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.)
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.
Not the movie. My suitcase. Little Miss Sunshine is the name I dubbed my carry-on that has seen about as many miles as I have. She is scratched up, peeled off, dented, beat up and broken. After my last trip I had parked her in my closet but not tossed her out of sentimental reasons. She has been on three book tours with me. Traveled coast to coast to coast. Been on the road for one tour over two months non-stop. She's carried my goods, operated as a sound equipment carry all when I recording Clearstory Radio programs on site at The Southern Festival of the Book and elsewhere. She has been - my friend.
When I first purchased her eons ago it was with an advance check from a book contract. If you are a writer and you are going to purchase something that has full mobility spinner wheels with a ten year warranty and so forth I recommend doing so at a real luggage place when you have said advance. The time will never be better and otherwise you will talk yourself out of this purchase. Don't do it. All those miles are entitled to being able to move stuff from point a to point b.
For years upon years I've worn black on black, carried black with a side of black. This was long before the goth movement or maybe before all New Yorkers wore black as a silent symbol that they were true New Yorkers. I just did. It was my favorite non-color. So when I bought this wild, artist creation of a suitcase it went totally against type. But there she was up on the high ledge. It was kinda a love at first site moment. I saw her and my eyes got all swirly like The Fantastic Mr. Fox movie and I asked them to take her down. I bought her. I took her home. People commented for years that she was certainly - something. And, I said, yes, she is. She was created by an artist. And, they replied like yeah maybe a five year old. And I told them they just didn't appreciate real art.
We had so many miles ahead of us that I had thought I'd make a little video of her traveling in all the cities, airports, backroads. I shot one short video that my Mama loved and I don't have clue where that might be. I thought I'd take a slew of photos like the gnome commercials. Like Kaya McLaren did with her PWQ Barbie trophy. Nope. Didn't do it.
The people who did appreciate her were The Adorables who were young enough back then to think everything I did was cool and me showing up was like a movie star whizzing in. Little Miss Sunshine was the icing on the cake. They like to roll her for me because she had such magnificent wheels. The stewards and pilots and security people in the airport smiled when they saw her coming. A bright cheery little thing in the midst of that boring waving of black black black suitcases all day. I felt like I was doing my little bit of warm, sunshiney part in the world to carry her along. When I arrived in a new hotel room she beamed like a good friend, a steady companion.
Still, the day came when people said, you know - you really need to get a new suitcase. When the airline people kept saying, We have to make a note that she has a broken handle. BUT HER WHEELS! I wanted to protest, they're still really spinn-ey.
Finally, sadly, I realized it was time. Then black Friday rolled around with a group-on special for a set of luggage with spinney wheels. Matching. One, two, three. All black or all white and I chose all-white figuring I'd cover it with bumper stickers or something. It would suffice. It was gloriously inexpensive and not a smidgen of the quality. Still, Little Miss Sunshine had entered cloudy days. I packed her away. Didn't trash her because I just couldn't. After all, coast to coast to coast makes for a lot of memories. I had parked the new, empty luggage behind a piece of furniture that I had my son move into a closet. (Don't ask because it is a long story). I tried to get it out. I could not. I asked my sister to come help. We could not. She said, This is not happening, in her very, practical sister voice. I tugged at the furniture, I tugged at the suitcase handle which I could reach. I stood on my head and tried to force it sideways. Let me repeat, she said, this is not happening. Then she reached for Little Miss Sunshine and said - here. Take this. And throw the rest of your stuff in the backseat. Just throw your clothes in there and go!
Little Miss Sunshine rides again. To Texas. For surely, certainly, most likely the very last time. It's hard to say good bye to people we love but also the things. These lovely inanimate objects that are said not to have a life but the little toaster would argue with this. And the scientist. Those great minds of physics that discuss things like atoms and molecules and all matter and manner of things being made up of the squares that make us but energy. Swirling masses of light and stardust. Every changing, decaying, evolving.
I couldn't think of a better place for LMS to hang up her boots than officially at a Pulpwood Queen Event called Girlfriend getaway weekend. After all, like these women, she has been a good friend of mine.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.