This is not funny.
I have mice. Not a mouse. Mice. Plural. Hiding under my house. The bird-feeder hangs at the porch where Mom can easily see the birds. The seeds that they throw all over the porch picking out the sunflower seeds fall through the cracks of the porch straight into the crawl space. I am surrounded by woods and big trees with lots and lots of leaves. And I had plumbing leaks I inherited and didn't know about and so all the insulation under the house got wet and weary. Mix in the scent of dog food wafting from the house and apparently, these things create the perfect storm of calling all mice to micedom come.
I had to have my oil changed. When the mechanic came out and said - I need to show you something, follow me I told him -
Don't show me anything that cost more money because I don't have it. It's better for me to drive in ignorance.
But he said -
You have a nest being built in your engine under the cover and mice have chewed on all of your wires.
The evidence was obvious. A healthy little nest nearing completion. I am just a few days of house building chewing from 1000 dollar replacement charge.
You'll know when they get it all because your car just won't start.
I look at him numbly. No connection.
I have never considered myself a girlie-girl no matter how much I love the smell of strange perfume. In another life I would have been a bush pilot which I guess would require a certain degree of toughness so I try to stay tough just in case a piper cub is given to me as a gift. And - I love luxury. I sure could use some luxury right about now. Room service. For days. Three days of room service would just about fix what ails me. Just about.
Back to the mice and killing creatures.
I was born to create things not kill them. It is my nature to help soothe to take the pain away, to say soft little things like - there, there and everything's gonna be alright.
I also loved the movie Rataouille where the cute, little rat discovers that he can cook like nobody's business. So sweet. My grandmothers old house had rats. Wharf-rats. Huge gangster rats. They are not cute. They cannot cook. I killed them. With poison. It was horrible. I'll spare you the details.
Have you ever watched Cinderella? Well, without those mice she'd still be there today scrubbing up after her mean stepmother and horrid stepsisters. The mice saved her and sewed her a beautiful dress while they sang happy songs. My mice are not singing. I do not believe they are trying to help me have a great night out of dancing till dawn. Matter of fact they don't care about me at all.
I came home and took down the bird-feeder. Momma said,
I wouldn't let some mice keep her from seeing the birds.
I just saw a bird. He was blue. Just beautiful.
That's cause he was hungry cause it's winter and he was looking for the feeder.
I'm standing my ground. No birdseed until this situation is under control.
Soooo, hi ho hi ho it's off to buy some poison that I go. But not the sticky feet paper thing. I can't listen to mice scream because they are stuck to paper. I just. can't. do. it. Thankfully a mouse-slayer is flying in this week to come tackle this issue but I must make certain they don't return.
If anyone has any all natural surefire way to rid me of this problem and protect my engine I'll buy you lunch. It will not be ratatouille.
Most authors I know are not athletes. Now, mind you I am impressed and inspired by so many of them. I have author soul sisters who write like the wind while staying in great shape balancing life, mind, body, soul work. And the business of writing. Some like author friend Patti Callahan Henry are yoga enthusiasts while author buddy Shellie Rushing Tomlinson lifts weights while curling her lashes and talking on her phone (she's a real multi-tasker) and so many others who are in just real fine shape but I still hold to the fact that MOST of the writing friends are not true athletes. Given the choice between running two miles or writing two thousand words most of them would choose the word count.
Years ago I arrived to give a talk at the MTSU Writer's Loft program annual dinner. When I walked into the event location something seemed odd. I realized everyone around me was really toned and muscled and downright buff. I thought - man, writers have really changed since I came out of the cave from writing my last book. When did this happen?? Then I discovered that there was a body building thingy going on down the hall to my left and my writer thingy was going on down the hall to the right. I entered the room where everyone looked a little more - relaxed. Not like they were doing a hundred curls and crunches just before I walked in the door. Enter official sigh of relief here. There hasn't been a major shift in the writing game. It's much the same.
So although I wasn't born an athlete there are incredible lessons to be learned from those who were. There is a particular quality of focus, mental preparation, and strong-willed determination. The type that leads across that finish line, home plate, the end zone.
In the news today front and center is the incredible Serena Williams winning her 23rd Grand Slam. "You fight!" was her battle cry to push herself to play to win in the midst of that final match against her sister, Venus. (Perhaps writers need a battle cry at the keyboard. YOU TYPE!!!) At an author Dutch Lunch in Nashville a few years ago someone asked - If you could be anyone for just one day who would you choose? My answer was Serena Williams. Everyone laughed because they said it seemed like a bizarre choice for me. But I wondered - What would it feel like to wake up in the body for just one day? To have that kind of physical power and control. To have the strength that could move mountains.
Perhaps we all need a battle cry when we are staring down the thing. When we decide we're going to keep play again in spite of - what happened, what frightens us, what challenges us. That showing up and playing it safe is not playing at all. It's pretending to play and there's a big difference.
I know so many wonderful women who have fought the battle of breast cancer and faced that fear and that fight with incredible courage. Who have stood tall, worked hard, and continued to offer words of encouragement to others around them in the middle of a fight for their lives. If you saw these people walking their walk you'd never know what weight rested heavy on their shoulders.
"You fight!" is something that many of us need to say as we open our eyes. As we look in the mirror. As we balance a bank account. Pay another bill. Hammer another nail. Sometimes fighting means saying grace, giving thanks, counting a blessings in the midst of a mess. Finding the one thing that can make you smile, making someone else smile - sometimes that's a struggle. But it's a worthy one.
Mom and I watched an old episode of Frasier last night. We laughed at the stupidity of those two brothers, the entire episode a comedy of errors. We needed that laugh.
Today as I thought about Serena and her win, about that battle cry, I realized I've moved a lot of mountains this year. I bet you have too. I'm still pushing. Shirt sleeves rolled up, dirt on my face. I came to play. I'm back in the game. And, I intend to win. For myself, for my family, and those who touch my life.
That would be you.
Looks like I've made it. I've got the Big Corner Office. A Great view over the city. Steaming Java courtesy of Fido's. Here's the deal. A lot of people who dream of being a writer want the romance of a lifestyle often afforded to the rich and leisurely lifestyles of the rich and famous. But there is so much more behind the page and beyond the view going on. Always.
On this particular day I did cop a corner office with a view for a few hours of writing and research. Poet and Writers mag opened and at the ready to find those hidden places writers can apply for a little time and quiet to get a few good words down. But all of that - the moment of freedom, the financial upturns, the kudos from readers (most important) or from critics (greatly appreciated) isn't the whole picture.
For one thing - when I learned that I was a writer I didn't know squat about a lifestyle. Couldn't tell you if a writers life was different than a farmers or a judge. So it wasn't a lifestyle that called me. It was a calling.
When I was a little girl my mother read Four Little Kittens to me. It was one of the books that I would say - Again - Over and over. Wore it out. Here's the premise - A barn cat has four little kittens who one day ask their mother before they go out into the world to please tell them what kind of cats there are. So she sits up, half closes her green eyes and begins to tell them about the other cats in the family and what they were. Ships cats, Alley cats, Barn cats. But one little kitten tried all those things and none of them felt right until finally he was picked up in a dark alley and taken home to a little girl. Then he discovered he was a cushion and cream cat - in other words - a house cat.
Most of us spend much of our young lives trying to discover what kind of cats we are. As a little girl I had a cowgirl outfit with fringe. I don't ride horses although I still like fringe. Being a cowgirl wasn't my destiny. I also had a red painters smock and I loved to paint. But I didn't grow up to be a painter. I can skate like the wind but I didn't grow up to become s roller derby queen. I danced like crazy to everything I heard and I still love to dance but I didn't grow up to be a professional dancer.
But I grew up in the lap of story - that is all things southern. Heat lightning, long summers, family stories , a front porch. A wild tribe of cousins. Pick up trucks and back roads. Creeks and crazy. Jesus fans in tiny back woods churches.
By sixth grade I was writing prayers and poems with a slight sophistication so that my teacher requested a conference with my mother to tell her - She's a writer. (many of you know that story so hang in here) That moment was the aha moment of my life. It was my four little kittens moment where one knows what one IS. I didn't know anyone in the family who was a writer. I didn't know anyone in the whole entire world who was a writer. But suddenly I knew I was one. And from that moment on there was nothing in my life that I pursued that wasn't related to that. No matter how many jobs I had to support myself or my children - the inside story was the true was. I was a writer. A Storyteller. It was my destiny. Still Tis. On stage, page, or on air. Same, same.
The first time I went to college it was on a small scholarship for broadcast journalism. I'd been broadcasting in my senior year under the awesome mentoring of teacher Anna Kelly. She recognized something in me that meant business. A desire to discover the truth. To find the story, to tell the story. So my path led that far. To a college station and doing the news. To learning to drop my W's. To enunciate on occasion. To sound much less southern than I am.
Years later I returned to college in Pensacola at the beautiful campus of UWF and fell into a playwriting class while studying broadcasting and journalism. I met Dr. Yolanda Reed and a handful of young writers (God, we were still all so young looking back) It was pretty much perfection. A moment, a Zeitgeist, Kismet, Divine Intervention - the turning point of things to come. It was in this group I found my voice. The tone and timbre of things to come.
Then life. More life. Thousands of words. The publication of one novel, two novels, three novels, four novels, a collection of essays, and a book titled Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit. To a mystery novel completed but not rewritten. To a spiritual memoir under contract and due soon.
Then all hell broke loose. I went through a dark season that seemed to have no end and to a separation that ultimately led to divorce. Which I will not discuss. Period. Let the past bury the past. Let seasons change. Count all good times and good blessings, every answered prayer, every precious Divine moment clasped and kept. As old Frank once sang, Regrets, I've had a few but then - too few to mention.
Point of all being - I stopped writing. What I had written when I returned to the page to rewrite I didn't like. I didn't feel like I was at that place anymore because I wasn't. My life, my experience, my hopes, my dreams had changed. It took me awhile to stop lamenting and look forward.
When a writer loses their words it's a sad day. In the midst of all the good fortune, the company of my children, the delight of my grandchildren, the treasure of my sister, my mother and the laughter of cousin Deb - the prayers of readers, the toasts of good writer friends - there is still the silent emptiness where the words should come but the well feels dry. Painful. And in that silence there is a fear that is unnamable. It is the untouched truth, the silent cry, the disrupted truth.
But time and angels wings heal wounds. Salty tears. And a courage that finally shows up strong enough to face down the angriest winds of regret and remorse. That stands like flint in the sandstorm. Rage on. I will not bend. Not again. God's got this, always did, always has.
And has always known that I'd come back to the words. That I'd sit down and open up a vein and begin again. Sure nuff.
Final rewrites on Confessions of An American Mystic: Stories and Faith and Fiction and - - - (subtitle still in progress) near completion. That rewrite on the mystery novel right behind it. Circling the final
chapters on the Sugar Baby novel and the completion of that new dystopian novel I'm 30,000 words into - soon thereafter. This year I am praying that God will give back the years the locust have eaten. For me. For you. For us. In spite of EVERYTHING.
Time to move forward by moving on and stop pretending to be someone else. Someone quieter, smaller, weaker.
Oh, I do believe I feel a rooftop coming on.
My mother has moved in with me. It seems like only yesterday that we were just like this, her in the drivers seat, her being the one to keep me steady on my feet, her keeping me balanced so that I didn't go careening off into the dark night, bad decisions, high fevers, or swampy creeks.
Now I'm the one that is trying to keep things balanced. Keeping them from tipping over. We are having such a great time. Really, we are. You laugh? You doubt it? I can see why. There are days that I stomp through the house exhasperated by her every sigh or comment. Days where I turn fourteen and want to go to room and slam the door. But my door doesn't slam because its just one more thing I have to fix in this house so there's no point. Instead, we find something we can agree on to watch or we tell old stories and laugh. Thank God she has a sense of humor. Most days I have mine. She follows me around the house with lipstick trying to get me to just "put a little color on" and reminds me to use lotion on my face. A lot. Like every time she looks at my face. She is also the Queen of the List. There is always a list of things we need. As soon as I leave for the store a new list has begun. Daily trips to the store are a bizarre part of my family history. It's as if we can only buy one thing a day. Or three. But never all of the things. When I was in high school and was sent to the store that was fine because Cousin Deb was with me and we always took the really, really long way which means we did everything we wanted to between the house and the store. Now the store is a chore. Particularly when someone is following your around the house with a plastic bag that has the name of a particular brand of three ply double roll extra size super soft paper with no truck tracks in the middle of it so that you can "READ every word so you get it exactly right." This is why I studied literature. I just know it. It's come to this.
But I get it. The little things matter when they seem to be the only things you might possibly have control over. The pressures of giving up your home after fifty years, making a move to the mountains after being a flatlander all your life (her words) and giving up so many shades of independence are challenging in every way. Trying to still find things when many are still in storage, reaching for the light in the middle of the night and realizing it's in the wrong place. That everything is in the wrong place. Mourning an old house like a family member. Because it was such a part of the family for so many years. The shelter for every tropical storm and hurricane. That little brick house held every family member far and wide while the storms raged outside. It was our lifeboat and our arc. Through the literal Florida storms and from life's storms. When grandparents grew sick and elderly and moved in with us. When there were car wrecks and bad news. The death of pets. Of bad grades. Broken hearts. Celebrations. Birthdays. It was all right there and my mother was the captain of that ship. Period. My Daddy was in the Army and away much of the time until he retired. Then he came home and took his place without ever removing her from hers.
Now so many things fall to me. Just cause this is the way that life shook out. It has a way of doing that. Taking a road we didn't expect but then that is life. And as family we make the best of it. As a writer I empathize with my mother making a change so significant we don't discuss it too much. The decision to let go of the car keys - one of the hardest of a lifetime. My mother's parents never owned a car, never drove. If I felt the day I had my own set of keys and eventually my own set of wheels represented freedom - for her that had to be a kind of rising up and driving out that came from a much deeper place. It represented more than sixteen year old I gotta be me. It represented a rise out of poverty, a way to have a job and keep a job, a success that meant she could buy a little house, build a family, have a little girl that would ride shotgun some day.
And, I did. Those were glorious times. My mother finally bought the car of her dreams. A big Oldsmobile convertible. White with red leather interior. A dream machine. She drove with confidence behind the wheel wearing scarves over her hair and streaming behind her, cat eye sunglasses. She was amazing, looked like a movie star. Riding in that front seat beside her, the sun shinning down, the radio playing, I knew that Mom was in control, that we were traveling down that road, and that all was well with our world.
Now, a blink of an eye later, I'm behind the wheel. She's riding shotgun. And I can only pray that I will exude just a little of that air of confidence she possessed. The kind where she can truly I believe that it's okay. In spite of her home being shifted beneath her feet, her keys having slipped away. That in spite of it all - all is well with the world. That the road before us is a long one. To trust me enough that I do know the way. That life is still a great adventure. We just have to take it one day, one moment at a time.
It's officially - yeah this really happened week.
Let's start here. X. I am apparently out of Zaza full functioning mode. I mean the kind of mode that mommies with multiple children of various ages operate in everyday. They can change a baby with one hand, put out a kitchen fire with the other and hold down a toddler trying to escape with a big toe all in one day. While talking on the phone with customer service about an overage on that cable bill. Me, not so much. Used to. Absolutely. No matter what my kids tell you.
Recently I had the little Wolf Pack all at one time. Ages 2-7. I think I'm out of practice. Ok. I know I'm out of practice. I ran up and down the stairs. Being up when I needed to be down and down when I needed to be up. When I told my son I wanted to keep them all for the long weekend together - he laughed. Matter of fact it was a crazy mad scientist laugh. He called one time to see how it was going. I think he was laughing so hard he was crying when he hung up that time.
It was like this:
I kept up the artificial tree that I never before had as it went against the sacred live tree family tradition. (Sorry Raymond Atkins) See previous posts on Facebook for full fake tree disclosure) But the Wolf pack wanted the tree up and to stay up and up and since it didn't need water in spite of the fact I kept thinking - Gee this tree feels dry, think I'll give it water - to keep wolf pack happy - I left tree up. Little did I know that they had evil plans of their own such as taking all the underwear from the laundry basket the moment I left the room and decorating said tree with it.
Or helping to clean by trying to flush juice bottles down the magic water hole.
But at the end of the day - I wouldn't have traded those funny moments in between, the snuggle movie moments, the story time, car time, lego time, fire time.
Which reminds me - when a kid says with wistful bulging eyes, OH, WOW!!! you mean that's what happens to paper when you put a match to it! When you are building a fire - might be something I want to tell their parents.
Back sore. Heart full. Wolf pack, next time - sleeping over means nap time and a good book!
Click, Clack Moo is on the nightstand.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.