At some point I fell in love with the fog that rises up on this hill. Then I fell in love with it again and yet again. The fog rises from the water along the bay where I am from so that many mornings you couldn't see a car a foot from you. Everything shrouded, moving as if we were each of us a ship sailing though open waters.
This house up on this hill, the same. It's the odd thing that has hooked and attached me to Tennessee. The Gulf Coast salt water girl in me realizing, ahhh, the fog, the wind. Like sisters of familiarity that wrap me close and help me to remember who I am. Not so far from things I've known.
Along the Gulf the wind is a constant on most days. Some light, some heavier but a constant that is not realized until it stops in the dead of summer. In dog days with heat lightning and a stillness that will weight down the steps of the youngest, strongest man. Otherwise it's constant. It has taken me awhile to understand my happiest days are when the wind hits the house on this hill with such force we take sail. It whistles and moans and the house breathes and we move along at the breakneck speed of nothing. But something in it sounds like the familiarity of home and it settles my soul in its whining.
This year in a desperate attempt to save Mom's Florida plants - great palms and rose bushes and gardenias and all manner of things I have no name for that were not planted in the ground (she the green thumb, mine the black) I had a friend nail up thick visquine around the porch. So thick it blocks the view. My favorite thing - gone. So now when we look out the living room windows we see a haze of plastic instead of trees etched against the sky, rolling off into the air, the ridge beyond. My mother finds it comforting I think. A flatlander at heart. It's a simply lovely grey and is more grounding. She has the most beautiful views from her bedroom windows. She keeps the curtains closed. This is a life-long battle of mine that I should soon forget, give up, it's over. Let's keep it cozy, she would say while I scream for light. Air. Freedom.
I would do good to live at sea.
The plastic. It had to be reinforced around the little porch top to bottom and to the side. It's where I'd made rescue Kevin's bed, blankets upon blankets by the chairs. A heating pad for freezing nights. His food bowls. Out of the cold and wind. He eyes the plastic suspiciously. I sat with him on the porch floor, my back against the wall as the great wind rolled up the hill and slammed into that visquine and filled it like a mighty sail, released it and then slammed and filled it up again. He rolled his eyes at me. It's ok boy, I said. We're just like a ship at sea. His doubt etched deep into his eyes. When I'm not there he sneaks down the stairs to the leaves on the side of the house, hunkered down into the certainty of the ground of Tennessee. No boats life for he.
The last two nights the coyotes have came calling. Down the hill in the direction of the old farm. It started up low and then quickly grew and then it seemed a hundred of them howling and calling. I rose from my Nyquil slumber having been hit with this dystopian wildfire flu that assails the country and hung my head out the window. I'm not much a party to screens for this reason. I fight those blasted bugs just because I long to lean, to see the moon, the branches etched against the ground in that strange light of night that remains a wonder - after all these years. Me still child like hanging out beneath the stars. And there they sang and then Kevin joined in but his song is a deeper one - a low lament because it sings, I am alone and I am alone, because that's the only song he knew before I brought him home.
He has other words, bear growls and grumbles that he uses when I pet him, stroke his fur. But these are different, these are at once, thank you and don't leave me and what took you so long to find me and you don't know the trouble I've seen and I've been so alone.
Because unlike Big Dog Titan who would wake and bark from inside the house when the coyotes started it up, he never had a human to wrap an arm around his big shoulder, pat his head and say, There, there boy, it'll be alright. It's just coyotes singing and soon the morning light. Now, let's go back to bed.
Tomorrow the meadow goes to auction, all one hundred seventeen acres of it. And I think the coyotes know. I think they sing a song of mourning, of moving on. Of change to come. Surely they feel it in their bones. They'll be searching for higher ground. Somewhere safe to live in shadow.
Like most of us. That song. That lament. Searching for home. For someone to say - there, there, it will be alright. Soon, so, very soon - morning light.
Some years ago I spoke at the Gulf Coast Writers Conference about the act of birthing a new book. I broke the book down into trimesters, comparing the significance and similarities between the stages of conception to delivery. The attendees loved it.
People rushed to ask me, "What book were you reading from? I want to buy that book! I must have that book."
"My journal," I said. "I just wrote this this morning." I got lucky. I was inspired. One of those magic moments when things pour out of you and through you.
And, somewhere in my journals of musings I have that original draft. Wish I could lay hands on it now. But this morning that day and that analogy came back to me so powerfully because I feel that restless, obsessive sense that the time isn't only near, it is arriving. The contractions have begun.
Almost everyone knows there are different stages to giving birth but if you have delivered a baby you have a different perspective. That sense of urgency and that you cannot escape what is happening. You will not eat dinner, watch a movie, or stare at that spot on the wall without thinking of pushing. It's all about the delivery at this point.
The weeks leading up to going into labor are hot, heavy and boring. They were for me. The nursery if you have one has been fixed. The maternity clothes are no longer cute. They are hideous. All those little booties and onesies you awwed over - you are waiting to fill them but bouncy excitement has been replaced with a solid determination. I WILL have this baby! And - it is TIME TO HAVE THIS BABY. When you are 91/2 months pregnant with your first child it feels like 10.5 years. People looked at me and instead of saying all those, "You're just glowing!" declarations they now said, "I'm sooooo sorry," as I waddled on swollen feet.
I went from being afraid of the pain of giving birth as a young mother for the first time to saying - bring it on! After four thousand hours in labor I finally gave birth to a ten pound baby. Then the doctor apologiesed saying he just had no idea and didn't know the baby was that big or they would have done a c-section and so on. (I tried to tell him I couldn't breathe!) But the baby was healthy and I survived the ordeal. Excuse me - miracle of giving birth.
When I had my second son I knew it was D-day the moment I woke up. I told my sister who was going in the delievery room with, "You better get off from work because today is the day." Like the amazing sister she is, she believed me. She did. And on a list of errands a day long while standing in the grocery store marking things off the list I went into labor. We had to leave a few items still on the shelves.
It was not a long delivery but it was an unplanned completely natural one as the only shot person could not be found. Enter the pushing method via all natural method. I didn't ask for natural.
The BIG PUSH
For some (see many) months I've been overdue on my final manuscript submission for Confessions of An American Mystic. But something wasn't right. It wasn't just that life had derailed me, it was more. I was having trouble with the content. Having completed the book once and submitted all it needed was a good rewrite. But when I went back to the pages I thought it needed more. I just didn't know what.
You can't just say - ok, I decided, it's time. I've been elephant pregnant at this point and I'm gonna have someone just take it out. Nope. Doesn't work that way. Conceptions is it's on act. But so is growth, development, and something mystical, a mystery we can't lay our hand on even if we say we can. The miracle of something coming to life. Of the sacred story making it's way - finally - into the world.
The baby is ready to be born. I'm pacing the floor, talking to myself and going back to hitting the keys.
What's being born in your world? Are you going through that moment when inspiration first hits? Like that kid in the picture when that moment first arrives it is pure delight. The big Eureka moment. It's a moment worth savoring and enjoying. Because the time to dig in, roll up your sleeves and begin the real work will start soon. And, there isn't always a certainty of when that looks like.
Sometimes a story midwife needs to be called in. One like the excellent Blake Leyers. I did that recently because I couldn't see forest for the trees. You might need a professional eye on your words. Although a writers critique group can be invaluable sometimes it's a good thing to get a read from a professional outside your circle. The world of editors are worth more than their weight in gold. They illuminate the manuscript, see the parts that need to come to life, or need to be cut away.
That 2nd part of the trimester is not the bubbles moment of conception but it is when you put the words to the page and then work them.
But when the push comes, regardless of who is with you in the delivery room, no matter how many cheerleaders, when it comes to writing a book only you can know exactly when it's time to say -
A story is being born.
Godspeed with your words.
It was all Mercy and Magic last night as The Porch, a Nashville writer's collective hosted it's 3rd annual fundraiser. The Green Door Gourmet opened it's doors to board members, supporters, writers and fans and rolled out a great evening in support of the fine art of storytelling in both spoken word and song.
I had a fine 'backstage' seat as the official Parnassean on duty womaning up the Parnassus book table. Wally Lamb took a seat beside me in the darkened corner as we listened to Mary sing, "We all could use some Mercy now, which seemed like the most appropriate anthem for the country. As a mother of two sons who are veterans from different wars I was more than a little moved by Mary's work with soldiers in a special songwriting project dealing with images from where they've been and what it's like back home.
Sometimes you don't know what an author is like when you happen to fall in love with their work, read them from afar. It's always a pleasure to meet the personality behind the page and delighted to report that Wally Lamb is down to earth, patient, kind, with a genuine smile and father's heart. He spoke of this 18 years of work teaching a writing group at a women's prison and closed the evening reading a piece written by a 'lifer' that described the concept of time from a perception most of us will never understand except through works like that. I love a man who has so many bestsellers and dares to close the evening reading words from another.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the good work going on at The Porch check out their website, classes, offerings and happenings. The brainchild of Katie McDougall and Susannah Felts, The Porch provides a space for writing development in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. One of the things that is used often in conversation regarding the classes is the wide diversity of ages, backgrounds, education, lifework and so forth that the students bring to each class. I've had the pleasure of teaching a few classes at The Porch and I agree. This wild diversity for each workshop brings with it an incredible enriching experience for all those who attend.
Watch for news of an upcoming podcast launch in partnership with Nashville's NPR station. It's going to go all kinds of crazy National before we know it.
It's this kind of creative work that Nashville produces at its best. The kind that promotes not only storytelling but story listening. Resulting in a compassionate, diversely rich, deeply enriching experience. There's never been a better time for that Nashville type of unified, collaborative storytelling to take the National stage.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.