Reflections during Lent in Real Time
I suppose if I could just sit by this window or on this porch and stare off the hill and do most of nothing - I would. A kind of general pause with no deadlines and no chores and maybe not even eating. I would enter into a kind of laziness just from the need to have a good sit and do nothing. I'd let the cows come home and the sun have it's way, rolling about the sky like it does till it gives way to the moon. It clocks out and the moon clocks in. It's the way they have worked things out.
Last night or so ago I thought I noticed that it was a new moon. Not even a quarter. It was a sliver moon but bright. So bright the whole thing shone beneath the clouds like a stone beneath the rippling water. Fading and coming into view. This was a shock to me, this moon news when I was little. I didn't realize that the moon in all its weaning and waxing wasn't literally changing size and shape each month. That like the oceans it was on the move. A trick of light I later realized. Orbits and what not and such.
Today, I had a heated conversation with a friend. Because he was telling me what he got out of my new book, Confessions - and I was telling him what was in it and the two were not exactly the same. Then I realized the differences in what people have said who have read it, where their focus has lead them to the well of what's inside them. How different people have pulled a cup up from those same words and found the flavor something different. Each one of them. This is what I love about words and storytelling. We bring to the page our own story. We read something and walk away from it more of who we were to start with. The best in literature strengthens who we are - even when we are learning something new like the power of light and shadow and the meaning of penumbra.
I have reader friends who tell me that they love my fiction and can't wait for my new novel. And read friends who say they enjoyed the last novel but what they really love is when I tell stories from my past, my childhood or my everyday. Or as one well-known author told me recently - "You know, you've got some thoughts about God in this book and I really like those parts a lot. I think you should write some more stuff about God. I'd like to see what you put down. I'd like to hear your thoughts." Which is kinda funny cause some people think the whole thing is about God.
Have I mentioned lately that I'm writing a book set in Nashville that has bourbon and bullets and dead bodies? Yes, well I probably have a time or two. That novel that's just two weeks away from being finished. The same two weeks as last year. But I'll tell you this, I'm getting closer all the time. And an early reader just told me she was absolutely captivated (at least that's the words I heard) by the story, the characters, the setting and the mystery of it all. That was good to hear being on the wings of this new book coming out. Because I shock myself in the telling of other stories. Of stories from my life. Stories of my faith. Because It seems to me fiction is my native tongue. Normally, it's what I read, the place I find the deeper, universal truths.
But then that wind picks up, I watch the trees bend and sway and blow and realize as I watch them - there is room for everything. That life has a way of making room for some of this and some of that. For the sun to roll around in that lucky ole sky all day and the moon to light our way by night. For us in spite of darkness to walk in the shadows of that bright light and pluck our way all the way home.
Lenten Refections in Real Time - Day 6
Every year it happens. A day that there is magic in the air. Where my spirit lifts off. Where the breeze finds my face, I close my eyes and dare to say - Thanks to the great Divine for my being alive.
Today's that day. The first day that my soul feels the kiss of Spring. It happens every year like an unwatched clock. Always an unaware dance. Slips up on me.
This morning I popped into a cafe for a bite, to work a bit and meet a friend and talk Books and the upcoming Confessions Tour.
The old men were talking. Every city I've ever lived in or city I've traveled to internationally - has a spot, a cafe, a coffee shop, a corner - where the old men talk about the trouble in this world. How they'd deal the cards if the deck was theirs. How they'd call the shots. Tell 'em all where to go if it were up to them. They tell stories of where they've been and what's happened. And, I love to hear them tellin it.
This morning I sat at my table, opened my laptop as my ears picked up the end of a story.
"So, I sent it back," he said, "I told 'em - This one didn't stand up to a snake killin'! So they sent me a new watch." There is appreciative chuckles and do-tells.
I wanted to ask him to take it from the top. Start over. Tell me about the snake. Were you under the house? Down by the creek? Up a mountain? Were you protecting a woman or a baby or an old dog? Did you kill it like my Memaw when a tassle of barefoot kids were screaming as a water moccasin chased us hard and fast around that sand yard. She came down three times on his head with her cane pole and the power of a mad Memaw. Mashed snake head flat and picked him up with the end of the pole and slung his dead into the woods. Did you kill it like that? And just how did that watch get in the way? What did that snake do to stop time?
But I didn't ask. I let the old men talk. You can't interrupt a good tellin'. Not on your first stop anyway. If I was there ever day I might end up being the only woman at that table. Trading talk, slinging stories. But I'd try not to make it habit. The old- men - they gotta talk about tigers and hunts and being wild once upon a time. Once. upon. a time.
Today, good is raining down.
I overheard a woman talking on her phone.
"Uh, huh. Shut your mouth. No, she did not."
I stopped writing. Turned my ear toward her.
"When he said, what he said, what I told you he said, when he said it - there was lightning in the sky. Swear. Swear on my dirty pride."
Now, i made that last part up. The dirty pride. That part is all me. Cause words play off my tongue sometimes. I wrote her words down. But I can't find them.
Today it rained down good things.
The sunshine called me. I found Percy Warner like a creature homing. Like old cat, Jake. I'd been babysitting him for a year till my sister moved again. Then she picked him up and took him to the new neighborhood. Jake walked three days through the woods. Braved coyotes and wilderness to sashay right in the back door and say - , I've back and mean to stay.
The sunshine called me out of my routine, my to-do list, that kiss of Spring - it's some kind crazy intoxication. It is. Me, these old, black boots have wed to my feet. No walking clothes. I. did. not. care. I walked. In the mud. Climbed those stairs.
My favorite new addiction. Sara's playlist on Spotify. She named it, Bookstore Vibes. Bear, the Parnassus Books official baby lover and dog greeter is the Image.
I took Sara's playlist on a little walk. And watched the people running by in gear made to run by with. And people like me called from the cars, staring at the sky in wonder, wondering how they got out of the house, away from the screens, like waking up after hibernation. Sometimes, we find we are fully, strangely awake. The pieces of our life, clinking into place. Right where they belong.
I left the park and popped over to St. George's to invite them to the Confessions book party. (Have I told you the whole wide world is invited?) I ended up aimlessly wandering the back halls and because I am a Trinity Girl I found the chapel. This is a part of my silent world.
A friend recently told me - "Knowing you like I do, I was surprised by your book, Praying for Strangers."
This person knows me more as a bourbon drinking Southern writer. Surprise. Yeah, I get that. It surprises me, too. Not the doing. Not the praying. Not the strangers. Not the stories. It's the telling of it that surprises me. I keep my faith cards close to my chest. Or - did. And, now here comes Confessions blowing down the aisle. Here comes the truth and the Amen.
Today, good is raining down.
Trinity girl in the chapel. Lit a candle for my Mama cause today that was on my heart. Said a prayer. Started to back away but then - there are those other lights. Candles flickering in the dark. Lit by hands outstretched, reaching for something. Answers, faith, love, remembrance. I thought about them, too.
The Church bells ring out in the courtyard. From somewhere down the hall, little kindergarten kids march to a gather in a hall where soon bagpipes begin. I run my fingers over prayer beads. Read St. Patricks prayer. Let tears find me fare-the-well. Sometimes, my spirit lifts off, soars in spite of me. My arms rise to my side and I walk the stairs like a two year told, balancing between here and there, fearless and full of faith.
Johnny Swim sings, Ring the Bells.
Good is raining down.
Reflections on Lent - Day 4
The storms have found us. Lightning strike, thunder boom. It has been a surprise for me today up on this hill. Was I not looking? Not paying attention to the weather? Apparently, that's a no go. I was working on the new novel when my alarm sounded. It was time for the live Reader Posse Round up at high-noon and I was looking forward to connecting with my readers, giving them a sneak peek of some new words from the page. But instead I kept repeating myself, finally gave in to giving up, hanging up. Calling it done. Later, I sent them an original short story as apology. Thanks for tuning in but today has been called due to weather.
My Lent embarkment has been to remember how to pray silently for a stranger each day. How to keep someone, place someone, on my heart in such a way it matters to me. Where I connect with someone human in a short, small way that reminds me to be human. 40 days. That's all. Surely, after having done this for three years running and then some I can pull off 40 days.
Then the storm. The things that waylay us. Storms in everyday. Storms in life. Things that derail us so easily from the goal we had, the lofty thing, the desire for better than we were before. But today - oh my, what a surprise. As I said, I was writing. Nested in. There had been grey skies and some clouds and so early on I built a fire just for purpose. The kind where you gaze and snuggle down and work sitting on the floor, laptop in - well, lap. Literally. I live up the hill without a basement much to speak of. More crawl space that I would think if I was crawling in the house would cave in upon me. Sometimes there seems to be no safe place. I have that closet I've written of. The one beneath the stairs. Close enough it's what I've got.
Today, I didn't venture out so no strangers met but still some find their way to mind. People used to ask me, "What do you do if you don't leave home that day? Then what? What prayers are lifted up or said?"
"There's always someone," I would reply. "An unknown authors name on the spine of novel laying out. The face in a newspaper, the voice on a radio."
Our worlds are encased with strangers.
Today, as the lightening struck near the house, connecting to the ground singing something out there somewhere, as thunder explodes even now as I write these words in such a way I start and jump, think - Will there be no end to this today? And the weather service sends me yet again an alarm that says Lightning has struck closer than a mile.
I want to tell them, Yes, I know. I'm living here. I was raised in the deep south. Full of storms and summers. This is the stuff that I was made of.
And I think of that first cousin to my stomping grounds, Alabama and her recent heartbreak. My stranger then today is this. Those who lost and are grieving still from storms that shook and killed and wiped away hearts and worlds. For them I bow my head today.
The lightning makes me jump, the thunderclaps are way too bold and truth be told the smallest vein of fear dares to run amok in me. But, I am not afraid to pray. For Peace be still. For kingdom come. Thy will be done. Even when my flesh opposes me.
Tonight, again - Alabama rests heavy on my heart. Because I know the storms have passed but the hurt lingers on. Always will. And the best we can do is to continue loving and try to understand.
I have witnesses. Let’s establish that fact. Most of my major oh no moments have had someone in the wings to say no. She did that. She really did. This woman is obviously not me. But I don’t have a photo of the day that I blew part of my hair off from lighting a gas oven after I had let the gas build up a litttttle to long while talk to my sister. We were telling important stories. She was listening until she heard an explosion and a scream and then. Silence. I was living in Pensacola attending the University of West Florida and studying Theatre. It was the morning for Dr. Yolanda Reed's Playwriting class which always made things more interesting. My sons were so young they weren't in school yet. They hung out with their gypsy mom and went to rehearsals with me and went to daycare when I was in class and when I was studying for midterms or finals they went to Panama City to hang out with Nana and Pawpaw at the creek. They ate a lot of Ramen Noodles and PBJ's. To their credit, they rolled with it.
And they got to witness on more than one occasion their Mom doing dumb things. Every family has it's stories. I've given them material for a lifetime long after I'm gone.
My sister and I can not have conversations that are a result of both of us being to tired to speak and our plates too full. We've gotten pretty primal with it. Down to a few grunts that we understand. A shorthand for communication. We understand one another. But back in the day we had looooonggg conversations on the phone catching up and telling stories. In detail. When I lived in Kansas City we once talked through an entire episode of some mini-series - for three hours. This was back when there were such a thing as long-distance charges. Then our Daddy got the bill. My younger sister was still living at home and the phone bill of course was still a Daddy thing. Then he went through the roof. But we took our storytelling time seriously. Which was really just us having a nice, long visit. Frequently. Catching up. With what had happened just the day before. In detail. Now when I hear Mama telling me a story that includes all the - And he said, and then she said, and then he told her and she said - I think - and people ask me where I got inspiration as a writer. We are made up of story. Completely. I find it odd when I get stuck somewhere and people are actually managing to have a conversation that doesn't include a story about something.
And on this day I was in the middle of a story when I started the gas on the stove to light the oven and since the pilot light was out I had to strike a match and stick it into the oven where the little flames would ignite. Only being in the mid stream of a story I kept talking after I turned on the gas. And, talking. And, talking. Then I lit the match and opened the door. This is where my sister heard the explosion, my scream, and the sound of the phone flying across the room and hitting the wall.
It's a few minutes before she hears anything else, she keeps calling me, yelling hello, wondering if she needs to call 911 and I pick up the phone and in an exasperated voice say - my hair.
FORGET ABOUT YOUR HAIR!! Are you burned? Are you alright???? She was screaming at me in that kind of frustrated I just thought my sister was dead but she is just complaining about her hair kind of voice.
Yes, I was ok. No, unbelievably I was not burned. But I did have a new-do. The distinct smell of singed hair all around my face. I had bangs where I didn't have bangs a moment ago. A shag where I'd been unlayered.
It was just a stupid thing. A human error caught up in a story kind of thing. No loss of life or limb or eyesight. But there had been a moment.
I"m just fine," I told her. The hair continued falling around my shoulders.
"Jesus, sister. Just, Jesus," she said.
Yes, I inspire people to pray. But not always for reasons you might imagine.
I went on to class, made it almost on time, and declared I blew up my hair. The smell alone as a witness.
My advice for the day - Don't stick your head in gas filled ovens - with or without a match.
It's most important that you keep living your story. And that you survive to tell it.
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
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.