And so it has begun. The road trip. The book tour. The seeing people on the road. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook their are more photos than I can post here but I am moved by every single soul I meet along the way. That includes the strangers, the surprises.
I grabbed Little Miss Sunshine and hit the road. (She's pictured here at a writer's hideaway in Oxford, MS before my visit to Square Books. Can you tell she's smiling. Well, she is. ) For those who haven't followed years of road trips and book tours Sunshine is the name I gave to a carry-on bag I purchased years ago for a book tour. It was me going very against type because I normally wear black on black with a side of black. Carry a black bag. And a black suitcase. I was in a professional luggage years ago preparing for book tour and had decided I would invest in a piece of luggage that would survive the miles ahead of me. Something with those magical 360 wheels that glided and rolled and zippers that refused to be broken. A hard case worthy of a few hard miles. I was checking out with a black bag when I turned and looked up and saw this multi colored case on high display in the corner of the store. "Wait!" I said - "I think - I want to see that one." They took her down, I rolled her around. Contemplated color. That wild splash of color. And thought - yeah, she's going with me.
My journey with Little Miss Sunshine as I named her started and we went coast to coast to coast. Airline security smiled when they saw her coming. Passengers commented. Hotel clerks. She brought sunshine wherever she went. Eventually, the metal started sticking out of the edges of the handle, her paint peeled off. She got battered, worn, weary. Just like me. It took years but I finally put her in the back of the closet. Ordered a set of three white metal cases one Black Friday super sale on line. They arrived. I looked at them suspiciously. They didn't even blink at me. I thought - well, I'll just cover them with travel stickers. Places I've been and others I've longed to see. I took them on one trip to Residency. Crammed with too much stuff, too many books, things to stay warm. Their wheels drug a little bit. They didn't have the - dare I say it - magic of Little Miss Sunshine. And they didn't smile at me from the corner of a hotel room when I went to bed at night in a strange city miles from home. They. Did. Not. They also turned out to be the bane of my existence when I had to end up on a Greyhound Bus in between cities that was delayed for a day and that is another travel story entirely. One I've written but not published. You cannot spend days in a Greyhound Station or on the bus with three white suitcases, a laptop bag, and a purse. If only I had just little Miss Sunshine and My Backpack we would have been in fine shape.
BACK to - the moment at hand. It was time to hit the road for Confessions of a Christian Mystic Road trip. I pushed those white suitcases to the corner of the room, reached far back into the closet and drug out the battered, metal baring, paint peeling old friend. Little Miss Sunshine rides again.
THE MAGIC OF THE MOMENT
Amazing things happen on the road. Surprising things. People come into your life that you weren't expected. With it, they bring their stores. There is the conference of crossing lives that doesn't happen unless we are out on the road, out of comfort zones, our normal agenda's. It brings to mind so many stories after so many books and so many years. Taxi drivers in New York who told me stores about how they arrived, where they came from. About what they read to their children. Sherlock Holmes comes to Mind. A taxi driver told me of reading the series to his daughter when she was young and for the rest of their lives he called her Sherlock and she called him Watson. Those are the kinds of stories you pick up on the road. The power of real lives.
I stopped at a rest stop to use the rest-room and get right back on the road but when I was walking to my car an old man was standing outside is car, maybe he could have been my Daddy's age if he'd be living now. He had a metal arm, wore a cap that showed he was a Vet, been in the service, served maybe more than just a few years for certain. He still had that air of military on him. Of having served. And as I tried to walk right past him and hurry to the car my feet pulled up to a sudden stop. I mean, full on stop. I sort of just stood there looking at him and said So, how are you doing today? The sun was shining, the sky blue, the miles ahead of me piling up by the minute and me - as is my usual - already falling behind. Already with more to do than time and space allow. He was smoking a cigarette and paused and smiled, surprised. What I didn't say was thank you for your service. That might have been implied. He said, What brings you out on the road on a pretty day like today? So I told him. Book tour. Got a book. Doing a thing.
So you're a writer?
That I am, sir.
Is that a fact? My, my.
And then we talk a bit. He's waiting on his daughter. She just had a baby and they were coming back from Nashville headed home to Memphis. The baby had been premature he said. Not but a few pounds. But now - "He's all the way up to twelve pounds. Just had his checkup. He's doing fine."
So glad to hear it. I dug around in the car. Found my reading copy of Confessions. Signed it for him and passed it on. Then headed on down the road. Because. We have one life, our stories, this Divine moment of compassion and consideration and a moment, just a moment to reach each other. To whisper those words, All is well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
And we are not alone.
Peace and love to you and yours. Me and Little Miss Sunshine got to get on down the road.
I drove off under blue skies, tired body, weary mind, full soul. There's a lot to be said about communion and communing with others. To being with your tribe. Too many to write about. Some of the photos grabbed off facebook will suffice.
Every year that attend PWQGGW I think - wheretofordoIgoethforsofarforwhateth
Then I get there I remember. Everything. Every time.
It is for the opportunity to laugh and break bread with writers I have now known for years upon years. Our relationships being built layer upon layer, hard times and good. When the book contracts roll like honey off the tongue and when there is a drought. Meeting new writers and discovering their books, exchanging numbers, connecting. And the readers. God bless and keep the readers. The ones that make writing the stories all worth the while. To be able to not only hang out and conversant with them but to party just a little bit. To get silly and serve them dinner dressed in costume. To dance in a wild, wonderful night full of bohemian delights.
I have many highlights in my heart and things I want to write about this journey. But they will have to filter, little by little, over time and find their way into this small space in my world that slides out into the univerise.
II headed north to Little Rock and then turned East, the sun setting in my rearview, the skies so gorgeous I struggled to keep looking forward. That's what Pulpwood Queens is like. The drive to, the journey down, like the brilliant bright of a noon day, hot to touch, unrelenting and demanding. But the drive away, me forever casting my eyes backward at that full horizon, that indigo sky opening up the clouds with rays that lifted me onward as if lit by those hundreds of hearts I'd left behind.
The flat fields along the road were growing dark but white patches held the light, maintained it. Being a southern girl only one word came to mind - Cotton. My tired mind struggled to comprehend cotton in January. Then I realized it was snow. Snow had fallen. Freeze had come. I was driving toward Tennessee, to Memphis and the cold had kept the white close to the earth.
One of my reasons for making it to Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend this Year was that I had contributed to a little anthology titled 2nd Blooming with a forward by Anne Lamont. As usual I had agreed to contribute easily enough but when the time came for the deadline I grumbled and mumbled and got downright flumoxed about it. The lovely editor, Susan Cushman gently reminded me over and over again that I HAD TO SEND HER WORDS. So I said fine! Words it will be! And I sat down and wrote an essay titled Root inspired by the strength of my grandmother and mother which realizes ultimately - this is the stuff I am made of. It is a strange piece in that it is free and original - a break away from other work I've created.
Susan was gentle in the editing. Said she was afraid to touch it because it was - unusual. A hard thing to edit indeed. A friend of mine (or I) said it might be a New Dystopian Shakespeare . Not technically sound but it seems strangely right. All thanks to Rachel Craddock for her early reads of the essay and being just as frustrated as Susan in trying to edit something that defies transition. Thank you, Susan for allowing me to in a fit of angered deadline crack open a space in me that dared to paint words so freely. I'm honored to be a part of this collection with some fine writers and exceptional women.
That same editor understanding that I'd had an eleven drive down to Texas where I walked in the room as my panel was being introduced (timing is everything) took mercy on me and opened her warm doors to her home in Memphis for the evening. I pulled into her neighborhood nestled in snow. A large tree still covered in Christmas lights adored the road. A glass of wine and a bowl of gumbo awaited at their neighborhood pub. Then I settled down into a cozy, soft bed with the glow of those colored lights softly beaming just outside the window.
Now, I'm nestled with coffee in a corner of the bedroom floor, blankets and pillows about me where I can peek out the shuttered window to the snow lined streets. More snow to come tonight they say so I have to head on up the road Nashville way. It's time to get back to Mama and Rescue dog Keven before flakes start to fall. The hill is not a place to traverse after dark and ice.
So off to coffee, muffins, conversation. And to appreciate Susan's eclectic collection of fine art that graces her walls. She's a Pete the Cat connoisseur.
There are more stories coming out of Texas later but for now, thank you ladies for allowing me once again to be part of your tribe and in so doing feel like I am standing fully in my world.
*(more photos to add when I am off the road)
We are all wearing paper dresses. They have put us into the 'sub' waiting room. I didn't know that was a category. Apparently, it is. We laughed about that. We came up with many better names than sub-waiting room. That is rather generic.
There's nothing like paper dresses, breast exams and the power of story to help women bond immediately. The room was filled with that odd mixture that is at once both fear and faith combined. I am a private person. I don't discuss these things as my friend Kaya rolls out her journey through breast cancer with the kind of gun-powder prose that should be a best selling memoir instead of free Facebook posts. If you know of a woman walking through cancer or troubled-times I recommend they find Kaya McLaren on Facebook and read her posts back-tracking a few months or years in attempt to fully appreciate her 'for Friends who Like Long letters' posts. And - I take that back. If you are a PERSON who is living a life mixed with all the passion of beautiful bitter-sweet ups and downs of living I recommend reading her.
I've had Kaya on my mind daily keeping up with her but also in walking out my own diagnostic tests today. There is the first room, the dressing room, the drill. The no perfume, no powder, no anti sweaty stinky stuff for days. (My apologies to those who have had to be up close and personal during ladder climbing forays.) So Room number one and room number two and then into the paper gown and sub-room number three where you wait to be called for your turn at THE MACHINE and then return to wait with your gown on frontwards instead of backwards. With other women sitting and waiting for their turn to be called or their turn at receiving their results.
As I was waiting for an Oh Dear or All Clear report I was surrounded by women who began conversations about their surgeons. "Oh, do you have her? She was my surgeon and I just loved her." And a report of how long someone had been 'clean' and others who told so honestly of what they had been through so many years ago. The decisions they had to make. Do you choose the lump or the breast? The meds that will kill all the cancer but also possibly damage your heart. These women - all so beautiful I could weep thinking of them now. All so brave and so strong. Still able to laugh. To be honest, raw, vulnerable. There are days I don't feel worthy of that transparency. I want to cloister myself, close my shell, peep through the crack. Who me? No story here. Nothing to see. Move along.
But that isn't true. My story linked to their stories. For just a few minutes today. But those were some very, deep ocean moments. Entire lives flashing before my eyes. What they had faced and survived. Endured and carried on. I am surrounded by these women. Friends and co-workers. Mothers and sisters from high school. Old friends, new friends.
My news today was the best kind of news. As I told Kaya in a note. Long ago I learned the meaning of benign. It means that you will not die today. That you will die someday surely but not today. Not from this.
The day will come soon when Kaya is back in her Kayak with her dog racing the wind. I want it to be sooner than later. Her passionate embrace of all that life is leads me upward and onward many days. I taste her adventures on my lips through her words. It's what the power of story is about.
As beautiful Kaya and those beautiful women know everyday is a gift presented to us in a new way. Some days taste like dregs, dirt and ashes. Others are so simple we miss the fullness of the blessing of them. Just stomp right on through them taking out the trash, letting out the dog, bringing in the mail. Then there are other days. The ones where the light catches the trees just so and you hear your mother laughing with your grandson and the sound of them - the two of them - having an inside joke and laughing together, is the richest wine of all time. The days you know you'll revisit at deaths door and still breathe a thank you.
If I could manage a strong prayer today it would be to be alive all the days of my life. Really, truly alive. To not take this raggedy, scraggly, mutt of a messy life of mine for granted for one moment. Not even this one while I wait wait in the parking lot of the vets office for Kevin the Rescue dog as he gets his heart-worm treatment.
I whispered to him last night as he stuck his cold nose to my face - Tomorrow buddy we have a big day - you and me - and we're going to go through it. We're going to come up on the other side. And so we are and so we will.
That dog has a bone waiting at home and my son is taking me to see Star Wars tonight. I'm going to go to sleep counting my blessings. But not without thinking of those four women from today, that paper gown brigade, and praying for theirs. May they be blessed with good health and many, many tomorrows.
Peace to you and all those you love.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to sit down with you in a diner and tell you this face to face. But, I blew it. Just freaking blew it. And, it has haunted me ever since.
I want to finally thank you for making the movie, The Razors Edge and exposing me to the work of W. Somerset Maugham. After watching the movie I went to the library and checked out, The Razor's Edge. Then I went on to read everything W. Somerset Maugham had ever written that I could get my hands on.
So, here's the moment I missed telling you this so many years ago the way I would have preferred, face-to- face.
It was cold. A winter in the city kind of cold. I'm a native of the Gulf Coast of Florida and I don't do cold well.
I was in New York for the very, first time with Cousin Deb for the weekend adventure to visit fellow playwright Nancy Hasty. Nancy had offered to open her door to us for a visit. Adventures in the city ensued including almost getting robbed on the streets but then - When your cousin shouts at the top of her lungs in a southern accent, "Look, It's Radio City Music Hall! Mama said we should come see that!" you are just asking for the guy leaning on the wall watching you to get off the wall and begin to follow you into a deserted street. But, that's not the story at hand here. It's all about thou.
So we get up early one morning and decide to take off in search of breakfast. We do what one does in Manhattan - we walk. And because Cousin Deb was in a rush we didn't put on make-up, or get polished up worth anything. Sloppy hair, sloppy clothes. Not even gloss on the lips much less a full monty on the face.
After hoofing in the cold for awhile we look up and see a diner that looks promising. We cross the street and step inside. The place is crazy busy. Absolutely packed. The guys behind the grill are slammed solid. We spot the only empty seats in the place. Two along the wall in the back, left corner. In the process of getting there we have to squeeze through a few tables, one of them being yours. Only at the time we didn't know it. A four-seater, plenty of room, and you are sitting there alone as we jostle the chairs, bump them into the table. I can feel you looking at us as we bang and rattle every chair and finally pass by and sit down only a few feet from you and facing you.
I look at you. You look at me. I whisper to Deb, "Don't say anything, and don't look now but that is Bill Murray."
She looks. She says something. She says it loud enough for every diner in the place to hear.
"No FREAKING way!" Only freaking was not in vogue then so she just went old school. She went old school again, and again, then added FREAK ME!
We ordered. We ate. I tried not to look at you after such a charming entrance and Deb's public acknowledgement of you being so - ummm - genuine and starstruck.
And starstruck we were. It's cute but unfortunate in this case for two reasons. We really wanted to respect your privacy or at least what was left of it at this point. And, did I mention we weren't wearing make-up? Which being older now, needing make-up so much more, I wouldn't care one twit if I bumped your chairs, had on no make-up, was dressed like a bum. Given the opportunity I would take the moment over. I'd tell you exactly what I had thought from the beginning about The Razor's Edge, about how much I loved your performance and appreciated your taking the time and risk to make the movie. (A remake from many years before but one that deserved to be remade and remade well.)
I wanted to tell you that sometimes the things we do that are good and right and that should get more attention, be an obvious success, often go on to achieve things we may never know or realize.
Case in point. I wrote a novel years ago titled, The Gin Girl. A smokey, moody murder mystery set in the Everglades. When I first landed an agent she thought it would get a six-figure deal and an instant contract for a movie. Didn't happen. It was finally published by an unknown Indie, and for the most part other than a few great reviews, went undiscovered. Years of work down the drain. All my expectations and hopes for that great novel dried up to dust.
A few years ago I received an email. One that began, "I doubt you'll ever read this but if by chance you do I'm writing it anyway."
It told the story of this young woman who had to be committed to a psychiatric ward one night and how her mother had brought her something to read, my novel The Gin Girl. She went on to say how much those characters helped her get through that long, dark night. How she didn't feel frightened when she began reading it because she felt they were right there with her and that she wasn't alone. Then she said some other nice things.
I sat there after reading that and thinking - If it was all for only this, this one letter, then it was worth it.
I don't expect my letter to make you feel the same way about making, The Razor's Edge. But it's important to me that I say them. It's my simple thank you for not only doing excellent work in supporting the power of story, but opening up an entirely new world to me, of exposing me to an author that I may have otherwise missed entirely.
I wish I could replay that cold day in New York. You had the most beautiful leather coat, and leather messenger bag. I watched you stand, put on the coat, pick up your bag, and put on your hat as you walked out the door. The entire time that small voice inside of me saying, "Tell him now. Get up. Go tell him now. Stop him now before he leaves. Tell him now. Go after him. Go after him down the street. Stop him on the sidewalk."
I let you - and the moment slip away.
But not this one.
Thank you for the film and the inspiration and Godspeed on your current and future endeavors.
But - Fair warning - Make up or no, next time I bump into you at an empty table I'm pulling up a chair and sitting down. There will be some stories told. Without apology.
*Had to repost the love in honor of Groundhog Day (and Bill of course)
OKay - it is T-days away from that wild Texas Book Event known as The Pulpwood Queens Book Club Girlfriend Weekend. Kathy L. Murphy always make's sure there is lots of pink, pink, pink and that there are COSTUMES in demand. The first year I thought costumes were just for the readers and boy was I shocked to discover that the AUTHORS in the know were in full flower of every kind. The author photo from that year shows 20plus authors looking creative and amazing and me in black pants and a blank turtleneck. Someone tried to make me feel better and say you just came in costume as an author. Shellie Rushing Tomlinson was kind enough on the year after she met me to realize I had issues where costuming was concerned. She brought extra from La and dressed me (that was the year of the pinned up/fat back/popcorn locked in my dress alone in the haunted b&b night event) and since then I have tried to pull myself together and get in the spirit. My best effort yet I think was coming as the book title War and Peace and a lot of fun! However, this year I have tried to THINK costume and research costumes on line. Have you put in adult female costume (fill in the blank) lately? Well, let me tell you - you can put in Lion Tamer and you get - HO. You can put in School teacher and you get HO. You can put in pilot, nurse, librarian, waitress, cook, dog washer, grave digger, day care worker and you get HO. WHAT'S UP AMERICA? Can an adult woman order a costume of any kind where she doesn't have to be a HO? OK, CAN A TEENAGE GIRL still order a costume where she doesn't have to be a HO? HOHOHO. ALL I can say is somehow the Pulpwood Queens pull it off every year coming up with some of the most amazing creative costumes around. And, I swear there are always in that huge crowd only a minority of HO costumes. :) Here are a few photos from years past. I'm still digging around. The only thing I found that worked well was in England and they don't ship to the US. Back to the drawing board. But regardless. I bought my special pink, pulpwood queen event t-shirt months ago. It's still hanging in my closet waiting. I'm grabbing a tiara and a feather boa and in just a matter of days somehow, someway, crossing that Texas border where rain or shine, the literary event of the year is going gather some of the greatest writers and readers alive together and throw down a good time.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.