Reflections during Lent in Real Time
I suppose if I could just sit by this window or on this porch and stare off the hill and do most of nothing - I would. A kind of general pause with no deadlines and no chores and maybe not even eating. I would enter into a kind of laziness just from the need to have a good sit and do nothing. I'd let the cows come home and the sun have it's way, rolling about the sky like it does till it gives way to the moon. It clocks out and the moon clocks in. It's the way they have worked things out.
Last night or so ago I thought I noticed that it was a new moon. Not even a quarter. It was a sliver moon but bright. So bright the whole thing shone beneath the clouds like a stone beneath the rippling water. Fading and coming into view. This was a shock to me, this moon news when I was little. I didn't realize that the moon in all its weaning and waxing wasn't literally changing size and shape each month. That like the oceans it was on the move. A trick of light I later realized. Orbits and what not and such.
Today, I had a heated conversation with a friend. Because he was telling me what he got out of my new book, Confessions - and I was telling him what was in it and the two were not exactly the same. Then I realized the differences in what people have said who have read it, where their focus has lead them to the well of what's inside them. How different people have pulled a cup up from those same words and found the flavor something different. Each one of them. This is what I love about words and storytelling. We bring to the page our own story. We read something and walk away from it more of who we were to start with. The best in literature strengthens who we are - even when we are learning something new like the power of light and shadow and the meaning of penumbra.
I have reader friends who tell me that they love my fiction and can't wait for my new novel. And read friends who say they enjoyed the last novel but what they really love is when I tell stories from my past, my childhood or my everyday. Or as one well-known author told me recently - "You know, you've got some thoughts about God in this book and I really like those parts a lot. I think you should write some more stuff about God. I'd like to see what you put down. I'd like to hear your thoughts." Which is kinda funny cause some people think the whole thing is about God.
Have I mentioned lately that I'm writing a book set in Nashville that has bourbon and bullets and dead bodies? Yes, well I probably have a time or two. That novel that's just two weeks away from being finished. The same two weeks as last year. But I'll tell you this, I'm getting closer all the time. And an early reader just told me she was absolutely captivated (at least that's the words I heard) by the story, the characters, the setting and the mystery of it all. That was good to hear being on the wings of this new book coming out. Because I shock myself in the telling of other stories. Of stories from my life. Stories of my faith. Because It seems to me fiction is my native tongue. Normally, it's what I read, the place I find the deeper, universal truths.
But then that wind picks up, I watch the trees bend and sway and blow and realize as I watch them - there is room for everything. That life has a way of making room for some of this and some of that. For the sun to roll around in that lucky ole sky all day and the moon to light our way by night. For us in spite of darkness to walk in the shadows of that bright light and pluck our way all the way home.
Lenten Refections in Real Time - Day 6
Every year it happens. A day that there is magic in the air. Where my spirit lifts off. Where the breeze finds my face, I close my eyes and dare to say - Thanks to the great Divine for my being alive.
Today's that day. The first day that my soul feels the kiss of Spring. It happens every year like an unwatched clock. Always an unaware dance. Slips up on me.
This morning I popped into a cafe for a bite, to work a bit and meet a friend and talk Books and the upcoming Confessions Tour.
The old men were talking. Every city I've ever lived in or city I've traveled to internationally - has a spot, a cafe, a coffee shop, a corner - where the old men talk about the trouble in this world. How they'd deal the cards if the deck was theirs. How they'd call the shots. Tell 'em all where to go if it were up to them. They tell stories of where they've been and what's happened. And, I love to hear them tellin it.
This morning I sat at my table, opened my laptop as my ears picked up the end of a story.
"So, I sent it back," he said, "I told 'em - This one didn't stand up to a snake killin'! So they sent me a new watch." There is appreciative chuckles and do-tells.
I wanted to ask him to take it from the top. Start over. Tell me about the snake. Were you under the house? Down by the creek? Up a mountain? Were you protecting a woman or a baby or an old dog? Did you kill it like my Memaw when a tassle of barefoot kids were screaming as a water moccasin chased us hard and fast around that sand yard. She came down three times on his head with her cane pole and the power of a mad Memaw. Mashed snake head flat and picked him up with the end of the pole and slung his dead into the woods. Did you kill it like that? And just how did that watch get in the way? What did that snake do to stop time?
But I didn't ask. I let the old men talk. You can't interrupt a good tellin'. Not on your first stop anyway. If I was there ever day I might end up being the only woman at that table. Trading talk, slinging stories. But I'd try not to make it habit. The old- men - they gotta talk about tigers and hunts and being wild once upon a time. Once. upon. a time.
Today, good is raining down.
I overheard a woman talking on her phone.
"Uh, huh. Shut your mouth. No, she did not."
I stopped writing. Turned my ear toward her.
"When he said, what he said, what I told you he said, when he said it - there was lightning in the sky. Swear. Swear on my dirty pride."
Now, i made that last part up. The dirty pride. That part is all me. Cause words play off my tongue sometimes. I wrote her words down. But I can't find them.
Today it rained down good things.
The sunshine called me. I found Percy Warner like a creature homing. Like old cat, Jake. I'd been babysitting him for a year till my sister moved again. Then she picked him up and took him to the new neighborhood. Jake walked three days through the woods. Braved coyotes and wilderness to sashay right in the back door and say - , I've back and mean to stay.
The sunshine called me out of my routine, my to-do list, that kiss of Spring - it's some kind crazy intoxication. It is. Me, these old, black boots have wed to my feet. No walking clothes. I. did. not. care. I walked. In the mud. Climbed those stairs.
My favorite new addiction. Sara's playlist on Spotify. She named it, Bookstore Vibes. Bear, the Parnassus Books official baby lover and dog greeter is the Image.
I took Sara's playlist on a little walk. And watched the people running by in gear made to run by with. And people like me called from the cars, staring at the sky in wonder, wondering how they got out of the house, away from the screens, like waking up after hibernation. Sometimes, we find we are fully, strangely awake. The pieces of our life, clinking into place. Right where they belong.
I left the park and popped over to St. George's to invite them to the Confessions book party. (Have I told you the whole wide world is invited?) I ended up aimlessly wandering the back halls and because I am a Trinity Girl I found the chapel. This is a part of my silent world.
A friend recently told me - "Knowing you like I do, I was surprised by your book, Praying for Strangers."
This person knows me more as a bourbon drinking Southern writer. Surprise. Yeah, I get that. It surprises me, too. Not the doing. Not the praying. Not the strangers. Not the stories. It's the telling of it that surprises me. I keep my faith cards close to my chest. Or - did. And, now here comes Confessions blowing down the aisle. Here comes the truth and the Amen.
Today, good is raining down.
Trinity girl in the chapel. Lit a candle for my Mama cause today that was on my heart. Said a prayer. Started to back away but then - there are those other lights. Candles flickering in the dark. Lit by hands outstretched, reaching for something. Answers, faith, love, remembrance. I thought about them, too.
The Church bells ring out in the courtyard. From somewhere down the hall, little kindergarten kids march to a gather in a hall where soon bagpipes begin. I run my fingers over prayer beads. Read St. Patricks prayer. Let tears find me fare-the-well. Sometimes, my spirit lifts off, soars in spite of me. My arms rise to my side and I walk the stairs like a two year told, balancing between here and there, fearless and full of faith.
Johnny Swim sings, Ring the Bells.
Good is raining down.
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.
Yesterday was pure magic. First it was Sunday and it felt like a sabbath. A kind of quiet day given over to prayer and introspection, rest and reflection. To reading. Early in the morning the fog was rising in the little valley but the sun there at the edge of the world at sunrise was promising. The wind had turned and was blowing in from the East. The Summer was past and it let me know that soon the wind would turn, tunnel down from the North and I could feel all these things down in my soul. That it was time to pile wood, to ready for Winter. It was the first day where it felt as if that old clock known as seasons had shifted. No more Indian Summer days that surprised us with warmth and promise. Now the wind held a chill, shook the trees that cast off their leaves by the hundreds. I watched them sweep and pile at my feet. The world on the hill was quiet. The traffic kept its peace.
Lately, I've been embracing Sunday's for reading. A curl up in bed or sit on the porch kind of day to allow myself this luxury. Not reading for work, or after work or just before bed. But reading as a center-point of the day. A spoke of a wheel. And since it is Sunday I've laid aside all types of reading and picked up a habit of reading those things that reflect or embrace a spiritual side of life. In some way. This is a wild, sweep of a description since it encompasses so much. Books like Leif Enger's Peace Like a River would fall into my Sunday category. Yesterday, I picked up Mark Richard's House of Prayer No. 2. Roy Blount, Jr. described this work as "Hot damn! and Glory Be!" and I think that is a fine assessment. I've never met Mr. Richard's but I read this book years ago when an author friend, Michael Morris was kind enough to mail it to me with a note that said - I think you will like this book. And, he was right. I like it as much the 2nd time around as I did the first and am highly recommending it to those people who are studying writing with me to add it to their library of books that lead by example.
So, I read and watched the leaves fall and said my prayers. And read a book on prayer that is meaty and in it's upteeth printing since the 1940s and it requires that I concentrate on the words. And then think about them. And then underline some and think about them some more. It's Harry Emerson Fosdick's book on The Meaning of Prayer. I picked it up in the throw away free books at McKay's when I went in to find season 3 of that very, expensive soap opera known as POLDARK for me and Mama to watch. The Poldark's have just about worn us out with their problems but we are hanging in there trying to help the story find a happy ending. Which may never be forthcoming since PBS is now on Season 4. We are almost caught up with our binge watching evenings and then we will have to return to Antique Road Show and the Golden Girls to find something to agree on until the next big thing comes along.
Last night it grew dark early. Mom had gone over to Sisters to visit, little dog Duncan had gone to the sitters and for a moment Kevin the rescue dog and I sat in the growing evening shadows as I read House of Prayer No. 2 and the house was still and silent. The rain had started and was steady, the wind still shaking the branches, raining down in gusts acorns that are golf ball size and clack, clack, clack against the roof. The birds defied the wind and clung to the feeders eating as they were spun around and around and around. There was a kind of peace that defies the stress that so easily besets us these days. On every level.
For a few moments I quit worrying about things and was just a reading woman, sitting by an empty fireplace. I kept looking up from the page knowing that soon and very, soon I'd be layering log upon log, smoking up the old house in such a way that everything in it including me will smell like wood smoke until Spring. So be it. Seasons come and seasons go. And my soul is learning to rest in this knowledge and to count my blessings.
Today's facebook post was specifically designed for Monday's. If you don't follow or friend yet I hope you will. I realize that there seems to be a world of people out there all in the same boat, trying to keep hope afloat without realizing we are not alone. That we are on this journey together and remembering to be that to each other, fellow travelers, helps lighten our load.
If you haven't signed up for my newsletter on the homepage I hope you will join me there. In the meantime, may your week be bountiful in grace and mercy and all good things.
Home. Central time. 5:30am.
Last night I slept like a kid pretending to sleep. This is what it looks like to sleep. Pillow, blanket, eyes shut. Sometimes it worked. I napped for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. Then woke up and looked out at the moon. I did not make tea or go to the porch. This is the problem with being tired and insomniac. You want to sleep. Really, you do. But that brain keeps going clickity, clack down the track. A fun fact about the new novel - it involves two sisters who have inherited the insomniac gene that assails all the women in the family. The men sleep like the dead.
At 5:30 this morning I gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep because of the birds.
It started a long time ago, many, many years ago in fact when Mama and Daddy were at the creek. They spent some years there in retirement if that's what one would call it. They just called it life. They were some of the happiest of their lives. Daddy fished. Mama walked and worked in the flowers. She got some sun and that beautiful pale, skin that doesn't look kin to me got a tan. They both fed 'our birds' as they called them by which they meant the whole swampy creek full of birds. They had multiple feeders with seed For birds who like seed and fruit feeders for birds who loved fruit. They had raccoons that would eat from the porch at night and stare right in the window at them. They had a tribe of wildcats that came up out of the woods and took up residence. We had always had a few dogs and a few cats 'at home' down on the corner of 11th St. but now they had all manner of furry beasts that answered to their call. Even the wild birds came when they called them. They were Tarzan and Jane of Holmes creek.
One day a hawk took up there realizing he'd hit pay dirt. All those birds feeding at feeders were like me passing a fruit stand. I'll have one of those, and a red one and a green one and an orange one and so on. Momma and Daddy became sorely vexed over the situation because they felt attached to the birds that they had watched through this whole circle of life. The mating rituals, the nest building ritual, the baby birds being fed ritual and the fledglings learning to fly ritual.
When I got home recently after days away Mama wanted to tell me she was worried about 'our birds'. Now, this has been an effort of mine to make Mama happy. To hang flower boxes for flowers I don't have time to water so she points out to me - those flowers need watered - but the fact is my efforts to make Mom happy, to paint shutters and plant flowers has resulted in things looking down right lived in around here. Much more like a home than a house where I pull in and go to the computer with blinders on - write, work, write, work.
Now, I've put out multiple feeders. Seed feeders for birds that like seed and fruit feeders for birds that love fruit. Mama tells me she'd seen a hawk out there on more than one occasion the past days gone by and the birds aren't coming to eat at all. She's right. There is seed still down in the feeders. So, when I heard the birds at 5:30 I thought - well, I haven't slept all night why try to sleep now. Just go check on the birds.
Coffee made, to the porch I go.
The rooster is crowing. But it's a different crow. Either it's a new rooster or an old rooster. One finding his crow or losing it. That noise just doesn't sound like the rooster I know. And right I am. Because 'my' rooster answers this crow. Seems that there are now two roosters down the hill now. Maybe they live next door to each other. Down the hill is a good distance for a rooster to be at 5:30 in the morning. It's that kind of poetic ambience you can listen to outside but not one that is crowing at 5:30 in your ear right outside your window.
The birds are singing but only a little. Like they are whisper singing. A mother redbird comes to the feeder but she doesn't relax. She keeps looking up and over her shoulder. The next bird, some kind of finch I'm too tired to get up and get the bird book to identify is so nervous he isn't even getting any seed. He just sits there. Crazy eyed, staring up into the trees.
Bout a hundred years ago, a lifetime away now someone shot that hawk at the creek. Might have been boys on a dare. Or someone that just didn't care. My daddy found him. Brought him to my mother and laid it at her feet on the porch. She looked at the feathers, the span of the beautiful wing and said, 'Oh, how majestic,' through her tears. She still tells me about this. The beauty of that bird. "'They have a right to eat, too," she says, "I just don't want them eating my birds."
I google bird eating hawks. What to do. Move feeders under shelter, it tells me. Good ole google. At 6am it knows just what to do. I go down the steps that need replaced, make a mental note - these steps sure need replaced before they just fall off the house - and gather up the feeders. The seed feeders and fruit feeders and special little suet feeder and bring them back up the rickety steps to the porch and hang them up where I know they will make one heck of a mighty mess. There will be seed everywhere. And other stuff to clean. But, Mama's birds give her some peace.
Eventually, google says, the hawk will grow bored with birds having shelter and move off down the creek somewhere. Go to better hunting grounds. Someone else's backyard feeder.
When Mama gets up she takes her coffee to the porch, says look, "This one hangs upside down. That's just the way he likes it. He's that kind of bird."
These are the brief moments in my life where I know I did good. Where I got it right. And the world hangs for a moment in incredible balance where all is well and all shall be well and all is well with my soul.
Happy Sunday. I pray your soul find peace and comfort today, a perfect balance, in the middle of your busy life. And that you realize more times than not - you did good. You got it right.
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