Reflections on Lent - Day 4
The storms have found us. Lightning strike, thunder boom. It has been a surprise for me today up on this hill. Was I not looking? Not paying attention to the weather? Apparently, that's a no go. I was working on the new novel when my alarm sounded. It was time for the live Reader Posse Round up at high-noon and I was looking forward to connecting with my readers, giving them a sneak peek of some new words from the page. But instead I kept repeating myself, finally gave in to giving up, hanging up. Calling it done. Later, I sent them an original short story as apology. Thanks for tuning in but today has been called due to weather.
My Lent embarkment has been to remember how to pray silently for a stranger each day. How to keep someone, place someone, on my heart in such a way it matters to me. Where I connect with someone human in a short, small way that reminds me to be human. 40 days. That's all. Surely, after having done this for three years running and then some I can pull off 40 days.
Then the storm. The things that waylay us. Storms in everyday. Storms in life. Things that derail us so easily from the goal we had, the lofty thing, the desire for better than we were before. But today - oh my, what a surprise. As I said, I was writing. Nested in. There had been grey skies and some clouds and so early on I built a fire just for purpose. The kind where you gaze and snuggle down and work sitting on the floor, laptop in - well, lap. Literally. I live up the hill without a basement much to speak of. More crawl space that I would think if I was crawling in the house would cave in upon me. Sometimes there seems to be no safe place. I have that closet I've written of. The one beneath the stairs. Close enough it's what I've got.
Today, I didn't venture out so no strangers met but still some find their way to mind. People used to ask me, "What do you do if you don't leave home that day? Then what? What prayers are lifted up or said?"
"There's always someone," I would reply. "An unknown authors name on the spine of novel laying out. The face in a newspaper, the voice on a radio."
Our worlds are encased with strangers.
Today, as the lightening struck near the house, connecting to the ground singing something out there somewhere, as thunder explodes even now as I write these words in such a way I start and jump, think - Will there be no end to this today? And the weather service sends me yet again an alarm that says Lightning has struck closer than a mile.
I want to tell them, Yes, I know. I'm living here. I was raised in the deep south. Full of storms and summers. This is the stuff that I was made of.
And I think of that first cousin to my stomping grounds, Alabama and her recent heartbreak. My stranger then today is this. Those who lost and are grieving still from storms that shook and killed and wiped away hearts and worlds. For them I bow my head today.
The lightning makes me jump, the thunderclaps are way too bold and truth be told the smallest vein of fear dares to run amok in me. But, I am not afraid to pray. For Peace be still. For kingdom come. Thy will be done. Even when my flesh opposes me.
Tonight, again - Alabama rests heavy on my heart. Because I know the storms have passed but the hurt lingers on. Always will. And the best we can do is to continue loving and try to understand.
It's not your Mother's Lent. Or mine. A friend wrote me yesterday to say she was starting my Lenten study for the umpteeth time that I wrote way back in 2011. Things have changed. A lot. And so, it occurred to me Ashes to Ashes, Dust To Dust, that I should re-visit Lent.
Normally, Lent is one of my favorite Biblical seasons of the year. A quieter repose. Right now, my life feels so rushed and crazy it's not a place I want to settle into. Lent. It means a lot of things to me. Most of them bring to mind a kind of solitary Thomas Merton kind of living. A lifestyle that takes time to reflect. Or a giving up of something - anything - that I might not be in the mood to give up. Sugar. Caffeine. Red Wine. Bread. Meat. Except Chicken. I've had a bout of food poisoning due to a suspicious chicken. Which is what caused me to miss Ash Wednesday services. And doing my radio show. All because of some mysterious chicken salad from a deli that has normally - great chicken salad. But there is the mysterious element of our lives that things can change at any moment. What was once the norm can become oh, no no.
Our normal is done away with in the flash of an instant. Our regular. Our routine. And, that can ultimately be good thing because routines serve their purpose but they can also get us lulled into a state of mind where we are moving at dark speed. Like, we are underwater. Just going through the motions. Where nothing really touches us. Not our emotions or our faith. All of it is commonplace.
Years ago when I wrote my reflections on lent it was for a reason. I had written a book about Praying for Strangers, a silent resolution I had that I never meant to carry out. But I did. And I spoke to people and heard their stories and wrote many of them down in a book that went on to be a bestseller in some areas and beloved by many readers who took on the practice as a spiritual discipline that they carry on to today. I did this for years - not just one - because I saw the results of it in the responses I received when I told people they were my special stranger for the day. I did this in a very Episcopalian way to put it in certain terms. Rock n Roll in others. That is I said it quickly - I do this thing - I say a prayer for a stranger each day before I go to sleep - today your my person - See Ya!
What that means is - it doesn't come off as very, religious in that kind of way. It does come off as sincere. And the story of what happened along the way is that people would stop me as I tried to get away to tell me, "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today because . . . " or - "Funny you should choose me because . . . " or - simply, "Thank you!"
Over the course of that time I began to value the human heart a little more. No, a lot more. I started seeing through the plastic practiced faces we all wear out into the world. After numerous people went from smiling hello, Saying simple things to Thank you for shopping with us - to breaking down in tears - I realized wow, the whole wide world has a secret underlife going on that no one knows about.
April 2 I have a book coming out thats about being a southern novelist, working my fanny off as a human and as a writer (not literally because I have a maximus not a minimus) and about believing in signs and wonders. What I really want to talk about is fiction, southern fiction, hard driven southern fiction or that old - It was a steamy night in the city by the bay - kind of fiction. But it's Lent. And I have a book coming out called Confessions of a Christian Mystic which leads one to believe it may have 1) Confessions 2) that I'm a Christian and 3) a mystic.
Yes, there shall be stories about all of those things shared on the road. I'm gearing up so to speak. Getting my mind right as the famous line from Cool Hand Luke goes. And if you are anywhere in the neighborhood of one of the cities on tour I'd love to see you. More events are being added weekly so do check back but you can check out the events here. So, what could be a better time than to give my blog over to reflections on Lent. Which means living a messy, faithful life in the middle of all if it. And the ways we continue. And possibly embarking on 40 days of saying a silent prayer for a stranger. Because like the many churches that took on this resolution for Lent when PFS arrived I think I'll join them. Churches of all denominations. And by All I mean all and then some. And agnostics and atheists who said they would find a way to pray for stranger each day.
Lent. It's always been a good time for self-reflection and in that vein self-discovery. I hope these daily offerings, musings, and reflections are something that will offer you sustenance along your journey. Because words matter. And because we are on this journey together.
A Smattering of Scattered Thoughts and Appreciations
The long, noisy weekend - the dancing and laughter, readings and connections, have all fallen to the quiet of a Tennessee morning on the hill. We are engulfed in a cloud of grey. Skeleton trees stretch out their limbs. I long for Spring. Or snow. Mostly, Spring. Sunshine, beaches. That old smell of Panama Jack that came with a warning: Must have a Dark Tan before you use this product. I did. It was glorious. Now just grey skies. Forever.
Yesterday morning Mama had a bad dream and I went running down the stairs cause I heard her call out.
I said, "Mama?"
She said, "I'm ok,"
Bad dreams find all of us sometimes. Waking from one can leave you as empty as those trees. Just as lonely. But if there's an old dog nearby or someone that says, "You ok?" that cares about your sleeping and waking hours it can make a difference you can feel. Like a rock that has weight and drops down to a place where you feel like someone or something solid and forever anchors you to this world. Waking up from a bad dream to an empty bed, an empty house, empty arms takes all the substance away. Like you could just float away and nothing in this world would save you 'cept Jesus.
I came home from my trip and rolled up my sleeves to finish this novel. No matter what. The days the hours, the obligations, schedule, promotions and road trips coming. Now, I bring this story home. Going into the deep end, out there, where those characters live and breathe inside of me. And, it's fixin' to get real. My good friend, crazy man, writer, Pulitzer finalist, Charles McNair says writing is something like controlled schizophrenia. Yeah, something Just like that. When you get it right.
On the Air
Did Clearstory Radio yesterday just playing some tunes and sharing a few stories. Next week - the Montage - Live from Jefferson: The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend. Please tune in and share. Wednesday, January 30, 1:00 Central. Special appearances with authors from the week and a great shout out to my #1 man Adam Green for running sound, plugging in his equipment, filling in all my gaps and making it all seem just like the greatest jam session of all time. (And - folks, that boy can dance!) You know you have the right recording partner when you can say, Let's do this! Do some interviews and then yell, Let's DANCE! and take a break. Much fun and Great Love!
Confessions will be out there before I know it. I'll be back on the road, visiting readers at bookstores and bookclubs across the country but right now -
It's Thursday up on this hill. Mama is a late night bird. Always has been. So she's still sleeping and I might get another chapter in before she wakes. But no matter. No matter the hours - morning or midnight - I've dedicated hours every day to this novel set in Nashville that has some surprises up its sleeve. I promise. I've been saying since last summer I was just 2 weeks away from finishing. Something Mr. Clyde Edgerton calls the sweet place. The sweet space just got sweeter 'cause this is the real deal. The last two weeks. It's the time your story possesses you and you just got to get lost in it and let it drive the train. If you see me and my eyes look a little glazed over it's cause I'm not really living in this world. I've got Black Crows playing in my earphones and these people are talking to me, all I hear is them running through my brain. There's a girl sitting in a bar drinking bourbon and talking to ghosts. She's trying to stay out of jail on a murder charge for a night she can't remember and she's about to play a winner take all poker game that has universal implications. If she loses, there goes the farm. And if she wins? Well, she doesn't think about that much. Bad luck don't you know.
Wishing you all the best luck this world has to offer today, angels to guide you, and your heart clear and pure as a clear creek, sun bouncing off that water as you skip a pocket-full of stones, watch them scatter, jump, take flight, and dissipate below the water, like heart-born wishes in the summer heat.
Your friend, River
Lots of news from the road and now that I have finally found a plug and set up somewhere that Seattle security will probably ask me to LEAVE and stop acting like I work at the airport -so I'm down to - fast and furious. Expect errors and detours. Gotta talk fast before their on to me.
If you saw the last few posts on Instagram or Facebook you know that I'm up to something. That something is what part of The Thread I'm holding onto. For many years, many, many years actually I have desperately had the overwhelming and powerful desire to get my MFA. But circumstances of various orders and gremlins and minions kept me off that path. VERY SPECIFICALLY - I have desired for ten years to get my MFA from the Seattle Pacific University Low-Residency program.
Last year as I was teaching one Saturday for the A Novel Idea program one of the incredible students showed me his recently published novel. When I opened to the dedication there was my name and some of the most beautiful words anyone could ever write about me and my teaching creative writing. Something about it hit my like an inspired rock. That day I picked up that thread that is my true life and applied without any knowledge of what to do but take the next step. And the one after that.
My acceptance into the program was one of the happiest days of my life and one of the defining moments of my life. The continuation of me taking the next step and the following one has been the result of a tremendous outpouring of support of all kinds from my family and special friends. (And more on that later and back to that special student in another blog.) And a shout out as well to my Parnassus Books 'family' for your enthusiastic support and understanding.
On other fronts some people have asked, River, when you're already a published author, have received accolades from readers and blessedly from some reviewers ( I tell my Mother all the time, 'You know, some of those novels were called 'masterpieces' by reviewers and that's not easy come by. (I jokingly add that she is not impressed but she has made this part of my life possible in more ways than one.) So in spite of that and Because . . . because . . . there is this thing, the thread. That cannot be ignored. Call it intuition. Call it spiritual inspiration. Or just call it the itch that will not be denied.
Let me offer the words of William Stafford as my greatest response.
The Way It Is
There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of that thread.
So that's my answer and I'm sticking to it. (Just had to answer some questions about baggage claim as I am potentially breaking some rules by setting up behind the unmanned info desk and airport model so that I can bogart power for the laptop from the only available plug in. The trick is to act like you belong, know what you are doing, and are very busy. Wearing glasses helps too. )
So - here comes that shuttle and I want to share with you a lot of things. I want to talk about the nice people I have met on this journey and the people on the plane and the mother in front of me that I wanted to hit with a magazine because she might just have gotten frustrated with her daughter and pinched her lips together to make her quit talking. Since I couldn't see through the chair in front of me I just leaned forward and asked if I could offer her a pen and paper for her daughter to draw or show her pictures. And she said - NO, she's just tired and should be asleep. - Then she loudly told the little girl that she was being a DISTURBANCE and bothering everyone on the plane and I decided I didn't like that woman and I haven't prayed for her but that might be a good thing to do. I did lean forward again through the crack and say NO, SHE is not being a disturbance. SHE is not bothering me.
And I prayed for a different lady on the plane who was nice (without her knowledge) and another (ditto) but - - (had to just stop and give out some information on shuttle locations. I'm getting really good at this. I could be Airport Answer Girl. PS - you can just make up anything. It makes people happy to get an answer from anyone.)
Update sidetrack - I stayed at a cheap by the airport kind of hotel for the night. I must! Share my hotel room view with you but it is on my Instagram if you check. The people at the desk were delightful in spite of the room or my lack of sleep. I made it to a Thai restaurant next door for dinner last night and brought the rest back to the desk clerk and asked her if she had had dinner or liked Thai food. She said she had never tasted Thai food. So, I gave her that food (I hadn't eaten off of for the record) and said you are in for a treat! And the reason for this is that as the world seems to get increasingly crazy, as politics in this country seem to be dividing us at the rate of insanity, I have determined my only way to combat this is to perform extra acts of kindness everyday of my life. To operate from a place of being absolutely determined to become more human, more understanding, more accepting. To offer to hold a screaming toddler for a mother to do her banking, or help someone load groceries when I'm already sick of dragging my bags around. I'll let people in in traffic and do a million other things that might normally cross my mind that I am too busy to do. The only thing I know to do to combat this tidal wave of hatred is to step up my kindness game.
So - off of rant and back to the moment -
She was still on duty this am and said it was one of the best things she has ever tasted. it was yellow curry chicken and potatoes.
Gotta dash. More soon as I can but I want you to know I started the day out celebrating the journey by doing Elaine's dance to the tune of Patti LaBelle's Neutron Dance. :)
Keep it real. Hold fast to your thread.
wDisclaimer: This is a tired, free-for-all disjointed update from the hill.
IT SNOWED! In the beautiful, you have to be kidding me, is this for real? Is this my view? Am I one of the luckiest people on the planet or what! Kind of ways! I woke up, looked out my window and went - WOW! Just, wow! (This is what me and cousin Deb say a lot now. It's our go-to for every situation. Many of them that fall into the realms of really? really? Wow. - see previous blog on being a super ZAZA.)
I have such a headache today in spite of this beautiful view that I broke down and bought Goodie powers which I have sworn off for a week. Goody powders are a magical southern remedy for headaches of all sizes. The last time I was in New York City they did not sell Goody powders. The last time I was in Phoenix, AZ I was pulled out of line for having what looked to be an explosive substance on my palms. Then taken to a little room. Then frisked. Then the bomb squad guys were called in. White powder residue found. "Goody powders," I said. "This southern writer on the road's best friend." It was the first time I'd ever been an hour early for a flight in my life. I thought I'd be sitting for an hour working on a new book on the laptop. Hahahah. NO! I just made the flight. I took a Goody. Ordered a beer. If you had been there and had to be frisked in a little room and have your luggage attacked by the bomb squad you would have done the same.
Today. I realize that I really, really, really don't cut myself enough slack. Seriously. I wrote 1500 words on the new novel. Did some additional research that was just like rocket fuel for the story. Planned to write 1500 more words mid-morning and another 1500 words late afternoon. This was the perfect plan. I was on it. And all about it. And into it. In spite of taking a few breaks to post pics of the snow on facebook and instagram (I've been locked out of my Twitter acct for over a year because I can't verify the right password and just as soon as I have TIME I will fix this) so - in spite of those little breaks I had my writing plan down to a fine art. But then I had to take care of some other things that involved the real world.
Like food. And shopping. And paying bills and doing laundry and - trust me - these things have to get down to critical mass before I do anything about them while in novel writing mode. So - while I was getting laundry together I decided to shovel out some clothes that needed to be donated. Two bags full. Too small, too small, too small (gee when is the last time I wore these pants?!!! )Looks great but has bad memories, gotta go, gotta go, too small - and so forth. Don't judge me. It had to be done. It's overdue. I'm not finished but I bagged two bags full of gotta go and loaded them in the car. I suspect they will stay there until Saturday but they are THERE. They made it that far. And I did some other important stuff and worked on class for tomorrow morning for the Phone Booth Writing Series that I'm still over the moon about teaching - and yes, you can still sign up for classes.
BUT - I have been so - Well, River - what happened to those other words today? Where are they? Why aren't they done? 1500 words is a good, normal day. Shoveling clothes is a good normal day. Doing laundry and washing your face good, normal day. Slack. We all need some. Because in the middle of that I watched the news for a few minutes which can derail the most determined of any of us. Because there is scary stuff happening in Austin, Tx and scary stuff around the world. This may have been when my headache set in. Because I am affected by this. Thank God. I am still affected by this.
I am behind in half my life. I am long overdue updating my Psychology Today blog. I'm overdue writing about the women of history and the amazing women who surround me in my present life. These two things shall be done. Maybe not as soon as I like but they are on the horizon.
So is the finishing of this amazing, new novel. And I say that about the story because I love the characters, the setting, the story. And it keeps surprising me every time I return to the page. I hope that it surprises you as well. I have loved telling little inside stories to the Undercover Reader Posse every Saturday at Noon. (Which you can also still sign up for)
Which reminds me that I'm also overdue blogging about all the great books I've been reading or the wonderful new releases of my author friends - but I'll get there.
Tonight - I went to the store so tired. Thinking of my friends who are walking through the healing battle of cancer like Goddess Warriors and how can I worry about deadlines or being weary about anything. But still - I. am. human. So, very human. So I'm trying to check out at the little self check thingy but I run into a problem and a cashier woman I've never seen comes over and pats me on the shoulder - and I could have broken down in a puddle of tears! There is nothing like the momentary kindness of a stranger out of the unexpected blue to turn me into mushy me. That and those insurance commercials where people are singing - I'll stand by you.
So, I'm saying special prayers tonight for that woman. Don't know her name but I know her face and her touch. As if she could see through my soul to the burdens I carried there.
Then I came home and talked baby talk and passed out treats to Rescue Kevin who always greets my car like I've been gone a month. And poured a glass of cheap, red wine and stuck a pot pie of the cheap variety in the oven that is the kind my sister and I always flipped upside down and ate, the kind (and my friend Rachel C. agrees with me) is the perfect comfort food. And I built a fire and sent out a reminder for our phone conference Phone Booth class in the am and read Facebook friend Will Maguire's post - "Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky. ~ Ojibway Indian Proverb
And I thought - Yes, and Amen, Will.
Today - with all my to-dos and behinds and loves and worries - a great wind is bearing me across the sky. And I am so very, very thankful.
Peace to you and all you love tonight from my small corner of the world.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.