hear. It's not what you see. It's fast. It's worse. Seven people dead. Ten. Seventeen. The city of Wuhan shut down. Bulldozers pulled in to tear up roads. Blocking escape. Go home, speakers said. Stay home. Infected. 1000. I looked at the roads. The videos. The police. The healthcare workers sending out illegal pleas that were soon erased. I poured a glass of wine, went to bed. Called my sister. Told her forty million people are locked down. She asked the number again. I repeated it. Caught my breath. Then I went downstairs. Showed my mother videos of funny dogs, kittens, flowers.
Went back to bed. Watched the lock down in real time. Watched the last planes leaving Wuhan. Watched the actual flights in real time and where they were landing - everywhere. Around the world. I woke up, picked up my phone. Checked the numbers out of Wuhan. Numbers I couldn't trust as far as I could spit. And made a cup of coffee and said my prayers.
I went on Twitter. Searched for the top virologists, the experts, the people paying attention. Starting making a list. I stopped when I got to 100. I followed people who had thousands. I followed people the experts followed. I checked that list, that feed. I watched the leaked videos. of Mothers in china having to say goodbye to children to go to the hospital in another city to work never expecting to come home again. I watched the doctors on the front lines working until they were infected and died. They were thirty five years old.
I made Mama coffee, said - Look at the birds.
It's a woodpecker, a red bird, a new bird.
I wrote a story. Made more edits to -The Ancient Way. Lingered over the words about the light. The light. The light. I thought about the light of Iona. The eternal everlasting light. Here I found some peace.
I wrote a blog on Psychology Today about praying everyday at noon for the people on the front lines of the Corona Virus that still didn't have a name. I went to sleep praying for those people - the sick, the frightened, the healthcare workers, the first responders. I watched videos of houses being nailed shut. With people inside. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see.
I stared at my plane ticket for Seattle. I read Dante's Inferno. Thought about divine plans. And how the world spins and spins and spins and something spins out of control.
I recorded a radio show with my friend Kaya about her radio show - The All Women All Country radio show and was proud of that. Giving space and airtime to these great women of song often overlooked or not known. I read a book. Watched an episode of The Expanse - series set in the future far out in space. It seemed a good place to be. Far, far away.
I cooked peas and cornbread and collards and corn for Mama and she said - Boy, that was good. I think I'll have some more.
I made coffee and sat on the porch with dirty old wild dog Kevin. We looked out over the hill and thought about one day soon it would be spring. And we waited for what we knew was coming.
Seattle. Ground zero. The first case of the unknown virus made itself known. The patient was being treated in isolation with a robotic arm by health care people wearing hazmat suits. Do tell. I poured a glass of wine. Said my prayers. Started thinking how great my life has been. How damn great. Regrets. Not so much. A shadow here, a turn there. Wish I had been a little wiser in some ways. For the most part I've been decent. Stayed true.
Back when I grew up that beach was a paradise. That's what we grew up on. Sand dunes far as you could see. Sea Oates that rustled. Sandcastles down by the wash of the waves. There was no better place to be. I've seen a thousand sunsets over that Gulf. Can hear the waves down deep in my soul. They'll never be erased.
This day is not going to see the sun. The grey has settled, planted its cloudy feet. Determined. A hawk sails over the sky searching for red birds, tiny bits of things, mice. Rabbits on the run. One day last week a flock of vultures landed in a tree. Nothing dead. Hopeful, resting, waiting. Kevin barked wild, non stop, circled the tree. They flapped their black wings. I laughed at his insistence. He was out of breath when he climbed the hill but smiling, successful. I said - Good dog.
Another country, another case. I checked the numbers in China every morning like the stock market. Then went on instagram. Found something pretty to look at. Tried to push the novel, Station Eleven from brain as I told everyone you should read it. Now. Listened to people say this is just a little virus. Like the flu. Nothing but a virus. Don't you know - nothing but a virus is also called a plague. But what are words? So light. No weight. No substance.
I wore out my prayer beads until they broke. In and out of my pocket. My purse. My fingers. Finally they are unspooling. I try to keep them but the beads fall to the floor, the sheet, the chair. One by one, roll and disappear. I make a note. Need new prayer beads.
I found a funny photo of puppy. Mom thinks it is the funniest thing. A Siberian husky and he is so little but looks so mean. I understand they are not. They are friendly to a fault. And trouble. I think someday I'll get one. For company when Kevin's gone. I hope that is a long, long time. He is unruly and some trouble. Is not big Dog Titan. Doesn't sleep in my room but on the hill watching over all as we sleep. But he love me something fierce like I am something special. Everyone should feel like that.
I check the numbers, watching the cases lighting up in countries around the globe. Pack my bags in faith. In that bizarre follow my destiny kind of faith. I watch the calendar of days. I know science. I know what fourteen means and twenty one. I understand the world exponential.
My mother used to managed a restaurant on the beach. Right on the water. I worked there when I was eleven, twelve, and so on. Eventually graduated in age from morning shift to night shift where the college kids worked. Spent all those years, every summer right there looking at the waves in sunlight, moonlight. Rain or fog. Saltwater in the air. Paradise.
When I was a kid and then a teenager there was the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. That is a mouthful but it was a big deal. A family affair. My Memaw road through the Haunted House. You could hear her scream all the way to the Ferris wheel. The night, the lights, the spinning rides, the smell of corndogs and cotton candy. Paradise.
This hill has been a comfort to me and to mine. For years The Adorables came every summer for a month and played furiously in their 'clubhouse' out back. Spun stories, arranged rocks in odd patterns. I left them there for seven years. Couldn't bare to unstack them. Like they might come back, return to their childhood and expect to find them there, like I did my sandcastles. And the baby boys - those Charmings have done the same. Their clubhouse, their little three dollar swimming pool, the water hose, watermelon dripping down there arms, their faces wide in happy grins. Paradise.
My Mama though, she misses Florida and always will. She misses flat land. But still she says look out there today - It looks like Old London Town - when the fog is rising, lingering, settling around the house. Or the wind is whipping up the hill, whistling through the house. Just listen she'll say. Just listen.
It's almost time to plant the window boxes again. Just yesterday the trees budded out all over Nashville. New life. New season. The world goes on in spite of. In the middle of.
I check the numbers out of China. Check Italy. Iran. New Zealand reports first case. Brazil reports first case. Argentina reports first case. I buy Mama tulips just because.
I show Mama funny pictures of a little dog leaning to howl, a little girl crying because she got a new kitten saying, Can we keep him? We can? We can keep him?. And I cry and she cries cause the little girl is crying.
I look at the cabinets. Put in my earphones, put on Willin by Little Feat, open the paint can. Dip in the brush. Make a difference where I can. A little white paint. A hard days work. Something to show.
I get quiet. Go off line a bit. Don't write much on the socials. Don't post on my Reader posse videos. Cause I'm painting and thinking and thinking and painting. And praying.
Just the flu someone says. And I watch the numbers. Count hospitals beds, healthcare workers with hazmat suits. Healthcare workers with no hazmat suits. China called in the army. Italy closed all the schools. Locked down. A doctor in the US calls the ER and says - I've got a fever, I' think I've got it. They tell him to stay home. They can't provide quarantined space right now. He calls back, is transferred to a recorded line about CoVID 19.
I open the paint can at night. Pour a glass of wine. Paint another cabinet. Another coat. Mama says - I sure am proud of you. That's looks so good. Thanks Mama.
I got a storm rolling up in my soul. Do you feel like a do? I turn the music up.
I think about things. What's important. What's not. What's lest and what's most. What adds up and what needs to be laid down. Now. By everyone. While there is still time. All those sharp edges. Degrees of you and me. Me and them. This side, that side and upside down. We're down to us. Us and us and us. Now and now and now. Here's where we stand.
Now I check Seattle numbers every morning instead of China. Then I flip to Italy. Watch Italy. Real time in real numbers.
It's better to use paint with built in primer. Makes it easier anyway. Still. Sometimes you need more than one coast. More than two. Sometimes it take a whole lot to make something old look something new.
Got a new baby one the way. He's growing everyday. The Adorables have cornered the market on that pet name. The Charmings are a little ahead of him. But I know he will be adorable. He will be charming. Already is. I watch the videos of his ultrasounds in wonder. He sucks his fingers. Hungry to be alive. To see the world.
I think I'll plant Ivy again. It's something green I can grow. Something enteral. And I'm gonna try something new this year. A butterfly garden in the flower boxes. Because I can. Because you never know.
The world's going in quarantine. The schools in Seattle close - go to online classes. The University of Seattle goes to on line classes. The University of Seattle Pacific goes to on line classes. I read Dante. Watch my plane ticket go up in smoke. Unpack my suitcase. My calendar still has the two weeks blocked out in red - SPU MFA - DANTE.
I go to the church, pull up to buy new prayer beads. As I'm about to get out the first case of COVID19 is reported in my city. The next day the first case in my hometown. No place it seems is left untouched.
I come home. Tell Mama let's find a movie to watch. Cook something I don't remember. Breathe. Just breath. Kitchen's looking good she says.
Getting there, I tell her.
It's March. On the inside I'm getting quieter. Stiller. In January - way back in January I was calling my sister, talking to friends, my sons sounding a little panicked. I'm not panicked anymore. I'm painting. Earphones in. Little Pink Houses. Ain't that America. Home of the free.
I've been working on that story about the woman, the coyotes. Yesterday - out of the blue in turned into a full blown novel. In the split of second. Seven sisters. Each one with a story that leads into a story. It just might be a Southern Gothic Tour de Force. Never know. It can happened.
Back sometime in one year me and Cousin Deb drove up to Dothan Alabama to see Joe Cocker in concert. Feelin' Alright - turn it up. I just can't waste my time. I must get by. There's too much to do before I die. Feelin' alright. Not feeling too good myself. Feelin' alright.
And so it goes up on this hill. Everything's just as normal as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
And in the middle of it I've never stopped thinking about you. Wondering how you are. What you're doing. Thinking about time and destiny. About this amazing life I've lived. This charmed hard knocks down and out up and down life I've lived. Counting my blessings like precious stones.
I want to tell you everything's gonna be alright, stay alright. It's gonna be what it's gonna be. We've reached a turning place. But everyday we have a choice. To walk into the day with brave hearts, to say our prayers, to lay down our swords. Need a little holy, healing water out there we do.
Wishing you peace and light, peace and light, peace and light in spite of everything. And a way for you to settle what's most important in your heart. To talk to your family and your neighbors. I don't know. Maybe plant a tree. Make some soup. Write a song. Cause all in all - the world must go on.
Think I'm gonna go write now. There's a baby boy on the way ready to be born soon. And, he needs some stories to be told.
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.
Today it is raining on the hill. That old rooster down the hill has been crowing all morning. There's still no dawn just this slice of grey hanging over us and I think he is confused. Or he thinks the next crow will be the one that splits the sky open and ushers in the sun. I for one don't mind if he crows all day and the rain never stops. I'm upstairs in my office, the window open to the world, the green so thick I can't see beyond to the ridge. Every year I threatened to cut down a line of trees, to clear my vision, to open up my world. But then the trees, these living beings, I consider them and I don't. Maybe it's silly. Maybe my son calls me a hippie for thinking things like this. I was a little kid I tell him.
"The sixties happened around me. It wasn't like I was smack in the middle of them going to Woodstock."
"I don't care," he replies. "You're still a hippie."
More likely just an artist who knows trees are alive until you chop them down.
What stops that process more than my pretending the fallen trees will be cut and stacked for firewood and in that way keep on giving like The Giving Tree (that hills too steep. No one is going to bring that wood up here. Not even if I pay them.) is that I know in due season, in the fullness of time (one of my favorite Biblical quotes) the leaves will change, thin out, fall. The view will evolve little by little until the trees are bare then the little valley will open up before me, the ridge rise up from the other side. At night I'll be able to stand at this window and look out, watch headlights from the cars a mile or more away, from far, far down the road, circle and climb the hill. As much as I long for that view now I know that there is something precious in this change. Something that would be lost if I had it at the ready ever day. It's the exchange one makes for the aging of the leaves, the falling with grace and entering into the more silent, solemn moments of winter. With age, we turn from this new year and see that our view of life has changed. It is my birthday month. One that affords me the luxury of considering the passage of time of what it reveals and what it packs away.
The rain continues. Thicker now. This is good. We need the restful quiet.
Yesterday, I dug weeds from around the broken porch that needs to be replaced. I tilled the ground - well, that at least sounds poetic. I scratched at it furiously with a hand tool with pointy things. This is more the truth of my gardening abilities. I turned up 1 snake skin that had been shed. (No sign of the snake which meant I kept my eye open for said snake, 1 Giant toad that had been hiding deep down in the dirt (how was he breathing?) and one large spider that decided he would just go find another home with a quickness that eluded me. I don't like spiders or snakes or frogs. I wanted to be working on getting the word out on my new writing classes but Momma said, "I guess I will just have to go outside and stand on my head and pull weeds even though I"m not able I will try." She is like this. She says these things to me because she knows my head will spin and blow off and I'll pout and put on boots and stomp outside. She is very, smart this way.
Stop right there. I have to give you a little backstory.
If you have been reading these blogs you know Mama moved in with me about three years ago. And that she has a green thumb and I have a brown thumb. But that I now have flowers all around the front porch and back porch in my attempt to please Mama and to honestly brighten her day. And, it has. It has also given me plenty of opportunities to act like an exhasperated fourteen year old that wants to slam the door to her room. You want me to water the plants now??? You want more Rose food when??? I need to dig up what????? What I realize is my mother glories in this. The process of it. The actual work of it. As she said yesterday standing on the porch as I was digging, "I just hate it, hate it when something dies on me." And, I'm thinking - Well, this digging could just be killing me right here and I don't see you worried about that.
Don't get me wrong. The lilies we are planting in all that dirt came from Daddy's Creek. They bloomed for years. They are the largest most amazing lilies you have ever seen. I will adore seeing them in action once it happens. But the process? Not so much. Not like my Mama who loves every step of this. "Keeping things alive is hard work," she says.
"Yeah, well so's writing books when you can't ever get to the page," I say back. She ignores me. She gets sick of hearing me talk about a)writing b) not writing. These are two of my constant subjects because either I just finished x number of words I'm pleased with or I am lamenting that I haven't written any words. Which makes me a little crazy.
I dig the weeds, I pour the dirt. Mom has actually been working hard and adding dirt to potted plants, replanting ones that are root bound. She is ever so good at this. She looks over the railing at the end of the day at my weeded plot of fresh dirt and says -
"That really looks good. I'm proud of what we accomplished today."
I confess I take a little bit of pride in that. It's not that I can't put on rubber boots and stomp in the mud, pulling weeds with the best of them. I put my back into all that I'm doing. I have a good work ethic but I usually save it for having fingers laced around the keyboard. Unfortunately, to some degree all other work pulls on that string that says time, ticking, time ticking, words not written.
Except for when the grands, those Charmings or Adorables enter my world. Then I will stop the clock, close the laptop, shut down my world to be with them. To create magic in the normal spaces of their lives. The watermelon feasts, and sparklers, lightning bugs, and movie nights. Books and naps and nursing boo-boo's.
This month is also my baby boy's birthday. He is a grown man now but still - I took the Charmings shopping for his birthday. But Bless my Heart honest to goodness thought I could do it while I also took Mom shopping for her groceries. It was a master plan until it wasn't. She had a list. I had kids. Getting in the car was one job and getting out of the car at the store was another job and by the time we made it through the door and into two buggies I began to think maybe I have made a mistake.
Now, we have a downpour. This means my driveway is washing away. Again. Yoga breath. Heavy Sigh.
The store. Mom takes the nine year old to help her with her list. I take the four year old and six year old to buy presents. We make it to the cards where one child says he must go to the bathroom. I ask that question that parents have asked in stores for a thousand years - is it number one or two? TWO! who declares and then I ask the next question that parents and grandparents should never ask. I ask this in spite of being part of the potty training brigade for years. Offering to read to kids on the potty, give m&m's to kids on the potty, sing and dance and do a one woman show for kids on the potty - JUST STAY ON THE POTTY till it works. BUT now, on a birthday mission with a Mother buying enough canned goods for the apocolypse that will need to unload I ask - CAN YOU JUST HOLD IT TILL YOU GET HOME???? - Of course the answer is NO. Which is fair because you shouldn't ask that question. It's a bad question. To the bathroom we go. Which turns into a potty party in the handicap stall with lots of conversation going on between the four year old and the six year old and me getting tireder by the moment.
Out of the potty. Wash the hands. Wash, wash, wash the hands. Back to the cards. Then to Pajamas and shirts and the other kid says - NOW, I HAVE TO USE the BATHROOM. Two? You have to do two? Really? Now? Really? Wow. Just, wow. No you cannot use the Man's room. No, I don't care if you are a man. No I am not leaving you in the mans room. Back to the women's bathroom. Back to the stall only now I have to wait outside the door while the four year old and six year old continue to have plenty of conversation. I want to go home. Out of the Potty. To the sinks. Wash, wash, wash the hands. To gift wrapping. Call Mom. She is half way through with her list. I ask her what is left, just go, go go to the register. I'll get the rest now. I don't need the list. I'll memorize it. Run, run with the wind.
This is how I am crazy. This is where my crazy comes in. I am obsessesed with leaving the store the fastest way possible. I rush between milk and bleach and papertowels. I rush to the register. My mother is far, far away with her buggy. Looking for a living cashier. There are no living cashiers in the whole, entire world. Now, I am yelling like a cartoon strip southern character of which I swear I am not - THIS WAY, MAMA, JUST COME BACK AND I'LL DO IT!
We make it to self check out where the four year old stands up in the buggy like he isn't supposed to and starts putting things on the belt and the six year old is doing all the scanning and they think this is the greatest thing in the world. They are as invested in this process as My mother is those plants. I'm shoving things in the bags like a maniac. This one is for presents. Present, present, canned stuff, canned stuff, more canned stuff. Wait what is this? Ice Cream, ice cream and more melting Ice Cream? MOM! WHAT IS THIS????
"Well, they need a little something sweet! It's good for them."
Canned stuff, oatmeal cookies, more ice cream. MOM!!!
"I don't care. They can eat it in the car."
Present, present - wait - WHERE IS THE CARD we spent 45 mins picking out because you guys wanted to read them all? It's missing. Never mind. I bag, bag, bag- I'll go back and get another card while you guys go to the car. JUST GO TO THE CAR. MOVE TOWARD THE CAR.
Crazy. Yes, I know.
I must take the six year old with me because he moves too fast to leave him with a group where someone isn't designated to catch him that might not be fast enough. This is the truth. HE's like the flash.
New card. Out to the car. Forty thousand bags of stuff. Presents. Ice cream that now my mother and the other two children are eating in the parking lot. There is melting ice cream running down their hands. I open the paper towels and pass them out and say Get in the car. Just everybody get in the car.
The children are ever so happy. They have pottyed. And ate ice cream. And bought presents for Daddy. Life is good in their world. UNTIL . . .
The Signing of the card. Which must be done in the back seat while I drive and Mom is in the passenger seat feeling a little better because she had an ice cream pick me up. I am not feeling better. I haven't had an anything pick me up.
A discussion ensues over what will be written on the card and who will do the writing. It is my understanding as I'm driving that the six year old has decided to dictate to the nine year old what will be said because he says he has better handwriting. Then the four year old declares that he wants to write too. Which brings on WWWIII in my backseat. With - HE SNATCHED the Pen Out of my HAND and STOP TRYING TO BREAK MY ARM YOU CANT have it BACK.
And the six year old who is slightly OCD is freaking out because as he says his brother RYDER CAN'T EVEN WRITE AND HE'S JUST GOING TO SCRIBBLE ALL OVER OUR PERFECT WRITING.
And I say, DRAW A CIRCLE ON THE BACK OF THE CARD AND JUST LET HIM SCRIBBLE IN THAT.
And my Mama is laughing and asking me, "Are we having fun, yet?" And I say, "Oh, so much fun. SO MUCH FUN!"
As the boys continue shoving and screaming and fighting with a pen in the back seat as the six year old has a nuclear melt down and the four year old scribbles OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE HE'S SCRIBBLING OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE ON EVERYTHING HE'S RUINING IT ALL!
And I pull up in the driveway of Daddy's house where Mama says, " I think I'll just wait right here."
As I tell the boys ok, here we go everybody get ready to say SURPRISE! And sing happy birthday and one of them takes the present bag and one of them takes the card and they run up the stairs and open the door and scream SURPRISE and they are beside themselves with happy and that grown man baby boy of mine has a look on his face that is absolutely a wonder.
And then he smiles as we all sing Happy Birthday TO YOU! And says, well, you did it, you actually surprised me. And the kids are all grins and giggles and they are so proud of themselves. Happy Birthday, my baby boy and this Mama has got to go.
Mission accomplished. Lilly's and dirt. All in a day's work of being a daughter, a mother, a Zaza.
It could rain all week I don't care. A blanket of rest, a great book, a nap. I could use these things. And if the driveway is gone nothing to worry. We've got enough canned goods to last till Spring.
I hope your life is just as full of love and wonder, of moments to treasure, as it is it's own kind of crazy and that you enjoy your messy, mixed up life to the fullest!
Home. Central time. 5:30am.
Last night I slept like a kid pretending to sleep. This is what it looks like to sleep. Pillow, blanket, eyes shut. Sometimes it worked. I napped for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. Then woke up and looked out at the moon. I did not make tea or go to the porch. This is the problem with being tired and insomniac. You want to sleep. Really, you do. But that brain keeps going clickity, clack down the track. A fun fact about the new novel - it involves two sisters who have inherited the insomniac gene that assails all the women in the family. The men sleep like the dead.
At 5:30 this morning I gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep because of the birds.
It started a long time ago, many, many years ago in fact when Mama and Daddy were at the creek. They spent some years there in retirement if that's what one would call it. They just called it life. They were some of the happiest of their lives. Daddy fished. Mama walked and worked in the flowers. She got some sun and that beautiful pale, skin that doesn't look kin to me got a tan. They both fed 'our birds' as they called them by which they meant the whole swampy creek full of birds. They had multiple feeders with seed For birds who like seed and fruit feeders for birds who loved fruit. They had raccoons that would eat from the porch at night and stare right in the window at them. They had a tribe of wildcats that came up out of the woods and took up residence. We had always had a few dogs and a few cats 'at home' down on the corner of 11th St. but now they had all manner of furry beasts that answered to their call. Even the wild birds came when they called them. They were Tarzan and Jane of Holmes creek.
One day a hawk took up there realizing he'd hit pay dirt. All those birds feeding at feeders were like me passing a fruit stand. I'll have one of those, and a red one and a green one and an orange one and so on. Momma and Daddy became sorely vexed over the situation because they felt attached to the birds that they had watched through this whole circle of life. The mating rituals, the nest building ritual, the baby birds being fed ritual and the fledglings learning to fly ritual.
When I got home recently after days away Mama wanted to tell me she was worried about 'our birds'. Now, this has been an effort of mine to make Mama happy. To hang flower boxes for flowers I don't have time to water so she points out to me - those flowers need watered - but the fact is my efforts to make Mom happy, to paint shutters and plant flowers has resulted in things looking down right lived in around here. Much more like a home than a house where I pull in and go to the computer with blinders on - write, work, write, work.
Now, I've put out multiple feeders. Seed feeders for birds that like seed and fruit feeders for birds that love fruit. Mama tells me she'd seen a hawk out there on more than one occasion the past days gone by and the birds aren't coming to eat at all. She's right. There is seed still down in the feeders. So, when I heard the birds at 5:30 I thought - well, I haven't slept all night why try to sleep now. Just go check on the birds.
Coffee made, to the porch I go.
The rooster is crowing. But it's a different crow. Either it's a new rooster or an old rooster. One finding his crow or losing it. That noise just doesn't sound like the rooster I know. And right I am. Because 'my' rooster answers this crow. Seems that there are now two roosters down the hill now. Maybe they live next door to each other. Down the hill is a good distance for a rooster to be at 5:30 in the morning. It's that kind of poetic ambience you can listen to outside but not one that is crowing at 5:30 in your ear right outside your window.
The birds are singing but only a little. Like they are whisper singing. A mother redbird comes to the feeder but she doesn't relax. She keeps looking up and over her shoulder. The next bird, some kind of finch I'm too tired to get up and get the bird book to identify is so nervous he isn't even getting any seed. He just sits there. Crazy eyed, staring up into the trees.
Bout a hundred years ago, a lifetime away now someone shot that hawk at the creek. Might have been boys on a dare. Or someone that just didn't care. My daddy found him. Brought him to my mother and laid it at her feet on the porch. She looked at the feathers, the span of the beautiful wing and said, 'Oh, how majestic,' through her tears. She still tells me about this. The beauty of that bird. "'They have a right to eat, too," she says, "I just don't want them eating my birds."
I google bird eating hawks. What to do. Move feeders under shelter, it tells me. Good ole google. At 6am it knows just what to do. I go down the steps that need replaced, make a mental note - these steps sure need replaced before they just fall off the house - and gather up the feeders. The seed feeders and fruit feeders and special little suet feeder and bring them back up the rickety steps to the porch and hang them up where I know they will make one heck of a mighty mess. There will be seed everywhere. And other stuff to clean. But, Mama's birds give her some peace.
Eventually, google says, the hawk will grow bored with birds having shelter and move off down the creek somewhere. Go to better hunting grounds. Someone else's backyard feeder.
When Mama gets up she takes her coffee to the porch, says look, "This one hangs upside down. That's just the way he likes it. He's that kind of bird."
These are the brief moments in my life where I know I did good. Where I got it right. And the world hangs for a moment in incredible balance where all is well and all shall be well and all is well with my soul.
Happy Sunday. I pray your soul find peace and comfort today, a perfect balance, in the middle of your busy life. And that you realize more times than not - you did good. You got it right.
ALSO - You can now check out my new Patreon Page here for new ways you can be a part of this wild journey called my writing life. Links for the Undercover Reader Posse, Story Support, the Phonebooth Writer Series and more!
Remember when I said I would introduce a new blog called Go Ask My Mama for Friday'. Well, I did. So pretend it is Friday.
You can send your questions for MY Mama who is full of wit, wisdom, sugar, spice, experience - and stories your questions by emailing me at email@example.com but put Your MAMA in the subject line so I can catch those easily.
First question to Mama was from me because I said so. I thought I'd get the ball rolling. My question to Mama was
Question: Mama, who is the bravest person you have ever known?
Mama: Bravest? Of all time?
Question: No, bravest you have personally ever known. (Mama is 80 something years young so she has known a lot of people)
Mama: You have asked me something that I've never thought about. Ask it a different way.
Question: Who have you known in your life who is fearless?
Mama: Nobody. Everyone is afraid. But I can tell you who was the most afraid of anybody I ever knew and that was your Uncle Billy.
Question: How did you know?
Mama: Everybody knew but nobody better than he did.
(Now the storytelling will begin in earnest.)
Mama: One night Billy was sittin outside drinking a beer. Just sittin there when he saw something white moving around in the air that spooked him. He kept calling out - If you are somethin, say somethin - but he didn't get an answer so he took his gun and fired all bullets in the air. Next morning his wife found their white sheets, or what was left of them, hanging on the clothes line full of holes.
"If you are somethin, say somethin." (Mama says this again and laughs. I make a note to steal this real, true line to use in a story sometime. If it shows up in your story I will know you stole it from me.)
Then one night he was riding his old horse home when he heard a rustling up ahead of him in the dark. The bushes were moving and a sound coming from him. In a little while the bushes were rustling on the other side of the road ahead of him and it scared him bout to death so he kept trying to get the horse to gallop to his house but the old horse wouldn't pick up speed. (Mama is rocking as she tells this and as she is talking her rocking gets faster and faster) Cause it wasn't nothing but his dog that had heard him coming and come down to meet him walking along thought the bushes. But he didn't know that. (Now Mama starts laughing again and she is laughing so hard she is having a hard time telling me the rest of the story) He thought it was something come to get him. Finally, he was so scared he slid down off the horse and took off running full out. He got home before the horse did. He was always like that. Jumpy and scared of everything.
Thanks Mama for a great story.
PS - My Mama is the bravest, most fearless person I have ever known.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.