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.
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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.