Reflections during Lent in Real Time.
The baby has arrived! Ginger called me to the back of Parnassus Books today and said - Hey, River - take a look at this!
The surprise were the boxes hidden away of Confessions of a Christian Mystic which OFFICIALLY arrives April 2. There is a sneak preview party at Parnassus Books March 29 at 6:30 and books will be available.
Me being laden with allergies that do NOT belong to me. I don't know whose allergies these are but I don't want them. This is the kind of thing people go to the doctor to get a shot. I have never been that person but I am the proud owner of a new box of Allegra because that generic stuff I took this am did NOTHING! Tomorrow I have high hopes for a different kind of day.
In the meantime - Catherine was kind enough to let me grab her and ask, Will you hold my book? And she did! And I am dancing for joy - on the inside - because today I was more like . . . a slug. That's how I'd describe me. A slug. BUT ---
Confessions of a Christian Mystic is BEAUTIFUL. I must give kudos to Hachette/Faith Words for doing an OUTSTANDING job and from someone who loves books, printing, publishing, first editions - Oh, MY. I'm a little bit over the moon about.
Mama said - It's bigger than I thought it would be. (Insert your favorite emogi here. ) For me - it was the moment where you are just glad that the baby is healthy. And then you look at the baby and decide it's the most beautiful baby in the world. Because that's the way Mother's are. All babies are the most beautiful. It's creation and new life and glory be.
And - here's another thing. You would be amazed at the difference between an advanced reader copy known as an ARC in the business and holding the REAL DEAL. It's like holding a baby doll and someone saying - this is kinda, like gonna be like your baby. But then the real thing arrives and realize, No, that was nothing like holding the real thing at all.
I started reading Confessions and was surprised at the words. The stories. The honesty. The revelation. The passion. The truth. And, yes, the beauty of it. It is an odd, little quirky work about growing up a little southern gothic girl (that means the stories that surrounded me were of a particular literary genre nature) who was born to be a southern novelist and who believed in signs and wonders.
I read a chapter aloud titled, The Dream Readers and wanted to shout with how much I loved it and how it captured this slice of my growing up, being at my Grandmother's house and the women of the family who believed in Jesus and about signs and dreams and forebodings.
Then I turned to a chapter about the full moon and watching it on a winter night, whispering prayers, being filled with a strange and wondrous Peace and I began to cry. At my own words. Again. I decided to not try to read that chapter aloud.
There's a letter to a friend about being southern and a believer that includes an entire PROLOGUE from a Novel-in-progress, letter to my granddaughters about death and faith and living, a letter to friend about Divorce, a short-short story about a man who sees a light at the window, a chapter where I imagine Death being a train we catch and the angel of Death being a bartender who pours memories and revelations in a glass - one tiny, final sip of this thing called life.
And I fell in love with this story in all it's Southern Gothic, Christian Mystic storytelling ways. In love I tell you. Which is exactly the way a new mother should be. Someone ready to whip out a photo and say - let me tell you about my baby.
I was bold and inspired in the telling. I pray to be so now in the revealing. It's time to take this baby on the road and bring her out into the world to meet you. I do so hope you love her.
God bless and keep you on this March night full of stars and wild with story.
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!
I said I was gonna do this and that. Start Mama's Blog called Go Ask My Mama and publish my new Patreon page. I have not. For a few reasons. One being the shutters. I have been painting the shutters and the porch because Mama said -
It just looks so depressing.
To which I said -
It's not depressed. You're just depressed so you see it through depressed eyes.
(Me and Mama have conversations this way. So don't worry. We have been at this relationship for years. Not much has changed except I would say I think we laugh more. And that's a very good thing. We need it.)
So, Mama wanted me to paint the house. I can't afford to paint the house but I did want to please Mama so I stumbled across a house on Pinterest that looked liked mine but it had painted shutters and window-boxes. I sent that picture to cousin Deb and she said - WOW! What a difference. I had to write back that's not my house. But we did get paint for the shutters. It is called FIRECRACKER. We tried little tiny samples of red this and that and the only one that would POP is the FIRECRACKER. I never knew I wanted to have firecracker shutters but I have always known that I wanted to make Mama happy except for a few times that I was too mad to want to make her happy. One was when I was nineteen and the other might have been fifteen. OH, and two other times but outside of that Mama being happy has always been like a goal of mine. My Daddy was just happy. And he was easy to make happier. It didn't take much. A good day fishing whether we caught anything or not was a great day with Daddy. More on Daddy for fathers day.
Mama. Well making her happy was a good thing cause turns out she is right. An old brown house with brown shutters with a side of brown brick is a lot of brown. I would not survive on Survival Island. I've always thought I would but after painting yesterday for four hours in the middle of the day I realize I would be the first to go. The short straw. The weak link. People tell me you are supposed to drink water and not coffee to undertake these types of challenges. That and maybe not painting when it is 454 degrees in the shade. But I am determined. I do have that going for me. And then I have the tiniest little big of that thing where once you get into something like counting toothpicks you can't stop. So now it's all about MUST FINISH PAINTING THE SHUTTERS. Because the fact is it has picked up Mama's spirits considerably and I count that a great thing. Depression hurts at any age. And if happiness and a little relief from that can be had for the price of a gallon of paint and some muscle work on my part - I'm all in.
Now to the news at hand that has saddened my heart.
I'm not going to write much about Anthony Bourdain except for this because the news is full of it. But It's truly why I didn't post that blog yesterday. I didn't see that one coming. Just like Robin Williams who was someone else I admired immensely. One of my sons had been on the security detail for Robin Williams when he went to entertain the troops and I treasured a photo of them together. Like Robin I have been a true fan of Anthony Bourdain since the beginning of No Reservations. I have his shows recorded. I've loved his books which I own. The most important thing to me was his compassion and understanding of people from all walks of life and all cultures. Someone referred to him as a global ambassador and I thought that fit him perfectly.
Years ago I had a dream where I was hanging out with Anthony (or Tony as his friends called him.) We were eating and talking and laughing like old friends. Having the best time and the best conversation. And I think in the dream I actually called him Tony and told him I hated to go but that I had to be in New York the next day to speak so I had to catch a plane. To which he replied, Well, I'll just come with you. So that we could continue our conversation. It was something I always looked forward to as if I would actually meet him in person and we would just pick up that conversation and laughter where we left off.
My heart goes out to all who loved him, to all of his fans, and to those who are experiencing the darkness that drove him to such despair. I am posting a link here for an article written by my good friend author Kerry Madden which just ran in the L.A. Times about how Anthony's death resurrected her painful past with family members who died too young by their own hand.
Maybe, someday in the wide, strange world of the hereafter I could still pick up that conversation like we had never missed a beat. In the meantime, I'll take a deep breath, and rewatch his shows and keep painting those shutters for Mama while she's in this world.
Be ye kind to one another. And, be kind to yourself. This world so desperately needs a gentle touch if any of us are to carry on. And for those who struggle with the dark edges of a depression that leads you down the path of imaging your death here is the link to the National Suicide Hotline. It's NEVER too early to reach out and get help. And it's never something to be ashamed of. 1-800-273-8255
Peace to you and all you love from The Hill,
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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.