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
It's been all monumentally, simple moments up on the hill. Summer has basically come and almost gone while I wasn't looking.
The shutters are still a project. Lying half painted and waiting. I have to admit I'll give them credit they don't yell at me like other inanimate objects. Like my laptop. It whispers all the time. Words, words, words. The shutters wait with a quiet confidence that I'll return and they'll be all firecracker red in no time. The laptop, it sometimes shutters a little in fear. As if all of time will pass by and the words I was meant to write will rest inside of me for all time.
I'm listening in the quiet places. Somedays I live another life instead of writing. Somedays I fill the plastic pool and buy a watermelon and pick up the Charmings (the duo that makes up part of the wolf pack when all the littles are together.) and say HEY - WANT TO HAVE SOME ZAZA FUN? And they act like I walk on water, that I have superpowers, that I am someone really important. Higher ranking than any queen or diplomat. Then they climb in my car and I take them to the pool and cut the watermelon and they stand in one foot of water with watermelon slices, red juice running down their arms and grin at each other and nod their hands like - IS THIS NOT THE BEST LIFE EVER???? Zaza is fighting something and a little under the weather but they don't need to know this and in this moment - it is the best day ever. And then we watered flowers and drew pictures and played with trucks and lit sparklers on the front porch and watched a movie. And that was a very, good day.
Life still opens up slowly up on the hill. The fog lifts and changes shapes, finds the trees, climbs higher. On my better days I'm up in time to watch this show take place. It settles me and sets the tone. Breathe it says. Just breathe. And God says things. Like yes and I know. And, just breathe.
I'm on the road now which seems to be my natural state of being. Wheels moving across the asphalt where they can just keep on moving like we'll just drive into the hereafter if we don't slow down. I've snuck off to a coffee house because the house is still sleeping. Mama and cousins so as soon as I open my eyes and say thank you God I'm still breathing, the world is still spinning, gravity is not lost - I think COFFEE like I need an IV fix, pull on jeans a shirt I've worn three days running, grab laptop bag and find the closest coffee shop. It's a new one for me. I so long to head over the bridge and park in St. Andrews where writer friend Tony Simmons hangs but I'm sticking close to the family this am. So I'm at a new place. Finn's it's called. Attached to the old Mr. Surf's. A hangout of my teenage years.
There's a guy talking Jesus. I know this because he has said Jesus a few times and then mentioned Corinthians. I gotta say, he looks healthy. That kind of tan and juicing healthy that some people look. Not like vampires that have been up late singing King of the Road at Cousin Deb's backyard Karoke bar. I bet he went to bed at an earlier hour. Now I notice praise music is playing on the speakers. They have soy candles for sell and raw almonds and hemp seeds and bottles of wine for sale. This is good. All of it is good.
I put in earphones and play David Gray's Babylon. Again. It's my new over and over and over song.
And read a few pages of Always We Begin Again. The tiniest of books. Evidence that the weight of words isn't measured by the length of them. I make a note to read the meditation, Each Day on the air on Clearstory Radio next Wednesday. Being back on the air is like slipping on an old coat. One I've missed and get to remember brand new all over again. It's a strange little mixture of words and songs all celebrating living a creative life with soul.
The news. Greece hurt me. People driven to cliffs to try to find the sea, to escape. Families clinging to one another in a last embrace knowing they will die. Found that way. A thousand million words couldn't say more to me than that image in my heart which spoke volumes of all that we hold dear and love and the best of who we are. One last embrace.
Today is my friend Fran's Birthday. She happened to be mother to one of my best friends, grandmother to three gorgeous girls who continue to bless my life just by knowing them. But she was also a friend with open arms, a great supporter of so many authors. A lover of story, a compassionate, passionate person full wonder. She was - and still is - a part of the magic that makes up my life.
Today I hope you find the magic that makes your life worthy of every blessed minute we have here together. I'll be back soon.
Peace and promises,
The sky is a solid mass of unwavering grey today. Aptly fitting for Ash Wednesday. There's no relief of rain. No promise of the parting clouds. Like the whole Earth is in mourning, clinging to its pain. A type of ashen twilight that will last eternal.
Rescue Kevin lays in the bed of leaves outside the door napping in the cool. He doesn't mind the sky at all. When I ask if he wants in he stretches, rolls his eyes in apology that he finds his bed more satisfying than my company. Eventually, Summer will arrive and my company in air conditioning will be much more in demand.
That grey sky today.
Somewhere there are lovers holding hands and making promises I hope last beyond the next full moon, the next low tide. The breathing in and out of this planet. That they have loves made out of storybooks.
Yet, somewhere too, there is an old person sitting all alone, looking out the window, hoping someone will ring the doorbell or their phone. A delivery perhaps from a sweetheart who has remembered them from old times past.
Last night I drove to the store and a firetruck rushed past it's siren wailing. The coyotes began their high pitched wails in response. I noticed how far they were up on that ridge beyond the river. I wonder where will they go now that we've come and inch by inch are taking everything. Where will all the wild ones go?
Today collides two events I've spent a lifetime observing. An unlikely paring of Valentines- that day of kisses and chocolate candies, and Ash Wednesday, that day of ashes and repentance.
Grade school was made for Valentines. We made those silly little envelopes and taped them to our desks. Then we went around dropping tiny envelopes in one another's mailboxes always hoping that our secret crush would choose that one large card in the pack that said something special and cryptic like - Valentine I Swoon for You. All the rest of them said, you are sweet, kind, my friend.
Being raised Episcopalian Ash Wednesday held a special significance. We went for ashes to be placed on our forehead in the form of the cross and the priest said, Ashes to ashes, dust to dust in a somber voice and then continued down the line - From the dust you came and to the dust you will return.
That this day falls on Valentines this year is simply Southern gothic perfection. I can consider the wages of love and repentance, sweetness and loss, in one swift hand.
The wind blows unrelenting. The fingerbones of the trees waving against the dismal sky. A lone crow calls out.
Perfect Lenten weather.
Perhaps tonight the sky will clear and lovers will find stars above them as they thread their way through streets to dinner. Or their love may cast its own bright light in all the darkness. Then, so be it. Let them drink and celebrate their lives bound together.
My life found more ashes than I expected but also more love. A kind of general love that meets the world beyond the walls of my cynic heart. This love - it leaps over me. Makes way for itself in spite of my comments and asides. This wild love knows something fierce. Something more akin to forty days than heart-shaped papers. A love born in deserts, surrounded by space and darkness, wilderness and wild.
I've longed for such I do confess. In times long past. A willingness to lay down myself, become another. A partnership of perfection. Eternal kisses, forever bliss.
Now the rain comes, it hits the glass in large drops unrelenting. Look. The sky finds relief after all. At least something moves, something happens.
For years I've seen in other peoples eyes, this one here and that one there - a type of kinship. Knowing another soul ar first meeting. A fast friends type of thing, brushing lives with a stranger in a line or some odd place. A mechanic shop. A bar. A bank. A struck up conversation. Not a romantic kind of love but that of just the sameness of being human. Man, woman, child. An understanding. When there is nothing left but craving understanding. It is a - see me. Hear me. Please before I break.
Forty Days. The Lenten Season. A valentine of words. Love and loss. Renewing and remembrance. It is the Yin and yang. The balancing of moon and sun, dark and light.
Love, sometimes a sacrifice. Eternal and Divine on scale of God as man or just a tiny act. A little bit of time. A coin. A rose.
Whatever love looks like for you today I hope that you find it - a greater love, a deeper love, an older love, a newer love, first love, last love or the soulmate that you seek.
The rain is steady now. It's become a small downpour. The driveway is washing away down the road. Kevin takes me up on a dry towel and a bone. We've come together to celebrate what it means to be alive in this life. Up on this hill. Watching the rain fall while voices of all manner whisper through this night, 'I Love you' and 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
Friday is such a wonderful day to say - WHAT DID I EVEN DO THIS WEEK? I mean where did it go? Which made me think - I should write stuff down then I'd know.
I broke up a dog fight between Kevin the Rescue and Duncan the Dangit. Blending a family can be difficult when one of you has been a survivor eating from trash cans and possibly surviving on strange little creatures that run through the night (I'm not thinking about that part but I do kinda sleep with one eye open just in case I'm looking tasty). The FAT CAT STARTED IT with a HISS and the dogs bumped into each other trying to get away. Hissing starts a lot of problems always. If you are in an elevator and someone hisses at you there will be trouble before you can get out at the next floor. If you hiss at me in an elevator I will think you are turning into some kind of zombie thing because we are in an elevator in a medical building and they have been experimenting on you. I am not going to be your next zombie thing. So stop hissing. Sure, I have days where I'm tried enough to think - ok, sure just go ahead and eat my brain but then I will think NO!!!! I do not like hissing and I will think of Mom's fat cat and how many times I've had to clean that litter pan (the cat has been on a diet for weeks and the pan is still full every night. She does this out of spite) and I will take my fifty thousand pound purse and clobber you. I will go batcave crazy on you so that you will take those zombie fingers and try to escape. Crazy will neutralize zombie. Because let's face it you just left that doctor office and are just having the first twitches of what's to come and I'll be long gone and on the highway before you get that full on zombie strength.
Week in Review.
My adorable grandson told me if I didn't stop singing in the car he was going to throw up. So I sang louder. To which he replied - I'm not kidding ZAZA if you don't stop singing I'm going to throw up. When I checked the rearview mirror he was searching for something to use as a bucket. This actually happened a few weeks ago but to prove I don't hold grudges I picked him up for a sleep over this week. He ate watermelon and read books and watched Mickey mouse and helped make biscuits and ate more watermelon and played in a that little seven dollar pool like we were at the Holiday Inn. Laughter and storytelling ensued. I did not sing.
My mother used to sing to me. I never told her that she was about to make me throw up. The singing always came with rocking. I was a sucker for a good rocking so no matter what she sung I was quiet and just took in a good rocking. She had a regular playlist. These were my lullabies.
*Keep a moving Dan he's a devil not a man and he (something about lying) and water. It's a song about a man on a horse going through the desert with no water and they are both going to die and you know it even when you are four years old.
*Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley cause poor boy your bound to die. This is a song about a boy being hung and who is going to die.
*The green Green Grass of home. - Pretty much ditto
*Frankie and Johnny were lovers. - somebody dies but this one was at least upbeat
*Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes - I'll never love blue eyes again. Or something like that. I think somebody dies.
*Amazing Grace. - Nobody dies in the song but it is sung at every funeral I've ever attended.
Then I grow up and wonder what with the funerals and the lullabies why I write something called Southern Gothic fiction.
I went to the doctor this week and Mama went to the doctor this week. I was in and out. When I go to the doctor with Mama it is an all day event. Or it feels that way. We must pack three bags for Mom. One that is her purse that weighs 150,000 pounds which I offer to carry because I'm a good daughter. I do not understand what in the world can make this woman's purse so heavy. You would think she is smuggling guns. (She's not for the record for little robots that pick up things like that and report them to the authorities it's just gummakeupmedicinehairbrushchainpurseextrajewelry-penspapercheckbookwalletpictureshairclipsgemclipslipstick-fourteenpagesofnoneofyourbusinessandsoon) We have another bag that is just for her book and her cold water and extra tissues. We have another bag that will go unnamed. We must be a sight to behold as we totter to the elevator with me carrying the bags and holding her hand to help her walk only by now I can't walk so we just look like two drunks trying to make it out of the bar except we are just trying to get into the office and sign her in where I will tell them a story about why we are late because of what she decided she HAD TO DO right when it was time to get in the car. Fill in the blank. There is always something that is CRUCIAL WHEN IT IS TIME TO GET IN THE CAR. As a matter of fact, I always have the car already running when this happens. The dogs are barking because they think they want to go even though it is 106 in the shade outside because they are air-conditioned and know nothing of what lies ahead.
By the time I get Mama home we both need to take a nap. And that is that day.
WEEK IN REVIEW
I moved more boxes. i have been moving mama for three years and forty two hours. I have made one million trips to florida. I have carried more boxes than anyone my age should care unless they work for a moving company. My biceps do not reflect the amount of work I have put into this. Why is this? I should look like someone named Greta with good genes. I blame my lack of muscle definition on some dna factor which may trace it's way back to my Memaw when I think of it because she was kind of roundy. The boxes are now just "thrown down" as Mama would say and piled up in a room because I have run out of places to put things. REALLY RUN OUT. So they are just sitting there waiting for me to do something. They look at me and I look at them but we are at a stand off because I don't know what to do. I have two storage sheds in the yard now full of more boxes. They should just rest and go to sleep because they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I went to read stories to the little wolfpack. They scream ZAZA when I come through the door like I am Cher and they are groupies. They gather/pile around me while I read them big, beautiful books procured at Parnassus and shove one another out of the way trying to be the person sitting next to me or in my lap. Other than a little crowd control on my part we have a great storytime then they smother me with hugs (hang on my ankles) as I try to get out the door. I am always amazed at this. This absolute ZAZA power thing. It's the best role I've ever played in my life. That and being Big Dog's person. I was great at that too. (Insert tear, misses big dog)
WEEK IN REVIEW
All in all, in the middle of everything wild and wonderful it was a lovely week and it continues. I wait with baited breath (what does that mean? does that mean fishy breath? who wants fishy breath?) for editor A. up new york way to send me her thoughts/notes/andsoforth on the latest American Mystic manuscript. I'm sending a short-short story I wrote titled Civil War to a national competition because I've not written a short-short story previously and I've never entered a short story competition before this month and I want to win something. But I was really thinking of an all expense paid trip to Europe. I wrote another short story that I don't like except for the first sentence that may really be a novel. I haven't rewritten my mystery novel because it occurs to me I have to basically keep all the bones and rewrite all the rest and that is a SERIOUS REWRITE which is a long way from done. I have four novels in process. One of them needs to be finished and published.
I am behind on my class for Theoretical Physics. So now I need to go cram some string theory.
And I need to call the bug man because there are some creepy things showing up that I don't recognize and have never seen. I keep trapping them in things so that they die so that I can show the bug man so I have dead things here and there under glass. Just keeping it cozy.
That's the view from the hill in my world. Hope things are sassy in yours.
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.