When I've been away from my blog and away from you for oh so long, too long - I always want to begin as my friend Kaya McLaren does in her most excellent facebook posts - For Friends Who Like Long Letters - because I can let you know right up front that way this will be long and it will be rambling in the same wonderful way that Kaya unravels the threads of her life before us in her words to share what is happening in her world. I often try to share her posts and am always frustrated and surprised when I find I can't share them because she hasn't set the post to share. And I also admire the fact that she basically is saying you don't own my words and can't free fling them into the universe where people may not understand me. These words are for my friends and for them alone. They have come here to this page of their own accord and are kind and gentle souls who understand the wildness of my spirit and the pathos of my soul. She is a warrior I would follow into battle and sit with in peace. Friend her and you will be able to discover these wondrous musings of hers that I am unable to share.
Where do I begin? The world has shifted seemingly overnight or in a week in our country. Although it only seems this way. I'll show you where I've been. Many of you know that last year I went to Scotland for research on a book titled The Ancient Way. It was a wondrous journey and the telling of it became more than research the journey became the story. I can't wait to share it with you. I think its even available for pre-order now but that's not the purpose of my post. Those will come later, closer to pub time. Today I am thinking of the things that happen that we don't realize are happening as they are happening. Like, if we are saying our last words for the last time but we don't know that we are. Or if someone is leaving us before our very eyes and saying goodbye in so many ways but we're blind to this happening because we are going about our normal in our natural habitat. Like, I am right now. Writing to you from my office upstairs that looks out over the hill where the skies today are grey. Yesterday they were bright blue and the day was glorious and I wanted to go outside and soak up some sun to heal me from all manner of maladies - a sinus infection, and general aches and pains and such but the sun she heals me all the time. Always has. Lying on a beach, suntan oil drenched, gulf coast waves washing in and the sun warming me all the way through to my bones. Me and cousin Deb laughing and that AM radio blaring WDLP - Here Comes The Sun - And I say it's Alright. We lived in glory days. Our entire community of Panama City Beach - high school one big rambling group of chill if you ask me. Neighborhoods and clubs and clicques aside - all I remember was we were just all alright together. That there was natural weaving in and out of our days. And whatever darkness any of us were dealing with at home was somehow left behind when we entered those doors at Bay High or hit the beach. Life was good.
Where was I? The sun. I wanted to go sit on the hill. Take a book. Let the sun heal me inside and out. But instead I opened a paint can and started again. The kitchen cabinets that have been a busted dirty brown for God knows how many years. All my years of being here and all the years before - suddenly I decided they must be white. Could be white. Would be white. Granted I didn't have the money to rip them out and replace them like they needed but by Glory I could hit that little boutique down the street known as Wal Mart (love it or hate it it's what we got) and get a gallon and a brush, put on my ball cap and my jeans and earphones and start knocking it out. And out and out and out. And yesterday was my finishing of a sort. Got them covered. Most with a couple coats. Patched the holes. Silcone. My hands look like - well a working woman's hands. Like a cabinet maker. Skin ate up with scrubbing paint off. Gloves slow me down. Paint thinner burns a little but it works just fine.
I woke Mama up most mornings and said - Time to Go to Work. I drug her rocking chair in the kitchen where she could drink coffee and watch me. She said - You got a talent for this. You might be able to make some money at this you know. (Last year I painted the living room while she watched amazed that I could cover the walls, climb the ladder, roll it out, trim and tape.) Yep, I tell her. There's some hope in that. Maybe I could make some money painting. - -
I think you like it, she says. Seems so.
Let's my hands busy while my mind thinks Mama. Right now I gotta story running through my head. It involves a woman in the woods feeding wild coyotes. She's got a plan. Is up to something.
Hmmm, she says.
She is better with the concrete manner of things. Let the painting just be the painting, no stories hiding there. Let it all be what we see. Just what we see, nothing more and nothing less. An honest days work where at the end of the day something can be weighed and measured for its worth.
Hard to do that with words. So nebulous. So quiet.
Mom says look at all that hard work. You did that. It's amazing.
And I think - writers need someone who says this when they close their laptops at the end of the day. When they've done good work, when the work just wouldn't come out right. When they had to start over and over and over again. One more time.
So yesterday, there was that glorious sunshine and me on my knees with the paintbrush, me on the stool with the paintbrush, over the stove with the paintbrush. One more cabinet, one more inch, one more cabinet. Then the knobs. Take off those thirty year old knobs with stripped screws. Screw in new knob. One drawer, one cabinet, one drawer, one cabinet. One by one. One more time.
Before the glory of my Bay High days I went to a little Middle School called a Jr High then by the name of Jinks Jr. High. Hornets were our mascot. I don't know why. But they are formidable I'll give you that. It's just yesterday and I'm in 7th grade and I tell my teacher that I want to study Dante and read it in the original language. I think he asked me what I planned to do when I grew up or what I wanted to study in college or some such thing. He looked at me a little strange and said - Why would you want to do that?
To which I'd have to answer as the beautiful Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo once told me over lunch when I lived there - In our language there is no word for Why.
Let's just call it a Divine quest for lack of better reasons. Dante's Divine Comedy. A journey through the Inferno, Purgatory and on to Paradise. Must be a reason.
Life goes on. The beach waves roll in. Baby's come along to rock and raise. Life threads between our fingers all the time. Songs to be said and laughs to share. Tears to weep and weep and weep. And then to wonder - why was I crying? I forget now.
The birds outside the window on the hill are fussing something serious. We've been out of seed for days and it seems they've had enough of it. Demand that we restock supplies. Get back on schedule. Some kind of schedule. But schedules are strange things. They're there until they aren't. Till the world shifts into shadows.
Thursday I'll be on a plane heading to Seattle and then on to Whitbey Island to SPU MFA program. This quarter we are studying Dante. We are studying the translation that features the original Italian on each facing page. Imagine. Divine quests. In due time.
January China made public notice that a new virus was wrecking havoc in Wuhan. The news reports were sketchy - far apart. But the twitter feed. Different story. Escaped footage. Whistleblowers. Real faces in real time saying - it's not what you hear. It's not what you see. It's fast. It's worse. Seven people dead. Ten. Seventeen. The city of Wuhan shut down. Bulldozers pulled in to tear up roads. Blocking escape. Go home, speakers said. Stay home. Infected. 1000. I looked at the roads. The videos. The police. The healthcare workers sending out illegal pleas that were soon erased. I poured a glass of wine, went to bed. Called my sister. Told her forty million people are locked down. She asked the number again. I repeated it. Caught my breath. Then I went downstairs. Showed my mother videos of funny dogs, kittens, flowers.
Went back to bed. Watched the lock down in real time. Watched the last planes leaving Wuhan. Watched the actual flights in real time and where they were landing - everywhere. Around the world. I woke up, picked up my phone. Checked the numbers out of Wuhan. Numbers I couldn't trust as far as I could spit. And made a cup of coffee and said my prayers.
I went on Twitter. Searched for the top virologists, the experts, the people paying attention. Starting making a list. I stopped when I got to 100. I followed people who had thousands. I followed people the experts followed. I checked that list, that feed. I watched the leaked videos. of Mothers in china having to say goodbye to children to go to the hospital in another city to work never expecting to come home again. I watched the doctors on the front lines working until they were infected and died. They were thirty five years old.
I made Mama coffee, said - Look at the birds.
It's a woodpecker, a red bird, a new bird.
I wrote a story. Made more edits to -The Ancient Way. Lingered over the words about the light. The light. The light. I thought about the light of Iona. The eternal everlasting light. Here I found some peace.
I wrote a blog on Psychology Today about praying everyday at noon for the people on the front lines of the Corona Virus that still didn't have a name. I went to sleep praying for those people - the sick, the frightened, the healthcare workers, the first responders. I watched videos of houses being nailed shut. With people inside. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see.
I stared at my plane ticket for Seattle. I read Dante's Inferno. Thought about divine plans. And how the world spins and spins and spins and something spins out of control.
I recorded a radio show with my friend Kaya about her radio show - The All Women All Country radio show and was proud of that. Giving space and airtime to these great women of song often overlooked or not known. I read a book. Watched an episode of The Expanse - series set in the future far out in space. It seemed a good place to be. Far, far away.
I cooked peas and cornbread and collards and corn for Mama and she said - Boy, that was good. I think I'll have some more.
I made coffee and sat on the porch with dirty old wild dog Kevin. We looked out over the hill and thought about one day soon it would be spring. And we waited for what we knew was coming.
Seattle. Ground zero. The first case of the unknown virus made itself known. The patient was being treated in isolation with a robotic arm by health care people wearing hazmat suits. Do tell. I poured a glass of wine. Said my prayers. Started thinking how great my life has been. How damn great. Regrets. Not so much. A shadow here, a turn there. Wish I had been a little wiser in some ways. For the most part I've been decent. Stayed true.
Back when I grew up that beach was a paradise. That's what we grew up on. Sand dunes far as you could see. Sea Oates that rustled. Sandcastles down by the wash of the waves. There was no better place to be. I've seen a thousand sunsets over that Gulf. Can hear the waves down deep in my soul. They'll never be erased.
This day is not going to see the sun. The grey has settled, planted its cloudy feet. Determined. A hawk sails over the sky searching for red birds, tiny bits of things, mice. Rabbits on the run. One day last week a flock of vultures landed in a tree. Nothing dead. Hopeful, resting, waiting. Kevin barked wild, non stop, circled the tree. They flapped their black wings. I laughed at his insistence. He was out of breath when he climbed the hill but smiling, successful. I said - Good dog.
Another country, another case. I checked the numbers in China every morning like the stock market. Then went on instagram. Found something pretty to look at. Tried to push the novel, Station Eleven from brain as I told everyone you should read it. Now. Listened to people say this is just a little virus. Like the flu. Nothing but a virus. Don't you know - nothing but a virus is also called a plague. But what are words? So light. No weight. No substance.
I wore out my prayer beads until they broke. In and out of my pocket. My purse. My fingers. Finally they are unspooling. I try to keep them but the beads fall to the floor, the sheet, the chair. One by one, roll and disappear. I make a note. Need new prayer beads.
I found a funny photo of puppy. Mom thinks it is the funniest thing. A Siberian husky and he is so little but looks so mean. I understand they are not. They are friendly to a fault. And trouble. I think someday I'll get one. For company when Kevin's gone. I hope that is a long, long time. He is unruly and some trouble. Is not big Dog Titan. Doesn't sleep in my room but on the hill watching over all as we sleep. But he love me something fierce like I am something special. Everyone should feel like that.
I check the numbers, watching the cases lighting up in countries around the globe. Pack my bags in faith. In that bizarre follow my destiny kind of faith. I watch the calendar of days. I know science. I know what fourteen means and twenty one. I understand the world exponential.
My mother used to managed a restaurant on the beach. Right on the water. I worked there when I was eleven, twelve, and so on. Eventually graduated in age from morning shift to night shift where the college kids worked. Spent all those years, every summer right there looking at the waves in sunlight, moonlight. Rain or fog. Saltwater in the air. Paradise.
When I was a kid and then a teenager there was the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. That is a mouthful but it was a big deal. A family affair. My Memaw road through the Haunted House. You could hear her scream all the way to the Ferris wheel. The night, the lights, the spinning rides, the smell of corndogs and cotton candy. Paradise.
This hill has been a comfort to me and to mine. For years The Adorables came every summer for a month and played furiously in their 'clubhouse' out back. Spun stories, arranged rocks in odd patterns. I left them there for seven years. Couldn't bare to unstack them. Like they might come back, return to their childhood and expect to find them there, like I did my sandcastles. And the baby boys - those Charmings have done the same. Their clubhouse, their little three dollar swimming pool, the water hose, watermelon dripping down there arms, their faces wide in happy grins. Paradise.
My Mama though, she misses Florida and always will. She misses flat land. But still she says look out there today - It looks like Old London Town - when the fog is rising, lingering, settling around the house. Or the wind is whipping up the hill, whistling through the house. Just listen she'll say. Just listen.
It's almost time to plant the window boxes again. Just yesterday the trees budded out all over Nashville. New life. New season. The world goes on in spite of. In the middle of.
I check the numbers out of China. Check Italy. Iran. New Zealand reports first case. Brazil reports first case. Argentina reports first case. I buy Mama tulips just because.
I show Mama funny pictures of a little dog leaning to howl, a little girl crying because she got a new kitten saying, Can we keep him? We can? We can keep him?. And I cry and she cries cause the little girl is crying.
I look at the cabinets. Put in my earphones, put on Willin by Little Feat, open the paint can. Dip in the brush. Make a difference where I can. A little white paint. A hard days work. Something to show.
I get quiet. Go off line a bit. Don't write much on the socials. Don't post on my Reader posse videos. Cause I'm painting and thinking and thinking and painting. And praying.
Just the flu someone says. And I watch the numbers. Count hospitals beds, healthcare workers with hazmat suits. Healthcare workers with no hazmat suits. China called in the army. Italy closed all the schools. Locked down. A doctor in the US calls the ER and says - I've got a fever, I' think I've got it. They tell him to stay home. They can't provide quarantined space right now. He calls back, is transferred to a recorded line about CoVID 19.
I open the paint can at night. Pour a glass of wine. Paint another cabinet. Another coat. Mama says - I sure am proud of you. That's looks so good. Thanks Mama.
I got a storm rolling up in my soul. Do you feel like a do? I turn the music up.
I think about things. What's important. What's not. What's lest and what's most. What adds up and what needs to be laid down. Now. By everyone. While there is still time. All those sharp edges. Degrees of you and me. Me and them. This side, that side and upside down. We're down to us. Us and us and us. Now and now and now. Here's where we stand.
Now I check Seattle numbers every morning instead of China. Then I flip to Italy. Watch Italy. Real time in real numbers.
It's better to use paint with built in primer. Makes it easier anyway. Still. Sometimes you need more than one coast. More than two. Sometimes it take a whole lot to make something old look something new.
Got a new baby one the way. He's growing everyday. The Adorables have cornered the market on that pet name. The Charmings are a little ahead of him. But I know he will be adorable. He will be charming. Already is. I watch the videos of his ultrasounds in wonder. He sucks his fingers. Hungry to be alive. To see the world.
I think I'll plant Ivy again. It's something green I can grow. Something enteral. And I'm gonna try something new this year. A butterfly garden in the flower boxes. Because I can. Because you never know.
The world's going in quarantine. The schools in Seattle close - go to online classes. The University of Seattle goes to on line classes. The University of Seattle Pacific goes to on line classes. I read Dante. Watch my plane ticket go up in smoke. Unpack my suitcase. My calendar still has the two weeks blocked out in red - SPU MFA - DANTE.
I go to the church, pull up to buy new prayer beads. As I'm about to get out the first case of COVID19 is reported in my city. The next day the first case in my hometown. No place it seems is left untouched.
I come home. Tell Mama let's find a movie to watch. Cook something I don't remember. Breathe. Just breath. Kitchen's looking good she says.
Getting there, I tell her.
It's March. On the inside I'm getting quieter. Stiller. In January - way back in January I was calling my sister, talking to friends, my sons sounding a little panicked. I'm not panicked anymore. I'm painting. Earphones in. Little Pink Houses. Ain't that America. Home of the free.
I've been working on that story about the woman, the coyotes. Yesterday - out of the blue in turned into a full blown novel. In the split of second. Seven sisters. Each one with a story that leads into a story. It just might be a Southern Gothic Tour de Force. Never know. It can happened.
Back sometime in one year me and Cousin Deb drove up to Dothan Alabama to see Joe Cocker in concert. Feelin' Alright - turn it up. I just can't waste my time. I must get by. There's too much to do before I die. Feelin' alright. Not feeling too good myself. Feelin' alright.
And so it goes up on this hill. Everything's just as normal as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
And in the middle of it I've never stopped thinking about you. Wondering how you are. What you're doing. Thinking about time and destiny. About this amazing life I've lived. This charmed hard knocks down and out up and down life I've lived. Counting my blessings like precious stones.
I want to tell you everything's gonna be alright, stay alright. It's gonna be what it's gonna be. We've reached a turning place. But everyday we have a choice. To walk into the day with brave hearts, to say our prayers, to lay down our swords. Need a little holy, healing water out there we do.
Wishing you peace and light, peace and light, peace and light in spite of everything. And a way for you to settle what's most important in your heart. To talk to your family and your neighbors. I don't know. Maybe plant a tree. Make some soup. Write a song. Cause all in all - the world must go on.
Think I'm gonna go write now. There's a baby boy on the way ready to be born soon. And, he needs some stories to be told.
I love these missives I receive from friend and soul sister Kaya McLaren. Sometimes she actually writes me handwritten letters but I also love the ones she posts on FACEBOOK that read - For Friends Who Love Long Letters . . . and then she goes off into a menagerie of words about her journey, her life, her work, her friends, THE TREES and carries me along with her.
I think so often how about I want to say words about this or that, share this little thing or that big happening, but I keep rushing, rushing , rushing into the future while my words fall alway. Time keeps on slipping . . . and here we are all caught up into the fall of the year. Snap. It happened. Just like that. Our lack of rain produced a lack of glorious colors this year on the hill like we had last year. No brilliant reds and bursts of gold. Lots of brown, sneaky peeks of autumn colors. But the chill in the air is here. The leaves still fall. I still become wistful for all that ever was or will be good in this world. The smell in the air stirs up memories of childhood sometimes so thick I have to brush them from my mind to carry on. But it also brings to the surface a deep, resounding sense of gratefulness. Thankfullness. I can understand why we approach Thanksgiving season and why it is cradled in this season. No matter the history. There is something about this time of year that leads me into a deepness that is silent worship. Me looking out through the thinning trees and being so moved by the experience that it has been to be alive. Ever. At all. Anywhere. Anytime.
Maybe that's what moving into the winter season is all about. The settling. The introspection. Those great books that call to us to read them by the fire and only by the fire. At a slower days pace. Spring finds me giddy. Every year I yell and jump and say - look what we've survived, we're still alive! But by fall, I'm just so thankful that we've survived any of it after all.
I had the strangest dream. More of a thought wrapped in a dream. My year has been filled with pressures and deadlines. To-dos and near misses. A few disappointments, mishaps and some certifiable exhaustion. But in my dream - suddenly I saw my year from a different perspective. I saw all the good things. They stood out like bright beacons, an absolute string of stars. Brilliant, intoxicating. And in my dream I said with a sense of amazed wonder - This has been the best year of my life! - And what stood out to me was that it had. Only, I hadn't noticed. I had been so busy working, striving, hurting, worrying and so on that I hadn't noticed this phenomenon amazing occurrence that was the joy of my days when looked at from a different perspective. Maybe from a healthier distance. From a distance . . .
There are so many things I want to share with you. The stellar people that God has brought into my life this year and the projects I've been able co-work on. Next week I'll get to venture into those waters and share the details in the meantime - I want to talk about - you.
It's come to my attention recently that a few friends - good friends - people I adore with all my heart - have been having a tough go of it this year. Dark times. Silent storms. But here's the thing - from their facebook posts you'd never know it. I know, I know. Some people write beautifully about the burdens they carry or the shadows that assail them and put it out there for all of us. No one did that with more beauty or transparency than Kaya during her walk through the valley of death that is cancer. What is remarkable now is watching her as she has climbed into the sunshine on the other side and into a new day. But some of us, some of you, will never pull back the curtain on that shade of our lives on social media. Not that we wouldn't do it or you wouldn't do it over a cup of tea with a friend or a stranger but to do so in other places doesn't work for you/us/them. It feels too vulnerable, invasive, or - - - - fill in whatever word works for you here. But in spite of this - and not to put a spin on things - we continue putting sunsets and flower pictures and happy moments or share photos of family and friends we love and who make us so proud. What got to me was these friends were having dark times and I DIDN'T KNOW IT. I was keeping up with them only through their facebook posts and sporadically. Or through the posts of other people. So, I just want to encourage you with whatever you're going through today - and I know some of you are walking through tough times. Don't worry about all those perfect sunset pictures and don't strive so hard to be something when you already are something.
A beautiful letter from a reader came to my box a few weeks ago. I shared part of that letter with the River Jordan Reader Posse group on facebook. But the letter also came with a book by the sender - To Hear the Forest Sing, Some Musings on the Divine, by Margaret Dulaney and a few days ago I finally opened it and began to read. I want to back up and underline portions I've already read in the first essay but mostly I want to share with all of you - please find and order this book. I don't even know where or how but I'm sure it's out there on line somewhere. At least I hope it is. That it's still in print and you can get your hands on a copy. Because it is amazing medicine for the soul. And down deep, no matter what ails us, that's the medicine we need most.
Hold fast dear friends. Hold fast. To your faith and your hope in the face of evils that are so dark that seem that they should be spoken in whispers. Spend some time on the internet searching statistics on child abuse, sex trafficking, or the sexual exploitation of children and you'll want to crawl into a hole fathoms deep - or become so angry that you spend your life in a hopeless fit wanting to right those wrongs and seek justice. Make donations, support awareness, vow to contribute something to the causes that burn in your heart. And all the while. - hold fast. Because otherwise you slip down that chasm that brings no one out into the light. And I rather think we are here for this purpose, to hold hands and walk out into the light together. To be the light ourselves in the face of all that darkness. If we aren't - what then?
I realized this morning that somehow I had gone from one photo that captured my attention to having just looked at twenty photos of celebrities just walking down the street. Just photos of celebrities doing nothing but looking cool walking down the street being rich, famous, in shape, wearing cool, casual clothes and great haircuts. Insert some kind of little cartoon face here because it dawned on me - I'm doing nothing but looking at cool photos of famous people walking down the street and I don't even know why I'm doing this.
But then I realized why.
Because last night I had read about all those statistics about children and my heart broke so deeply I couldn't even cry. My wonder about the level of horrid was exactly that. I was horrified by everything I had read - and I kept reading and reading until I knew more than I ever wanted to know. And then - I had to look away. This morning my subconscious mind still knew the damage. My conscious mind was screaming look away. Look away. Rich, tan people in casual clothes abounding with blonde hair and perfect white teeth. All is well with the world.
But all is not well, is it? With the world? Or With us? We are all dancing as fast as we can to some piper that is beating a drum that demands more than we can give.
Until we stop. Until we listen. And realize. This isn't the spirit of which I am made up of. This is not the music of the spheres or the dance that I'm called to. This is my life. To reach out to right wrongs where I can, as I can. To show a cup of kindness to someone near or far. To do the best I can with who I am where I'm standing today. And, to not worry that the world doesn't see the battles that I'm fighting or understand me right now. My place is to see the dark battles that others are fighting and to strike a match where I can, when I can, as long as I am able.
Some days - I'm more able than others. Like most of us. We lean on one another. For a kind word, a cup of soup, a tiny prayer.
I've loved to watch Melissa Conroy's drawings all year on Instagram. She began doing something with - well, just go see them. Circles. light. shadow. movement. And recently my prayers have been shaped like her drawings. I think of someone and when I do I send them those circles of light. I think this are good prayers. I think they hold power and count for something.
Today on this Sunday on this hill Sister and I will be cleaning out a storage shed. Shaking old boxes, dodging mice and spiders. We're having to get 'our minds right' like in that old Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. But eventually, the job will be done. Then I'll shower immediately with Dawn like Sister has told me we must do. (By the way - I dreamed once Dawn detergent cured Zombies. - Just make a note of that) Then I will make a cup of tea and sit on my porch and watch a few more leaves fall. The squirrels will chatter and dash up and down the trees stealing the corn I put out for the deer to eat so Mom could watch them. The birds will gather at the feeders. The sun will lower and the sky will cast that shade of red long and slow the way it does through the branches here in Tennessee. The day will tidy and tuck itself in. And I will think of you and all you do to remain human in this beat up, bruised old world.
Be gentle with yourself. All is not lost. We are still here in this thing together.
Peace, love and light.
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.
A little News From the Hill - Oh, my lovely friends I have had to back track a little to get it all in. And I'm about to hit the road again for South Carolina where I'll be with the beautiful people at Burry Books for A Moveable FEAST tomorrow night for a great evening. If you are on the coast - check it out and see if tickets are still available. Can't WAIT! Now - backtracking on the spider story so I can work my way up to the Snake story, the fireant story and beyond.)
Yes, I was bitten by a brown Recluse. In my bed. At five am. I was not amused. I whipped on the light having known that yes, something has stung me and stung me bad - actually, feels like it may still be stinging me. I suspected Scorpion. I always suspect scorpions. Let's just call it that cabin in the woods writing experience. Once your writing cabin becomes infested with scorpions but you are DETERMINED to stay for a month to finish your deadline you are always suspecting of scorpions thereafter. No Scorpion. I would have fared better. Brown Recluse. How do I know? Cause I found it skutteling on it's spidery legs across my sheet and I gently killed it. Yes, I actually, purposely did this. I killed it with a sock so that I would not obliterate it into a blob of spider goo so that it could be identified by a doctor.
THEN - for the perfect transport I grabbed a box of Michael Farris Smith matches from his book, The Fighter with the cover of The Fighter on the front, dumped matches, stuck the spider in said box and placed it in my crossover bag which I just about wear to bed. Because it is a true crossover that fits like you are crossing over the big ocean and climbing mountains and traveling through the Aussie outback. These are my requirements for the proper purse. Because someone might say - HEY mate! You want to go to Australia today- I've got an extra ticket? And I won't even have to say, wait let me get my purse because I'll be wearing it. But I digress.
Oh, dead spider we will go, dead spider we will go, hi-ho the dairyo-deadspider we will go.
I thought of going to the emergency room at 5:30. But I had an important writerly conference call at 8:30 so I grabbed ice for bit, took Benadryl and drank extra coffee. Could not, would not miss that call. Hung up from call at 9:30 and walked out the door to the doctors. At first they asked, What makes you think it was a brown recluse? Then I pulled the matches from my purse and they were slightly confused by everything. They thought I was gonna light up. Which I can understand if you are sitting in the little room waiting too long after you have waited in the big room. THIS is a COFFIN I tell them and open the box. They are - impressed. Yes, That IS a brown recluse. And all the doctors confer to look at it. I am now The Fighter. I have earned their respect for killing and capturing the creature and bringing it in.Extra respect for not smashing it to smithereens.
The bite is on the inside of left arm. Right where one would receive a blood transfusion. I find all this evil and curious. I am supposed to be leaving in two days to drive across three states for a book luncheon event and to speak. To speak at a book luncheon event. There. That's better. As in - I'm not simply attending - I am the speaker. And showing up is highly favored upon the bookstore owners and the good people who have bought tickets. The show must go on I say. And something to the effect - DOC, you gotta hook me up with some antibiotics. I have read about these things. They tell me that they HATE to give me antibiotics because when the Zombies come and I really need them they won't work because I have built up a resistance. My arm is on fire like a hill of fireants are eating my flesh alive. I tell them I kinda think I need them antibiotics. They give me a tetnus shot. I kinda tell them I'm not leaving without some antibiotics. At this point they see the glazed, crazy look in my eye and consent because they have other patients waiting but me and that spider aren't going anywhere until they give me something. So, they concede and give me a weak antibiotic to take twice a day. Four hours later I call and tell them, JUST FYI - the red line is shooting up my arm to my heart! They tell me to take FOUR antibiotics and they will call in a refill. The weekend arrives. I call the hotline and say - you know, I think this thing is really getting worse. They tell me to go to ER or come into see them the next day. I always have things to do that preclude going to the ER. Like, I'm just gonna read this book and ice my arm and take 47 Ibuprofen and two Benedryl and look at this thing.
Next day. I go to the doctor. I PAINFULLY slide up my sleeve to my bicep. Any sort of thoughts of me saving antibiotics for the Zombie rush have now gone out the window. They order an antibiotic shot STAT and a STERIOD SHOT and call in MUCH STRONGER ANTIBIOTICS and ORDER AN ULTRASOUND at the hospital and SCHEDULE ME FOR BLOOD WORK.
"You guys know I got a thing to do right? Like I'm driving out of town tomorrow?"
Alone? they ask me.
"Don't be silly," tell them. "Of course alone."
My sister the nurse comes to look at my arm. I can tell she doesn't like it. Not one bit. And that she is in her stay calm mode. As in don't let the patient know how serious this is. She gives me instructions about - should this OPEN UP while you are on the road alone. (Actually, she didn't scream those words, she was speaking very softly, they just sounded like they were screaming) you need to wash it with this super -anti-fungal medicine from another planet and then PACK IT WITH THIS SPECIAL DRESSING I'm giving you and rub it down WITH THIS HORSE CREAM I GOT FROM TRACTOR SUPPLY. (I'm not kidding about any of that.)
MY SON, my funny, makes me laugh like nobody else tough as nails not much empathy for Mom's foibles son says - OH MY GOD! Do you want to lose your arm? Do you want to type with both hands? They should have sent you to a surgeon! That should have been opened up! You have to get that POISEN out! Do you know how serious this is???? And the most precious thing in the world is - he truly cares that his Mummy might become well, a mummy. He is worried about me and my having to type with one hand. Okay, he is worried that I am gonna die.
MY OTHER SON who just flew in from some television photo shoot desert thing says and calls me on facetime video and I answer in the dark because I have been up all night in pain with spider bite says - HEY - and I can see his face clear as day because it's day but I have glorious CRAIGSLIST BLACK OUT CURTAINS THAT ARE A SHADE OF EGGPLANT THAT I LOVE AND HAVE HAD FOR FOUR YEARS AND WILL NEVER GET RID OF - pulled because of the light and the night and the spider bite - and he says - MOM!!! WHY are you in the dark?????? And I say, 'because of the spider bite and I've been up all night in pain" and he says - What spider bite? You got bit by a spider? And then I say some stuff and love you and hang up. Then I text him a picture of the spider bite arm. And he text back - OH MY GOD MOM THAT IS AWFUL THAT LOOKS TERRIBLE AND YOUR ARM LOOKS LIKE A ZOMBIE ARM!!! (The Zombies. Always the Zombies.)
And these are guys who have been to war multiple times and they are both tough guys and so I appreciate the level of their concern. And I got to hit the road cause I'm a writer and there are people actually waiting who have bought tickets to see me and hear me talk about my book. Imagine that! I am not paying THEM to sit there and listen to me they have actually paid to listen to me talk about a book I wrote and want them to buy that they are buying. Yes, I'm going to take my antibiotics and my ice pack and I'm going to go be with them and tell stories.
So I'm like some lone cargirl cowgirl driving down the road signing, Me and my spider-bite . . . hihohiho - But it's more like Lone Desert Highway, cool wind in my hair - Cause my air is still broke in my car and I drive with all the windows down doing 80 and when I stop and get out people think I have purposely styled all this hair JUST LIKE THIS BECAUSE WHY ELSE WOULD SHE WALK AROUND WITH ALL THAT HAIR STICKING OUT. But they don't realize -
No, that woman is on medication cause her arm looks like the Zombies got her and she looks slightly crazy so we not gonna mess with her. This is true. People don't mess with me. Because they have a sense that all hell will break loose or there will be a Holy Ghost revival rain down and they just don't know but they know its something strange, something not just ordinary right there about that one.
Lone woman, ice bag on left arm where it looks like I had a bullet wound by some Steampunk Dystopian space gun. And I'm trying to ride this horse to the next town and make it before sundown.
The drive is 4000 hours away. I think I feel the fever coming on. The sun is setting and a storm has whipped up on the Maggie Valley side of the mountains. But the show - the show must go on because it's about the power of story. This thing That is in my blood. More powerful than spider. Full of light and not of shadow. It's about brining the story home. And sharing it with the incredible people who support authors and celebrate new novels and memoirs, these offerings of words on paper.
Wishing you incredible, beautiful ordinary days.
There's nothing like it. Being on the road. Being on the road for book tour and then being on the road with Mama for miles and miles. Her telling me stories. I thought I blogged about it but realize now it was a Facebook post. About the air in the car going out. About her declaring with the windows down, the wind in our hair, her feet on the dash where they belonged - "This is just like being back in the cotton fields" and me saying - "Now Mama! You know this is NOT cotton field hot!" Like I have picked cotton all of my life. I have never stood in the middle of the hot, blaring sun of the south in the dirt of a cotton field in my life. But you wouldn't know it by the way I KNOW Cotton field hot because I have listened to the stories of my people all of my life. Like an introvert. Like a quiet child. Like a writer. We are always listening. Absorbing like a sponge. We are the witness to life and and the keeper of story.
Mama was a trooper. Broken air and all. We made it to Panama City where I got to read and speak to people that included friends from Bay High school. And past board members of the Children's Advocacy Center where I used to be the Executive Director once upon the time in another life. From the Books Alive history of work at the Northwest Florida Library Country Library. From my writer days in Panama City. Friends. My Cousin. My Mama. My life. And man - did they not all honor and surprise me. Every single one of them.
I have not properly captured - anything. Much. I mean to take photos. I mean to ask someone to take photos. I don't do either one. I gather a few here and there but they are rare. I thought I'd finish my novel on the road. Hahahaha. No. I have not. I thought I'd blog everyday to share the wonderful experiences of meeting readers on the road. I have not.
But I can tell you this. I believe more than ever in the power of story that sustains and connects us. I believe that Confessions of a Christian Mystic in all it's glorious strange title has touched lives here and there and everywhere. I've continued to be blown away by your notes and comments on Facebook and privately about what the book has meant to you. It means I'm still breathing for a reason. Still writing and that words in our lives are so important. A special thank you to readers who have driven two hours or more to get to an event. Some who have read my books previously and others who just caught news and were captivated and came as if on pilgrimage.
I'm so thankful for every minute and mile and for your time. I want to wander in your lives and share the mystical moments that have happened on this tour. I want to revisit my moments on the beach, to write about Panama City and the rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. To write about the retired Episcopal Priest who came last night to the signing and a man who also attended, came in early that day - bought my book and read the ENTIRE thing- before the event. Then they saw each other.- He happened to be in her parish 30 years ago as a single dad with his sons and they hadn't seen each other for 30 years until - last night. At my book event. And I will not lie. I live for these moments. I mean, I travel a thousand miles for these moments. I count all won and lost in these moments. The value of human life and this power of story. Of us being together.
In the midst of tour the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. Burned. The cross hung untouched. Glowing in the ashes. The world stopped. Watched. Prayed. My heart went sick and heavy. I wrote on Instagram that sometimes something happens where you feel the gravity of the earth shift, an important piece of the puzzle of us fall away. This was one of those moments. One where we didn't know something was so important to us until it was in flames. Smoke. Ashes. No longer there. Then the photo that captured my heart the most. The one of the firefighters staring at the cross that remained. It's the heart of humanity connecting with the Divine that changes the equation to me. It makes it - everything.
Today I've been held up in Fairhope, Alabama after a great event last night at Page and Palette. I'm working my way to New Orleans. To Garden District Books tomorrow night. They say A storm is brewing. NOLA has seen a few storms, some hurricanes. They say - come on. We are ready for you and waiting with open arms. And I say- alright. I'm coming. Headed on down the road.
Right now, Frankie is playing on the speakers, a woman just said - I'm so out of it. I just rolled in. And the customer said - Rolled in with some stories I take it.
And I wanted to say - Amen. Rolled in with some stories. Gonna share some stores. Listen and collect some stories.
I so hope to see you out there on the road. I'll be in NOLA at Garden District Books tomorrow night and next week at Novel in Memphis, TN. Please come visit. You rock my world when you do.
Peace and Love from out here. Wishing you traveling mercies in all that you do
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.