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.
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.
Well, it's happened again. Over the years I've had this experience of attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway weekend as an author and presenter. I wish I had time to tell you what the FIRST year was like. (later, promises) And, now, I am a Pulpwood Queen - it's just that simple. That's the difference. I went from being shy, introverted, wearing all black and no costumes - to showing up in pink and leopard, jumping out of the car and screaming PULPWOOD QUEENS FOREVER!
Like, just last night I was dancing with a cow. Seriously. No, seriously. The cow had udders as cows tend to do. Author Patti Callahan Henry was screaming - STOP STOP don't do it. Don't ruin your life. (because there were photos being taken and video being shot and special people reading this - you can politely NOT PUT THOSE ON FACEBOOK OR YOUTUBE FOR ME) But the thing is I think Patti was smiling and laughing the entire time I was dancing with the cow. And so was the great author Paula McClain who came with wigs, boots, fringe, cowgirl boots (and I'll find photos of her and Patti as the Judd sisters to share later) - but she was laughing too. Or maybe she was in shock that an author was being so - udderly ridiculous. Yes we were doing some kind of up close rock and roll rumba. What's a girl to do but throw herself in all the way. Not an inch but all the way. Pulpwood Queens - It's an attitude.
Last night author Nicole Sieitz said, "River, you just got to own getting all up in the udders. That's all. Own it - before it owns you."
This is me owning it for this reason. These ladies spend all year buying books, reading books, supporting authors - and . . . taking care of their families, protecting abused children, caring for the elderly, rescuing animals, praying for the world. This one weekend they get to come have FUN! To put on a wig, put on the dog, be the cat's meow, turn back the clock and howl at the moon. I have learned to howl with them.
Late last night, as they were trying to sweep the dance floor and I was still dancing two Pulpwood Queens came up to me to have a serious talk. They said -
"River, you need to do more of this."
And they were in serious advice mode. They meant it like a word from God. They weren't talking about speaking on a panel about Southern Writing. They weren't talking about reading from my new book Confessions of a Christian Mystic. They weren't talking about me sharing stories about my new friend author, Claire Fullerton coming into my room to teach me thigh-sliming ballet moves at 6:30 am or stories about my old friend, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and our 21 city 14 day road trip book tour. They were talking about me DANCING and dancing and dancing. Laughing and laughing and dancing some more.
My answer to them?
I looked them dead in the eye and said - "I don't know how to do this without you."
And, that's the truth. Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend is when I thought of it this morning - a safe place.
I can't say it's that kind of sin city what happens here stays here kind of place. Cause Lord knows from all the facebook posts - that's not true. But still, it's a safe place. Like a church should be. Where your sins aren't being tallied but your life is being celebrated. Where words still matter but your heart is what is worth your weight in gold. It's where people hug one another and say how are you? How are you, really? How can I help? And then go celebrate all weekend long - having as I call it the 'we of us.'
On a recent facebook photo that showed up I wrote -
"How did I get so lucky to live this life with these people? To have this moment on this planet as the stars whir and spin above us. God knows how I love you all. You bless my boots clean off!"
That's my take on it all. How did I get so lucky to fall in love with all of you? Let's just call it Divine Providence. And there's nothing silly about that.
Love to Jefferson and all the Pulpwood Queens in the whole wide world as I turn this body homeward. May you all find a safe place and dance till your hearts and souls fill to overflowing with the passion that is ours for the taking in this wild, wonderful life.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.