Last night was the Oscars. I had seen if not all of the movies nominated at least some of them so I was interested in more than the fashions of the evening. I was pulling for a few underdogs and personal favorites. Yes, I loved Spiderman, Into the Spiderverse getting Best Animated Film of the evening. There were plenty of moments I loved and a few things that seemed just right. I don't have a big must have for the Oscars as an evening. Although, over the years I've always had a few moments that stood out to me. Usually, that was the acceptance speeches. The part that many people think of us blah, blah, blah yeah we know - they thanked their Mama and their families and the director and the guy that held the ladder for their 7th grade school play. But to me - that's the moment that counts the most. The thank you's. And the moment where someone gets their due although I'm sorry for the people who didn't. I'm still stinging over Bill Murray not getting the award for Lost In Translation so I feel it when the hurt comes. But - back to Last night.
My highlight Oscar's moment was when Lady Gaga won for best original song. I loved when she said "There is a discipline to passion." Then she went on to speak to people sitting at home about getting back up after they've been knocked down. Once, twice, three times. She said that she had worked very, hard to get where she is. I believe her. Because art is work.
There may be days that are gloriously inspired but even those require finger to the keys, pencil to sketchpad, smile to face. For all of us. All the creative work that we do and I include the art of being human in that. Maybe, mostly in that. But then there was that word - passion. It's a buzzword of mine. When it comes up, I listen. When I say it, I mean it. When I live my life from that passionate place I am spot on, following my true north, and answering the call that is my life. But it still requires me showing up. Although I am extremely passionate about the novel in progress that I am STILL two weeks away from finishing - it requires that other word, Discipline. That word is not one of my favorites in my workbook of words. I've tried it on for size from time to time. For instance - little known fact - for awhile in my life I was what I'd consider a gym-rat. Funny thing that. Day one, day two, day three - not so much of a difference. Day sixty-two, day ninety-one, day two hundred - mind blown what you can accomplish. What things can emerge, change, develop - find their way to completion.
I've always been good on the lock-down. The retreat. The all or nothing. Today -we will move that mountain over there and put it over here. OK. Good deal. Let's go move a mountain. I'm in. But instead if you say to me - today - we are going to go over there with this little shovel and move one shovel of dirt to this spot to that one - I'm out. I'm not a one shovel a day kind of girl. It's why I don't like housework. Because most of it has to be done everyday. Some. A little. Everyday. I don't mind Spring cleaning and painting the shutters and working hard for days or weeks on end. But every, single, day. A little bit. Where you have to get up and do it again. What is this but some strange turn the wheel insanity. It's like saying River, do you want to drive to Clarksville, Tennessee? No, I do not Sam I Am. But hey - River? Do you want to get in the car and drive insanely across the country so that we can watch the sun drop and set into the Pacific. Yes! I'm in.
Back to Gaga. And to Divine Timing because that was in the title up there somewhere.
I have a new book coming out April 2. (The sneak preview kick-off party is at Parnassuss Books Friday March 29 at 6:30 and the whole world is invited.) That strange, peculiar little, genre-busting book is about being a southerner, a novelist, about believing in signs and wonders and it looks like it just appeared from thin air. No book. Ta-da! Book!
But it was actually four years or more in the writing. One draft. The editor liked it and said it just needs a re-write. I rewrote it. The editor liked it and said it just needed a slight tightening and a rewrite. I went through some life changes and when I returned to that draft I didn't like any of it. I threw out the entire book. The whole thing. I sat down and wrote a different book. The editor loved it. And, said it needed a rewrite to just clarify a few things. I rewrote it. Then line edits. It amounts to - a lot of work but it's the work I was born to do. I'm a storyteller. But I can't just lie in bed and the stories find their way to the page. In spite of the fact that the new novel runs through my mind twelve hours a day - it doesn't get the words to you unless I write them down.
If you are a writer, an artist, painter, musician, songwriter, toy train maker, then your work is the same. We must return to the space, the place, the moment, the studio, the sunbeam whatever it is that is the gym of our creating. For a little while in my life I was that girl lifting weights and running on a treadmill six days a week in the gym. That was discipline. For a number of years (not one but many) I said a prayer for a stranger everyday and most days I told someone they were my stranger. That's a different kind of discipline. We'll call that one - inspiration.
What I'd like to live is a passionately, inspired, disciplined life. To realize that the word discipline doesn't distract from the passion because I can't stand the idea that something - anything - would water down my passion.
When Gaga stood up there and said those words I realized, Yeah, when you are as passionate as I am about story, it takes a certain amount of discipline to contain and direct the fire, so that the power ends up where it's meant to be. Maybe, and here's a crazy thought, the more passion present, the more discipline required.
Let me try to connect that Divine Timing thing.
Here's a story of me finding a book at a used book store that had been cast aside. Just lying there. A really old library book from another state. No doubt headed to the trash bin. But when I saw it I knew it was mine. That little free book. Something I wouldn't have bought, ordered, picked up or even read if a friend had pressed it into my hands and said read this. I'd have thought - nope, too old, too outdated, too conservative. Not my cup of Christian - thanks - I'll get my cup filled over here.
The book I found?- Harry Emersons Foskick's The Meaning of Prayer. It was first published in 1949 by - get this - the National Board of the Young Men's Christian Associations. You get my drift on why I wouldn't have bought this book, right? I have a reprint that looks as old as that mountain I was moving earlier in this story. It was reprinted in 1962 and again in the 70s.
The first line of this reprint has a preface that begins,
"This book was first published forty-seven years ago. I was then a young minister in my first parish, still bearing the scars of a nervous breakdown which I had suffered in seminary days."
Stop. the. clock. When honesty abounds in a story, I listen. The preface goes on to talk about how Mr. Fosdick sent off his manuscript saying he didn't think there would be much demand for such a book on prayer and thought if they could ever sell even two thousand copies they'd be lucky. Almost fifty years later he wrote the preface when it had been translated into eighteen languages, and sold close to a million copies. Then this battered little, old copy that was taken from a church library in Kentucky found it's way to me. I have read and underlined and highlighted portions. I have feasted on the words in small portion because they are serious words full of wisdom.
And they were the first thing I thought of during Lady Gaga's speech.
How can you possibly take a cultural icon like Gaga and partner her up with a some old, pastor of Christian theology. Passion. Discipline. Hard work. Faith and fortitude.
Fosdick wrote about a few examples in his work unanswered prayer. About how God has given mankind the ability to pray, the power of prayer but also given us intellect, the ability to think and to work and that one is not to be substituted for the other but to work in Divine partnership together. Like inspiration and writing novels. It still takes some thinking. And some working. I imagine that Lady Gaga has seen a few ups and downs in her life. I actually know very, little about her. But I do know a lot of authors who are either famous, well-known, or on the verge of being discovered. They have all paid their dues and put in their time at the page. They have employed - and here's that word I don't like - discipline.
Today - as I wrap this wordy blog entry - I am praying that your passion finds a new discipline. Because I pray for you what I need for myself. Should you be lacking in passion for any reason, I'll give you some of mine. I've got more than enough to go around. Fosdick quotes The Book of Nehemiah from the Bible which happens to be one of my favorite books from the Bible which surprises people. (I'll tell you why later to save us both some time.) About how Nehemiah prayed to God - and set a watch day and night. About how Cromwell said, "Trust God and keep your powder dry." And, how Spurgeon said, "Pray to God but keep the hammer going."
For writers maybe it means we keep our laptops charged, our pens and notebooks at the ready. Whatever our tools may be I know that it requires that same discipline those gym-rats use to get great biceps. It requires that we show up at the page. Not just on weekend of that wild, wonderful full moon but each and every day. Shoveling that mountain of a novel, one sentence, one word at a time.
Hey there. Just a few things on my mind.
I picked up a nail. Which led me to a tire store where I was looking for a patch. Well, if you pick up a nail and it's in a certain place where your tire is worn they can't patch it very well. Which means I gotta get a tire. Cause it's all wheel drive - I gotta get two rear tires. Since Daddy said you always have to buy 4 tires at a time looks like I'll be riding on some tread. Which comes in handy on these high speed rolly polly slippy slidey roads in Nashville.
March is trying to kick up some Spring around here but we've had a serious cold snap. Down to 20 degrees at night -
Shut your mouth.
No, Really. It's some crazy cold for those of us with thin skin. My sister calls me a lizard cause I used to lie in the sun on the beach for hours upon hours. It just charged my battery. I need the sun, need a rock and I'm relaxed.
Closest thing to it - building a fire in the fireplace and lying on the floor rotating myself. Big dog doesn't care for the heat but if I"m on the floor and he's laying next to me it's the best sleep he ever gets. He's got an old dog snore and I swear I could ride that snore to heaven. Its good to know that your company means so much. Just being nearby. You can't ask for more than that. Well you can - but why?
Got some new friends reading Saints, and Messenger, Mercy, and The Gin Girl and asking me why in the world I don't write music because I sure write novels like I write music. I said - okay. I'll write some music. So I have. It's Nashville after all. Seems like it by be a sin not to. At least around here.
Spring's setting in no matter how the cold turns. Summer is coming on. Porch time. Long nights. Fireflies. Shooting stars. In light of that, in spite of everything, it's still a good time to be alive.
What's happening in your neck of the world?
It was all Mercy and Magic last night as The Porch, a Nashville writer's collective hosted it's 3rd annual fundraiser. The Green Door Gourmet opened it's doors to board members, supporters, writers and fans and rolled out a great evening in support of the fine art of storytelling in both spoken word and song.
I had a fine 'backstage' seat as the official Parnassean on duty womaning up the Parnassus book table. Wally Lamb took a seat beside me in the darkened corner as we listened to Mary sing, "We all could use some Mercy now, which seemed like the most appropriate anthem for the country. As a mother of two sons who are veterans from different wars I was more than a little moved by Mary's work with soldiers in a special songwriting project dealing with images from where they've been and what it's like back home.
Sometimes you don't know what an author is like when you happen to fall in love with their work, read them from afar. It's always a pleasure to meet the personality behind the page and delighted to report that Wally Lamb is down to earth, patient, kind, with a genuine smile and father's heart. He spoke of this 18 years of work teaching a writing group at a women's prison and closed the evening reading a piece written by a 'lifer' that described the concept of time from a perception most of us will never understand except through works like that. I love a man who has so many bestsellers and dares to close the evening reading words from another.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the good work going on at The Porch check out their website, classes, offerings and happenings. The brainchild of Katie McDougall and Susannah Felts, The Porch provides a space for writing development in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. One of the things that is used often in conversation regarding the classes is the wide diversity of ages, backgrounds, education, lifework and so forth that the students bring to each class. I've had the pleasure of teaching a few classes at The Porch and I agree. This wild diversity for each workshop brings with it an incredible enriching experience for all those who attend.
Watch for news of an upcoming podcast launch in partnership with Nashville's NPR station. It's going to go all kinds of crazy National before we know it.
It's this kind of creative work that Nashville produces at its best. The kind that promotes not only storytelling but story listening. Resulting in a compassionate, diversely rich, deeply enriching experience. There's never been a better time for that Nashville type of unified, collaborative storytelling to take the National stage.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.