Did you see all those recent photos on Instagram. Well, they are a lie. Ok, not a lie. Exactly. What you see are these vistas and landscapes. The sea. Dandelions. Feet on the ferry. New friends. Great faces. What you don't see is me in my dorm room thinking - this is a terrible idea. This is crazy. Why am I here? What was I thinking? I want off this Island!!!
For those of you who didn't catch the most recent blog I was off on a new adventure, a dream of a lifetime opportunity, and had been accepted at the MFA program that was my #1 choice for multiple reasons one being - the degree of difficulty. Yes, I am known for being that person that expects it to be hard. Who wants it to be worthy. Who believes climbing the mountain is the reason we get to look out at the view and wax wordy because we climbed the peak. So why was I crying?
I don't know. Because it was all those things. Because I'm an introvert. Because I was cold coming from a heat wave in Tennessee to a charming, foggy island wonderland. Because I twisted my ankle in a classic Chevy Chase fall that curtailed anymore rock climbing. Because it was actually what I was expecting back in application phase. Difficult. Challenging.
To start with the Art and Faith reading was Laurus, the Russian equivalent of The Name of the Rose. And, yes, it's a masterpiece. We were supposed to read it multiple times before residency. Along with a collection of poems I'll discuss later. We also had Chapel everyday at 8:30 (by choice) and Communion on Sunday. I'm down with those things. And that's good because it was Chapel that presented a poem/writing by some 18th century person that will now carry me through the rest of my year. If it hadn't been for chapel that day, and the car keys of a new friend that said - sure, just take my car and get away - that re-centered my entire life in a few hours, I'd still be crying. The lesson behind this is - go to chapel when you can and certainly when the spirit leads - and always take the free car keys.
When you are in a low-residency program as I am where you aren't on campus everyday it means your together time will be distilled down like fine bourbon. You will be shoved into a barrel and aged together. You will eat together, play together, read together, write together, workshop together, attend lectures together. For introverts, this is a LOT OF together. Did I mention I am an introvert? People think I'm not because I will follow you trying to tell you a story till the cows come home but it takes a lot of quiet, alone time to pull off all that extroverted storytelling. And, no, it really doesn't matter that you DON'T WANT TO HEAR the story. It's a compulsion that can't be controlled.
I was called and referred to and painted as - A HOLY Fool. This did not make me cry but laugh and feel downright holy fool proud. (Holy Fool's play a very, important part in Laurus)
So I'm home to a very happy Rescue Kevin who has stayed under my car depressed figuring if the she that mostly feeds me ever comes back this Beasty is one of the first places she will go. (yes she is my best little bff of a beasty on the road.)
That Greyhound bus trip that involved over three buses and ten hours of stories? OH, that is so rich it's going in the NEXT BOOK!
Peace to you all you beautiful wandering souls! I hope you are living your dreams out there and just bouncing off, climbing over, tunneling through all of the obstacles that stand in your way!
(More Pictures and words to follow.)
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.
Today is the day my Daddy died. It's been years now but when I woke up, got my coffee, looked out the window - those were my thoughts and that's when I began to cry. Just like I do every year. July 5th - I can count on it.
There's no getting over some things. As a woman told me who had lost her husband six months ago, "I'm still not over it,"
Of course your not, I said. You aren't meant to be.
She nodded. Seemed relieved and said, "That's right. That's right."
She left our meeting in a better mood.
We aren't meant to stay stuck in grief to the point we aren't enjoying life but the getting over it. I'll leave that to the other people.
He was a life-long Army man. Loved Holmes creek where he grew up. Knew it better than the back of his hand. After his death I have replayed moments where I wish I had made a different choice. Conversations where I wish I had communicated better. Times he had put out an olive branch to a stubborn teenager or young woman with a wild streak - and I just didn't take it the right way. Those times echoed to long and loud after his death. I wanted to take them back. Over and over again. Fix them. Perfect them. Don't we all. Always.
I pulled in the driveway a few days ago from a family vacation. One of those family get togethers where I flashed all my disfunction obsessions. We must be together. We must all sit next to Nana. We all must pay attention to each other every moment and tell stories. And, and, and - - - this vacation time together must be . . . perfect. Again. That word. My determined expectations. I am precious in my passions. As well as a pain the butt. I'll save that little blog I call Dysfunction Junction what's your function (being mine) for next week but the thread here is the same.
I'm a family girl. One that wants to run and roam. But I'm also the girl that packed her bags when I lived out in New Mexico after Daddy's health took a bad turn. Me and the boys moved back home. My sister packed up her stuff where she was in Georgia and did the same. No matter how crazy our times together may get when we are trying to take a break from life, it's real life we get great. It's real life where we tag-teamed when daddy was in the hospital. She took one shift, I took the other. We rode up and down that elevator so much that people thought we were twins, clones, time warping. We confused them in our coming and going but that weren't at all confused about the fact that we didn't miss a beat. Daddy wasn't there alone.
Daddy died today. One day after the 4th of July. Fireworks now, the sound of them from inside a house brings to mind that night. That last night. I think it was his stubborn that kept him alive that night. A soldier that didn't want to die on Independence Day. He passed the next morning.
My stubborn streak. I come by it honest. I got a double dose. His kind - quiet final, conclusive and my Mama's kind - determined, hard-edged, tenacious.
When I pulled up in the driveway after all those days of family togetherness, after July 4th crazy traffic and traffic jams, heat and more heat, a broken air conditioner. Too many hours on the road. There was Daddy's memorial stone right there in the circle as I turned in. The flag I put up for Mama on the porch blowing in the breeze on the hill. Daddy's old boat sittin' on that broken trailer. Me and sister begging Mama when she moved to please not leave that boat. We couldn't leave that boat. We had to have that boat. No matter how long it had sat up. No matter if we couldn't use it, float it. We had to keep Daddy's boat. It was his lifeblood. It's a freshwater creek boat, the kind you'd use with a cane pole and a red bobber. It's worth nothing but everything.
They fished from that boat just like me and sister did. He took em up in the creek in it when their heads couldn't clear the edge. Showed up how to fish and where the clear springs bubbled up in the swamps. Where you could scoop a cup of water up right there and drink it down. Him grinning to beat the band. Those Cyprus trees rising to the sky, him skulling that boat with one hand, whistling through his teeth.
That man survived Korea. Survived Vietnam. But still --- time and time and time.
Today instead of those missed opportunities, those imperfect moments that stuck out in my mind for years where I didn't say what I wish I had said, I thought of all the times we laughed. Together. Of the way I'd say, Daddy that would light up his smile and no doubt his heart. I saw this wild, long tapestry that was us, our relationship, and I saw how very, very much of it was good. How most of it was really, really good.
And I think about those boys of mine. (Yeah, I call them mine whether they want me to or not.) And how I gave him the greatest gift I could ever have given him by making him a PawPaw. About how my boys became his boys. And as much as this gypsy heart of mine wanted to roam the earth and exotic places, this Southern girl stayed close to home so that they had each other. So we all had each other. While there was still time.
In Daddy's memory I went to chapel and lit a candle. Whispered a prayer. Then bought a watermelon to eat with my baby boy's baby boys. I'll tell them creek stories of their Daddy's Pawpaw and help them remember a man I won't forget.
I think I hear him whistling.
Morning has broken. The rooster down the hill, crowing. More fervently today. More frequently. Morning has broken indeed, he says. Awake! Arise! The great night of the storm has passed. We are still here. On this hill. All is well and all shall be well and all is well.
The storm last night was a doozy. Wind blow, gusts roar, rain deluge. Tornado watches and threats. Worry, toil, trouble. Rescue Kevin was antsy because I brought him inside as the winds picked up, screaming and roaring up the valley and into the ridge, rolling up over us. He bounced, he barked. He picked up an old Christmas tree ornament he found in a corner and ran with it, the hook dangling from his mouth as I chased him saying, Give me that! Give me that right now! Then I put him out again and followed him to the edge of the porch where he bounded down stairs, turned and looked back at with me with a smile, saying - Let's play! It is wild tonight and we are free beasts to roam and roar back at the wind.
I said, the rains are starting dog. I'm going to bed. An hour later when the deluge hit, I got up again, opened the door and called. Toweled him off and declared lay down. He still pranced nervous until I got a blanket and went downstairs tried to sleep on the couch, be in the lower level close to the closet beneath the stairs. To the bed, to the couch I went. Then finally, to my bed in the dark, my head nestled in covers thinking maybe they alone could protect me.
This morning. I open my window. The clean, clear air. The rooster. The all clear sound. My thankfulness. The house has stood yet another storm. The storms I've faced down in life in the natural and in the human would fill a multitude of books. Some, I've simply just survived. I'm sure you, too. We are simple and same like this. We face our storms. Or we hide our heads beneath our blankets and pray for them to pass. But always, the clear morning air, the all is well sound relieves our soul.
This week - The taxman I had to meet. Downtown in Nashville. Clearing up some old business that wasn't mine to do but looks like now it is. I check in and take a seat. The office full to overflowing. Men, tired at midday. Tried from work and strife and troubles stared at their boots. Women waited, coupled whispered consolations and assurances. A man came in to make an appointment. But you can only make appointments by stepping out the door and calling a different number. He took some brochures, said ok. Then he turned to go. He was built like Santa with a beard and suspenders. He glanced around the room before he left and said, "Good Luck, Everybody," with a booming voice. A heartfelt hope. There was no sarcasm there. No frustration. A ripple of laugher rolled across the room. Then an echo of thank you, thank you, thank you. From everyones lips including mine. There was something special about it, about him. About that sincere moment where he cared what happened to the people waiting. He saw us all. He took us in. And, stepping outside whatever trouble he might be in, he offered a peaceful benediction. The room felt lighter when he left. Less concerned.
I have the oil lamp lit on my desk. I had readied everything in the storm. Prepared for our lights out moments. I trimmed the wick. It's amazing how the lamp burns more evenly when you do this. How much more light it casts when you wash the globe. Our souls must be like this. Our lives. Needing pruning, care, a little time and consideration.
This week - The Undercover Reader Posse began. (A nod to my Daddy's birthday, also this week and a great personal anniversary for me. To my Daddy's love of westerns. To me and sister loving to watch them with him.) Early readers will be riding shotgun with me as I finish this new novel and bring it home. This alliance is something brand new and fills me with the excitement and expectation that new births are filled with. Not just the novel but this early connection with readers and story lovers. You can read more about it here. (Or find in navigation bar if page changes)
Yesterday. I read in Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal published after her death. The prayers are filled with angst and love and longing. Sometimes, too intimate to touch. Like this -
"I am one of the weak. I am so weak that God has give me everything, all the tools, instructions for their use, even a good brain to use them with, a creative brain to make them immediate for others. God is feeding me and what I'm praying for is an appetite."
I've been that way before I can relate. Praying for abundance when my mouth is full of blessings.
This week - We continued the amazing Mastermind Writer Series with Session Two. 100 percent of the class decided to enroll again. To stay with it. To keep working on their writing with me in this small conference class group with one-on-one conference calls. This week I'm kicking off a new Fiction Writing Workshop series. For any who are interested you can find out more here. And look for updated posts on the coming fiction series Monday.
That rooster. Boy, is he proud this morning. Relieved and happy. I suspect he might crow all day.
I had planned to work this am so early on the novel. But the novel is a page turner, a mystery. Better to write in the midst of the stormy night beneath the covers. So, I'll turn my eyes to peaceful words and worlds. Kevin went back out at four after the big storm passed. But still the rains were there. This morning he heard me making coffee at 6:30 looked up at the window from outside. His resting now on the couch, milk bones in his belly. The night has passed, the day at hand, the all clear sound. He knows finally his watch is through and he can sleep.
I pray your week holds victory, peace and sustenance in all the ways you need it most.
Today I was missing camping but for certain in my neck of the woods it's too cold for camping. There will be a fire in the fireplace tonight but not a fire ring. I've been following Kaya McLaren's daily walk through cancer and her raw, vulnerable letters on facebook. I thought if there was anything I could send her it would be a warm Summer evening where we all camped together, sat around a perfect fire ring, a just right kind of fire so you can see the smiling faces of your friends above the flames on the other side. That kind of perfect evening of drinking some fine wine or herbal tea, sharing stories heartfelt and funny, watching the sky for shooting stars as the fireflies climb higher and higher into the trees before morning light. That's what I'd give her right now if I could. I love the sharing of stories. it's the best kind of medicine.
Sometimes people ask me if I still pray for strangers in the middle of watching Star Trek Discovery and going to see Star Wars and reading great mysteries such as, By Gaslight. Yesterday I wrapped two days of speaking at the Writing for Your Life conference. Nothing excites me more about writing stories but sharing stories about writing stories. Mine and those of my friends. It occurred to me that yesterday I mentioned the name of five author friends, talked about their books and their publishing stories, and even their upcoming titles that weren't out yet to watch for. (And now I'm suddenly looking out the window thinking - Gee - I'm a good friend :) ) ) But seriously - how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who write stories. I'll have to write more about my experiences with those attendees on my teaching page here on this website. But for the record. On that praying thing which I still do in the middle of my Star Trek, mystery loving heart. I do. Mostly. Differently. Sometimes and always.
That is - a woman asked me to sign my book for her at the event yesterday and then she stopped and asked me - Does the book tell about how the experienced changed you? I smiled. Good Question. It does I told her. And I paused for a moment to think back all those years ago at the kind of person I was. I was and still am what you would consider a good person. Kind in all the right ways. Standing up for the weak and the underdog. Protecting small children, stray animals, and those who might be on the outskirts of society. The helpless, the homeless, the forgotten, the beat down. The overlooked.
But - it was those years of Praying for Strangers and telling someone almost daily that they were my stranger for the day that cracked open a part of my heart I didn't know was sealed. It gave me a much better, closer, more intimate look into humanity as a whole. While I may have been willing to stand up for the forgotten I never knew how lonely, forgotten, fearful people were that were surrounded by family and friends. Who maybe went to church regularly but were still in many ways all alone. If people weren't concerned about their situation they were always concerned about the situation of someone they loved. And in that I began to care more deeply than a passing moment when you lock eyes with the woman living in the alley behind that store you frequent.
So how does that play out in real life? Back to the conference. I've been speaking for years at conferences, teaching writing for years at events, workshops, and writing programs. I've always loved my students and connecting with them, celebrating their good words and accomplishments. But last night as I was thinking about the people at the conference and in particular those who had signed up with a one on one with me and taken time to tell me their story, ask my advice in some small way, I prayerfully lifted their writing projects, goals, dreams up in prayer. Hoping that their words found their way to readers the way that mine have done likewise. Praying that they would do so. That they would continue in their good work and write the best story possible.
I closed my talk yesterday by reciting The Artist Prayer that I wrote years ago and have shared on Facebook. Many of the attendees asked me to please send it to them by email which I have but I am also closing with it here. In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from a few words fashioned as a prayer that will help us all bring the story home.
An Artist Prayer
Creator of the deep,
of the secret places,
of the wide, blue skies -
open in me a place today
that may be willing to create.
To write words worthy of my breathing,
to paint images of human longing,
to sing of heart’s satisfaction.
Help me to capture
the softer edges of our existence
to share with my people now and forever.
Let there be a hush,
a holy hush,
in the space of my beating heart
all that is good,
all that is well,
all that will stand the test of time.
Empower me to translate
this amazing existence
we call life.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.