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.
Reflections during Lent in Real Time
I'm still crushing on my recent read - Shoot for the Moon about the Moon landing. It covers the life of everyone involved. All the things that went wrong and all the things that went right and how many people it took to pull that together. It also in a real WOW kind of way factors in the times they just didn't know what to do because they had never been at the place before. No one had done it. Sometimes they just had to flip all the switches. And then flip them again. And hope that it worked.
I have a new respect for training. For the hours upon hours that go into learning how to reach for the controls when you go into a headspin unexpectedly and you are out of control at a dizzy, crazy speed. That happens in our lives sometimes and we don't know what to do either. We just keep reaching for some switches hoping that something will help right the craft. Sometimes it's a friend, a phone call. A good book. A moment or a day of quiet. Sometimes it's prayer and sometimes - the old SWP - Steering Wheel Prayer. One where you reach the bottom of your know how and hit don't know what to do next so you just lay your head over on the wheel and say God? And then you proceed in your language with whatever words you have left to offer. If I had been flying to the moon, been in a crazy spin, had the computer spiting strange codes to me that had never been seen I'd have put my head down on the controls a lot.
So, I've also been thinking of Pilots and checklists. Before they can be a 'go' they have to go through the checklist. I have checklist in my life but I don't always engage them. Have you prayed in your centered way? Reflected? Shut up. Stared out of a window thinking nothing? With no agenda? Just staring? If the answer is no then I am going to be flight spinning out of control by five o'clock on the 2nd day. Snappy. Short. No window time. Where the answers on how to handle the alarms going off in my head come to me.
What's yours? What is the thing that gives you training for your life? That helps you find your balance when the storm comes. Because whether the storm comes to our lives or those around us it helps to be the guy on Survivor Island that says - hey - I got a feeling - everything's gonna be alright. Or the Julian of Norwich Prayer - All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. It's good to offer that to your self and to a friend.
We're all coordinates in a universe full of stars. Our very beings part of the wonder. And I watch as people and their stories criss cross each other in surprising unexpected ways and there is something that happens in the moment that is important. When someone follows their gut instinct to the bookstore and Ann Patchett just happens to walk in at the same time and they have this off the cuff visit about all the book they are reading and the person didn't even realized until after Ann left - she was talking to her literary hero. In Quality time. A gift from no where. not sought or asked for. Just bam - universal alignment.
So while we are training, practicing our spins and staying cool, great things are making room for us. Good things are coming into our lives. Arms wide open. We need to be ready to receive - the unexpected.
This morning the wind howled up on this hill. Rattled and blew things around. I picked them back, they were blown back again. It proceeded to talk. I wanted to hear. To sit and simply write you, this blog, be here but other duties called. And Mama was not pleased because stormy weather and be like that moon landing. Highly likely something will go wrong and we will not be equipped to handle. But we are.
I've been doing stuff this morning. And trying not to post anything to facebook because I have numerous deadlines crashing around me today. BUT I woke up feeling just like I did last Monday except I wasn't as spry with the hope and making myself turn the boat of my emotions around. It was more like - God, I'm sorry but I'm depressed. Yes, I think maybe I'm a little depressed. Or maybe worried. Or maybe anxious. And then I thought of you guys because of all of your comments from LAST MONDAY and I thought - Maybe they feel that way, too. So, before I go off slaying the dragons of my deadlines I want you to know that I'm thinking of you. If you woke up with a little cloud hanging over your head your still not alone. The news of Paradise, California has been heartbreaking and soon the news will move on. Just as it has with my beloved Gulf Coast that still needs prayers, money, hands. Not a word in the media and still roofs are missing as it rains, people are homeless, nothing is normal. That enough gives me reason to be blue on this Monday but it's something more than that. It is a ball of mistakes that have rolled up in my front yard and are screaming at me in my sleep. It's been piling on for days. And no matter where I turn, no matter what I do right (and I do plenty right) it's not that voice that is the loudest. It's some ancient internal voice of judgement that has followed me around since I came out of the womb. It is not God's voice. This I do know. But this voice can be powerful in its condemnation. You should have turned left instead of right. You should have, you could have, you would have. If only you had done this or not done that. You've made a mess of everything. This is all your fault. All of it. What's interested me from the standpoint of being able to be intelligent enough (or maybe spiritual enough) to observe this voice is man, has it been piling it on lately. Every day bringing on a new mountain of mistakes and moments newly discovered or old and revisited added to the previous days list.
In J. Philip Newell's Celtic Benediction book of morning and evening prayers Monday looks like this - "In the turbulence of my own life and the unsettled waters of the world today let there be new birthings of your Spirit. IN the currents of my own heart and the upheavals of the world today let there be new birthings of your Spirit."
I reread those words a few times because the turbulence of my own life, the unsettled waters of both the world and my life all seemed very appropriate. That's what I felt and also like my mistakes were threaded into my bone and muscle and then hanging from my skin like odd ends of frayed thread for all the world to see.
My Monday. Your Monday. They may have some shared similarities or maybe you are skipping around singing, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL DAY! If so God bless you and could you toss up a few notes for the rest of us that are struggling. Could you sing a verse for those of us who just can't sing this morning?
If you have been bombarded lately with feelings of - less than, not enough, too old, too over, too fat, too thin, too tired, too unkept, thin-skinned, wrong color, bad code, no clue. If every time you turn around you just knocked something over, broke somebody's something, tripped on your own tongue, made one more new mistake to add to the mountain that's seems to be crushing you. If you just realized someone just doesn't like you but you don't have a clue why, if you take horrible selfies and then erase them because they all look as old and tired as you feel. If you don't measure up to your own standards much less anyone else's and things don't seem to be getting better but honestly worse by the day and you think - ummm, this doesn't look good. And, then you go out into your day and you SMILE anyway and you like other peoples post and you try to do your job, be you, take care of others, drive another mile, do another thing, sell another widget, cast out another demon and get up and do it again - This prayer is for you.
A New Day
May the light of a new day unfold in your life beginning the moment you read and receive these words. May they begin in you a new work that opens your eyes to the glory of the truth of who you really are. May those old sins of youth or yesterday fall so quickly you are left astonished. May there be in you a smile that defies the gravity of your life situation. In the midst of your battle may you raise your head high, hold out for the strongest kind of magic, and believe with all your might not only in this unseen God but in the power that was gifted you at your birth. That with each continued breath that allows you to remain in this world you may reflect a holy habitation from deep within your soul. May you make eye contact with those around you today and when you do allow them to see the real majesty called - you. May you cling to knowledge that you are a fellow traveler on this journey and were not now or ever meant to be cast off and alone on this wild, ride that is your life. May this day bring with it the surprise of joy. And may that inner voice that declares you broken beyond repair submit to the silence of one final truth, in blessing and beauty you shall continue.
Wishing you an impossible, supernatural peace in the middle of this turbulent world.
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.
Today I was missing camping but for certain in my neck of the woods it's too cold for camping. There will be a fire in the fireplace tonight but not a fire ring. I've been following Kaya McLaren's daily walk through cancer and her raw, vulnerable letters on facebook. I thought if there was anything I could send her it would be a warm Summer evening where we all camped together, sat around a perfect fire ring, a just right kind of fire so you can see the smiling faces of your friends above the flames on the other side. That kind of perfect evening of drinking some fine wine or herbal tea, sharing stories heartfelt and funny, watching the sky for shooting stars as the fireflies climb higher and higher into the trees before morning light. That's what I'd give her right now if I could. I love the sharing of stories. it's the best kind of medicine.
Sometimes people ask me if I still pray for strangers in the middle of watching Star Trek Discovery and going to see Star Wars and reading great mysteries such as, By Gaslight. Yesterday I wrapped two days of speaking at the Writing for Your Life conference. Nothing excites me more about writing stories but sharing stories about writing stories. Mine and those of my friends. It occurred to me that yesterday I mentioned the name of five author friends, talked about their books and their publishing stories, and even their upcoming titles that weren't out yet to watch for. (And now I'm suddenly looking out the window thinking - Gee - I'm a good friend :) ) ) But seriously - how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who write stories. I'll have to write more about my experiences with those attendees on my teaching page here on this website. But for the record. On that praying thing which I still do in the middle of my Star Trek, mystery loving heart. I do. Mostly. Differently. Sometimes and always.
That is - a woman asked me to sign my book for her at the event yesterday and then she stopped and asked me - Does the book tell about how the experienced changed you? I smiled. Good Question. It does I told her. And I paused for a moment to think back all those years ago at the kind of person I was. I was and still am what you would consider a good person. Kind in all the right ways. Standing up for the weak and the underdog. Protecting small children, stray animals, and those who might be on the outskirts of society. The helpless, the homeless, the forgotten, the beat down. The overlooked.
But - it was those years of Praying for Strangers and telling someone almost daily that they were my stranger for the day that cracked open a part of my heart I didn't know was sealed. It gave me a much better, closer, more intimate look into humanity as a whole. While I may have been willing to stand up for the forgotten I never knew how lonely, forgotten, fearful people were that were surrounded by family and friends. Who maybe went to church regularly but were still in many ways all alone. If people weren't concerned about their situation they were always concerned about the situation of someone they loved. And in that I began to care more deeply than a passing moment when you lock eyes with the woman living in the alley behind that store you frequent.
So how does that play out in real life? Back to the conference. I've been speaking for years at conferences, teaching writing for years at events, workshops, and writing programs. I've always loved my students and connecting with them, celebrating their good words and accomplishments. But last night as I was thinking about the people at the conference and in particular those who had signed up with a one on one with me and taken time to tell me their story, ask my advice in some small way, I prayerfully lifted their writing projects, goals, dreams up in prayer. Hoping that their words found their way to readers the way that mine have done likewise. Praying that they would do so. That they would continue in their good work and write the best story possible.
I closed my talk yesterday by reciting The Artist Prayer that I wrote years ago and have shared on Facebook. Many of the attendees asked me to please send it to them by email which I have but I am also closing with it here. In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from a few words fashioned as a prayer that will help us all bring the story home.
An Artist Prayer
Creator of the deep,
of the secret places,
of the wide, blue skies -
open in me a place today
that may be willing to create.
To write words worthy of my breathing,
to paint images of human longing,
to sing of heart’s satisfaction.
Help me to capture
the softer edges of our existence
to share with my people now and forever.
Let there be a hush,
a holy hush,
in the space of my beating heart
all that is good,
all that is well,
all that will stand the test of time.
Empower me to translate
this amazing existence
we call life.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.