Reflections on Lent - Day 4
The storms have found us. Lightning strike, thunder boom. It has been a surprise for me today up on this hill. Was I not looking? Not paying attention to the weather? Apparently, that's a no go. I was working on the new novel when my alarm sounded. It was time for the live Reader Posse Round up at high-noon and I was looking forward to connecting with my readers, giving them a sneak peek of some new words from the page. But instead I kept repeating myself, finally gave in to giving up, hanging up. Calling it done. Later, I sent them an original short story as apology. Thanks for tuning in but today has been called due to weather.
My Lent embarkment has been to remember how to pray silently for a stranger each day. How to keep someone, place someone, on my heart in such a way it matters to me. Where I connect with someone human in a short, small way that reminds me to be human. 40 days. That's all. Surely, after having done this for three years running and then some I can pull off 40 days.
Then the storm. The things that waylay us. Storms in everyday. Storms in life. Things that derail us so easily from the goal we had, the lofty thing, the desire for better than we were before. But today - oh my, what a surprise. As I said, I was writing. Nested in. There had been grey skies and some clouds and so early on I built a fire just for purpose. The kind where you gaze and snuggle down and work sitting on the floor, laptop in - well, lap. Literally. I live up the hill without a basement much to speak of. More crawl space that I would think if I was crawling in the house would cave in upon me. Sometimes there seems to be no safe place. I have that closet I've written of. The one beneath the stairs. Close enough it's what I've got.
Today, I didn't venture out so no strangers met but still some find their way to mind. People used to ask me, "What do you do if you don't leave home that day? Then what? What prayers are lifted up or said?"
"There's always someone," I would reply. "An unknown authors name on the spine of novel laying out. The face in a newspaper, the voice on a radio."
Our worlds are encased with strangers.
Today, as the lightening struck near the house, connecting to the ground singing something out there somewhere, as thunder explodes even now as I write these words in such a way I start and jump, think - Will there be no end to this today? And the weather service sends me yet again an alarm that says Lightning has struck closer than a mile.
I want to tell them, Yes, I know. I'm living here. I was raised in the deep south. Full of storms and summers. This is the stuff that I was made of.
And I think of that first cousin to my stomping grounds, Alabama and her recent heartbreak. My stranger then today is this. Those who lost and are grieving still from storms that shook and killed and wiped away hearts and worlds. For them I bow my head today.
The lightning makes me jump, the thunderclaps are way too bold and truth be told the smallest vein of fear dares to run amok in me. But, I am not afraid to pray. For Peace be still. For kingdom come. Thy will be done. Even when my flesh opposes me.
Tonight, again - Alabama rests heavy on my heart. Because I know the storms have passed but the hurt lingers on. Always will. And the best we can do is to continue loving and try to understand.
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!
This morning I went walking on the rails to trails in Cheatham County. I discovered that Turkey Junction comfort station is open for business. Last time I was there this was not the case. The big sign said - CLOSED FOR WINTER. But today - Open! This means yes, no matter that the forecast has us dipping below freezing this week - It's Springtime. What an odd, late winter we've had.
As most of you know Momma has been gone down in Florida staying with Cousin Deb and visiting. Which meant I was going to get the new novel finished. Did I? No. I did not. But man oh man - I'm getting there. Every Saturday at High Noon I share some inside stories on writing the novel and new developments and what it's like to be a writer in process with the Undercover Reader Posse. And it's absolutely fabulous! So much so that friends have asked me to please start a page on Patreon so that more people can participate and discover which is ON MY LIST to do. I've promised. BUT FIRST -
Going to get Mama and rounding the corner on 50,000 plus words with the next 40,000 already in my head but they must get the page! I've been like the character who is a writer in Romancing the Stone. She is finishing her novel, has no food, the cat has no food, the house is a mess - - - I so get this. My sister gets it too and I'm so fortunate to have a sister who happens to also be a reader and who loves my novels and cheers me on to the finish line. She called me the other day and said, "Do you have food?" And I said, sure, sure, sure as I vaguely recalled a can of beans and maybe some noodles. There are cans of something in there, I said - and went back to writing. She showed up at my door after church with real food.
So that night I made a burger and ate it on loaf bread with ketchup and mayo seeping through and I thought - Wow! This is like the best thing I've ever eaten in my life! Which made me think about -
The fact that one of our family meals that made us so happy was what you might call Hamburger Helper before there was such a thing. It was macaroni noodles with hamburger and a kinda homemade spaghetti sauce and we ate this with Saltine crackers on the side and I just can't tell you what a great family evening it was EVERY TIME WE HAD THIS MEAL. Why? I don't know. I tried to make it a few months ago but it didn't come out right. It just didn't taste exactly the same. And maybe it was because we needed to all be together, to be in that happy something is coming on TV we all like and we are going to watch it together and eat this homemade something or other. Simple times. No cell phones. No laptops. No screens but the precious blue light of the tv and maybe some western on Daddy wanted to see. And this said meal would be consumed in the Den which was the really only room in the house that mattered. If it had become unmoored from the rest of the house and we had just stayed in that one, big room with the fireplace we would have sailed away happy.
This morning it was all blue skies when I took off for my walk. And I would not have been walking if it had not been for running an errand for Mom at 8am to prepare for going to pick her up this week. But there I was at the head of the trail practically and I thought - well, it's silly not to just jump on it. Then I hit the trail and listened to the birds and the water and the wind in the leaves for awhile before I stuck my headphones in and listened to Johnny Nash singing "I can see clearly now," which is a great little 'let's all start our day in a happy way' song. And suddenly -
I'm fifteen again working on the beach at my Mom's restaurant. It was our second home. Long, busy shifts from Memorial Day to Labor day when the beach used to shut down for the Winter. Right on the Gulf of Mexico so that I could wait on tables and watch the waves crash on the shore at the same time. Let me just say right now there are some facts about my history are absolutely charmed. Growing up in this restaurant on the beach is one of them.
When I turned fifteen my Mom let me move to the 'night shift'. Glory, glory. I was able to then hang out and work with the college students and the teachers who picked up extra dollars waiting on tables for the summer. That summer of 15 I remember so clearly - this song, one teacher, us cleaning the bar before we opened and the waitresses putting in quarters to play the juke box and this young woman playing this song over and over and looking out past the sand dunes, the breaking waves, across all that water to the horizon and after a thoughtful moment saying, "This is my theme song this year." And me asking, "Why?" just as innocent as you please. She thought for a moment and maybe thought about trying to explain a whole lot of things but then she just smiled and said - 'It just is," because I was fifteen and no matter what things I'd been through by then, what maybe I'd seen - I was still fifteen. I wasn't old enough to understand, I can see all obstacles in my way. . . I think I can make it now the pain is gone . . .
Cheesy song from the perspective of years later when I'd be in the middle of a concert waiting for the Allman brothers to come on stage and Wet Willie would open for them and take the stage as the stars came out singing, Keep on Smiling. And that's one of those moments you realize you are in the perfect place at the perfect time no matter what happens after this night. (That's right Andy - Wet Willie.) And it would be Little Feat singing Dixie Chicken years and years later when I was living in South Florida and starting yet another life. Or even years folded into years when I was living in Kansas City watching Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band Turn the Page like nobody's business with the saxophone being everything a saxophone is meant to be.
That was then. And then was good.
Just like now is now. And now is good, too.
The skies have turned all Nashville grey again on me, the temps have dropped, the wind is blowing once again up on this hill. The chimes are getting crazy and I've got a fire blazing in the fireplace. And while I want to turn on the tv, pour a glass of wine and put my feet up - I have these characters that are as full of life as I feel at this moment. And, they have something to say and the funny thing is - I'm the only one that hears them so I have to go write it down.
Peace to you and all you love From the Hill on this High and Holy week.
This morning the sun just ever so early was shining through the cloud of fog hanging low over the ridge, my view was like that of being above the clouds. Looking out. Tired. Sleepy. Debating. Coffee and writing or going back to bed? Coffee won. And finishing an advanced reading copy of a book about a boy on a quest who turns out to be an angel, and finds his wings. It's a message for all of us. Don't slouch. Don't fear. Stretch your wings. Know thyself and be true.
I walked downstairs and went out on the porch, found the one piece of sky where I could lean way out and look out at the fog. Looked back at the blocked porch where the plastic hangs to protect Mom's plants from the freeze. Where it's actually nailed in. I don't have the tools or strength to take down the contraption made to hold it. It blocks the light, blocks the view. Creates a constant shadow. The living room looks out on grey floating plastic.
Rescue Kevin looked at me sleepily, stretched from his four blankets with heating pad and rose. He favors it finally in the wee hours of the dawn when the cold earth has stirred up the pain in his bones. An old accident. A run in with a car that was never tended. I can tell when it's stiff, when it pains him.
Mama's got a green thumb that Saint Peter would envy. She can bring the dead to life. Grow anything. Transplant. Transfigure. She has tried her best to bring cuttings of her plants to Tennessee. A rose bush she planted thirty years ago. It bloomed this summer. It's still potted and too heavy for me to move. It attacks me when I walk on the porch. The vines now wrapping around and clinging to me. Prick, prick, prick. Probably trying to tell me something in her absence as she visits Cousin Deb. Feed us. Sun us. Trim us. Fertilize. I tell them to hush. That I have words to write. That I have decided to never plant, feed, or nurture anything that will make me bleed. I'm beyond it.
I applaud my mother's gift. I recognize it for what it is. Something incredible. Wondrous. Magical. My entire life, her plants, the yard, the roses, the tulips. My entire life - my mother outside at the end of the day watering, watering. Tending and trimming. Summer grass, winter grass, pear trees. Beauty and bounty. Running roses all along the fence. Daffodils, Azaleas, Iris's, And those really big, huge, orange, Florida flowers. A bush six feet tall full of them.
My hands are better on the keys than in the dirt. I have come to accept this. Truly. Just now.
This morning I turned my palm up, held it in a ray of sunshine falling on my desk. Was mesmerized by the complex beauty of the lines it holds. How many stories residing there. Years ago, many many years ago, cousin Deb and I would visit a palm reader on occasion. Teenagers. Bored with car keys and five dollars to burn. Let's get our fortunes told today, we'd say. Then we would make the dark eyed woman living in some small rental shelter read our palms at the same time together. Refusing to separate and take our turns. We got no secrets, we would say. My life line was never long. Deb's stretches around the world.
I've outlived many friends. I thought of that this morning as I turned my palm this way and that. The lines form crossroads upon crossroads. Which brought to mind my grandmother as I whispered two lines of a prayer. Or maybe it was a country song.
Already old when I was born. Me her late-life grace. Her smiling and saying, I'm just a wrinkled, old woman now, as she rubbed Noxema cream on her face. Me standing beside her all of five looking up and saying, You are beautiful. Knowing it to be true. She of rocking chairs and chocolate cakes, of long fingers, bending my hair gently behind my ear, being pure magic in my universe. Like Mom's green thumb, She nourished me. I was watered by her presence.
Today they say it will climb to fifty and beyond. How my bones crave the sun! A long, bake like a lizard on a rock. I need tending to. My soul.
Lent. It's my season. One I normally feel most akin to. A season to languish and lament. The melancholy and denial. Artist shadow, writer heart. Everything I gave up I've given into. Perhaps this is a different kind of lent. One that shows me something yet anew. Perhaps God's hand holds out a new request of me.
This week. The shootings. No words still. No words. I looked at the photos of those now lost. Slowly. Reading about their lives. Crying. Later that day I took myself to the movie. My medicine to be lost in story and reset.
The Shape of Water.
It. Wrecked. Me.
Reminded me of Big Fish in some stylistic ways. I warn you here. There is nudity and a kind of sex. Should you take offense. I haven't read Fifty Shades and never will. That is not my cup of tea. But the movie is not about these things. I won't say what it's about. But love and monsters, maybe. But to each his own. The story that comes home the one you were mean to see or read.
I sat down alone. Seven other people scattered about in the dark. The movie started. One third way through I started crying. By the end I was a mess. Waited for the theatre to empty. The last to leave I passed the one, lone young girl standing there with a broom to clean who looked at me concerned. "That movie just broke my heart," I said in some kind of gulps. She said something, like, take care. I passed the restroom but didn't stop. I exited through emergency, went straight to my car, drove home to Ashland City sobbing. Went to bed.
The next morning instead of writing I built a fire. Ate creamed goat cheese with strong coffee Went to lunch where a friend said, Well, you must have needed a good cry. I guess. That and something more. Something I'm still pondering.
This mornings reading for Sunday Lent in the prayer book, 2 Corinthians, 6. After a long list of the patience and kindness and unfeigned love of those seeking out and serving God the list continues: "By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing, as poor, yet making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
And, it. wrecks. me.
It is something about the fragility of this human life. The beauty and horror of it. The longing to be loved. The desperation to be seen, to be heard. To be known. The tender improbability that any of us have made it. That we are still here, alive this morning.
There's a lone hawk circling. I watch him ride the airwaves. I am above him. This is what I can see from my office window. The brown of the bare trees, the distant ridge. I am high above the little valley. I have room enough for wisdom and understanding. For discernment. I pray for these things in the midst of my troubles and my triumphs.
Last night I had three littles - 9, 5, 3. My sister had given them two brand new BIG lego trucks to play with. I had envisioned a quiet, happy dinner then some snuggles on the couch while we watched a movie. Perhaps pajamas and sleep overs. Fighting over who was playing with what truck and how they were playing with it ensued. Zaza made dinner. Truck parts lay all over the room. The nine year old realized I kept fast forwarding through the movie. Skipping parts. The other two did not. They were still fighting over trucks. Two more ounces of energy I would have put up trucks, passed out baths. With a splitting headache I made their little bowls of strawberries, grapes and blueberries with yogurt on top. The one that Damon little calls his regular mix. Like he's ordering at a restaurant. I'll have my regular mix. Sure kid. Anything for you. As soon as they ate them I was saying, 'Get in the car. All of you. You are going home.' Love, love, love you. Gotta say bye, bye now. Kisses, kisses.
They. wrecked. me.
We don't always know what may show up that hurts or hinders. A bad medical test. News of a shooting. Weonly know that we have the moment at hand. That we are not perfect or far from it. That we will achieve some goals and miss others. That seasons come, stay, leave, change.
We can only hope that little by little we evolve as human beings. That like the complex lines across our palms we thread the moments of our days into the brutal, beautiful realities of our lives with all grace and mercy.
May the force be with each of us as we undertake such a monumental, tiny task.
(*THE ADORABLES are coming to see ZAZA next week. I've pulled a blog from the past to share while reflecting on the great times I've had with them over the years. Here's a little slice of life from the time capsule.)
I'm in North Carolina baby-sitting the Adorables as their parents enjoy the Greek Islands. I don't feel I got the short end of the stick. I have stories everyday they share as they run through the door. And if we don't have enough story material, this morning a little someone went out the door without turning off the alarm so while on the phone with my mother a LOUD, SCREAMING alarm sounded. And while I was trying to calm my Mother and tell her we were not under invasion a voice from the wall began calmly insisting I tell her the PASSWORD.
"Look, I tell her. I don't know the password. I don't remember the password. I had it last year but now - the parents have gone to Greece see and I'm the Zaza see so it's just me."
"I'll need that verbal password," she says.
"Yes, I understand you need it - really I do - but I don't have it."
"Then the homeowner needs to call us right away."
"Mamn, did I mention they are in GREECE?!"
"Thank you," she says and hangs up.
I hear this voice on my cell phone - "Hello, hello, honey are you ok?" as the Adorables go back out the door and set off the alarm again.
Then the police show up at the door.
"I"m not dressed yet for the police," I tell him.
They want to see the Adorables.
Sure. Follow me - ignore the wet, overly friendly dog. See the Adorables. See them swimming and laughing in the pool. Dear Adorables, please tell the nice policeman who I am. (Insert pause - I really think that child paused) And finally said - she's our grandmother. I think she was trying to translate what would be best for the policeman and figured that Zaza might get me thrown in jail. I'll at least give her the benefit of the doubt.
But the police man was nothing compared to dealing with a Marley type dog called Leo. He has since I arrived . . .
Zeus gets treats.
Leo gets time out.
We're planning on visiting a bookstore this afternoon.
All is well. All will be well. And all is well.
(Since this post Good Dog Zeus has passed on to doggy heaven but he will always be remembered like he is wearing a halo because he was just that kind of very, good dog. Leo is still alive. He has had training. And found his brains. But not before he destroyed my iphone by swimming with it in his mouth under the water in the pool.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.