There's an old song that sings about 'carrying moonbeams home in a jar'. I've always loved that song because it was one my mother used to sing when she was happy. I'm going to put it on my request list for the next sing along which we just do around our house all the time. Which is not the truth. Most of our singing is done in our hearts. We love music and have had some rather talented, musical players in the family but Mom and I don't count ourselves along their company. The funny thing is - I like to hear Mom sing. I don't think she would say the same for me except for one night we were camped around the kitchen table playing rummy and I broke into, King of the Road and she had a surprised look on her face said -
You could sing. I mean you don't sound horrible. You can actually sing that song.
Let's just say the bar is set incredibly low when it comes to my singing abilities. And apparently King of the Road by Roger Miller is the beginning and end of my repertoire but at least I have one go to favorite. I am much more Cameron Diaz character in My Best Friends Wedding singing Karoke at horrible warbler levels. I have had some bad singing experiences (like my 6th grade teacher trying to get me to harmonize with the other girls for a performance and going DON'T YOU GET IT???? WHY DON'T YOU GET IT???? I think she ended up telling me to mouth the words and not sing.) and those kind of things kinda shut down your performance schedule for the next fifty years.
Thankfully if people try to shut me up from telling stories I don't pay attention to them and won't shut up if they ask me to. And I do this thing called RADIO where I talk some, interview others, and play great music. I do not sing along.
I could not sleep. Could. Not. I tried Valerian root, warm milk, reading, no blue screens, more blanket, less blanket, fresh air, not air. Just as I was falling asleep I'd think of something that would startle me awake. I thought I heard Mom calling me in a desperate way. I startled awake, got up to go downstairs to check on her. Nope. Just my imagination. I almost went to sleep again. Startled awake. Wondered if I had forgotten to pour water on the fire I had started outside earlier. Mom was in the swing and me in the chair and we were in catch up mode as she pointed out which flowers needed more water. (watering flowers is Mom's thing and she has the greenest thumb I've ever known. I have figured out I can grow plants that don't have flowers. Ferns and ivy's. And, really, who can ever have enough fern and ivy?) Soooo I said - we should have a fire. And I got the lighter fluid and kept tossing it on the wood and relighting it to the whoosh sound. Mama said - you are gonna set yourself on fire. And I said - no, I'm not. I just like the instant heat. And, by the time we were ready to come in the wood actually caught fire.
Startle awake because suddenly I swear I can smell smoke and if the fire restarted it could blow embers onto my car which would blow up and that would catch the house on fire . . . I put on my garden boots and stomp downstairs and out the door. There is no fire. There is mist hanging on the trees so there is that dripping sound that is just the wet of the night air. But the sky is cloudless, the stars are out. It smells clean and good and I think to my surprise, This is August in the deep south and I could camp tonight by a fire. Camping. Something I haven't done in a while that I miss. (I have a new mastermind camping plan that involves Vespa's, the Natchez Trace, and one great backpack. This is a new plan that was inspired by riding the greyhound bus for forty thousand hours and it's still in the making.) But right now I'm in the backyard and I'm amazed at the peace and the quiet and the light. I decide to go to the front porch to see the moon. So I go back in, lock up that door and go out the front door.
And there was the moon. Pushing to full. And I thought - OH, it's you. No wonder I'm not sleeping. Full moons have a waking effect on me. Even if I can't see them. Call it strange or wondrous or both but like an animal - I am aware. I looked at the moon and at the new lights compliments of Nashville electric that light up the driveway in the dark. The light spills gently through the leaves of the trees and It reminds me so much of Daddy's creek and the light doing the same. I am thankful for the comfort of them. And I stepped to the edge of the porch where it's open and looked up at the sky and there she was in all her glory. A moonbeam! At first I thought I was looking at the milky way but then I realized no, this is something different. This is light. It is - Moonlight. And, it is a moonlight moonbeam shooting over my house and into the sky. I have seen many thing but I have never seen anything exactly like this. It was worth not sleeping.
If I hadn't taken time to sit with Mom and visit a little late yesterday, I wouldn't have seen it. Because I wouldn't have started a fire. And I wouldn't have startled awake in the wee hours to stagger outside have asleep and be accosted by starlight and fresh air and that moon.
I am always amazed at the things in life that catch me unaware. The moments that seem wrapped in surprise. The ways that natural elements combine to create something I see for the very first time. Still. At this age. At any age.
I hope tonight I get some much needed rest. But if I startle awake, out come the boots. I'll make some tea and head to the porch, look up at the sky and sing Moonbeams softly into the night.
Wherever you are hope you are able to catch a sacred, magical moment of your own and carry it gently to bed and into your dreams.
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.)
I said I was gonna do this and that. Start Mama's Blog called Go Ask My Mama and publish my new Patreon page. I have not. For a few reasons. One being the shutters. I have been painting the shutters and the porch because Mama said -
It just looks so depressing.
To which I said -
It's not depressed. You're just depressed so you see it through depressed eyes.
(Me and Mama have conversations this way. So don't worry. We have been at this relationship for years. Not much has changed except I would say I think we laugh more. And that's a very good thing. We need it.)
So, Mama wanted me to paint the house. I can't afford to paint the house but I did want to please Mama so I stumbled across a house on Pinterest that looked liked mine but it had painted shutters and window-boxes. I sent that picture to cousin Deb and she said - WOW! What a difference. I had to write back that's not my house. But we did get paint for the shutters. It is called FIRECRACKER. We tried little tiny samples of red this and that and the only one that would POP is the FIRECRACKER. I never knew I wanted to have firecracker shutters but I have always known that I wanted to make Mama happy except for a few times that I was too mad to want to make her happy. One was when I was nineteen and the other might have been fifteen. OH, and two other times but outside of that Mama being happy has always been like a goal of mine. My Daddy was just happy. And he was easy to make happier. It didn't take much. A good day fishing whether we caught anything or not was a great day with Daddy. More on Daddy for fathers day.
Mama. Well making her happy was a good thing cause turns out she is right. An old brown house with brown shutters with a side of brown brick is a lot of brown. I would not survive on Survival Island. I've always thought I would but after painting yesterday for four hours in the middle of the day I realize I would be the first to go. The short straw. The weak link. People tell me you are supposed to drink water and not coffee to undertake these types of challenges. That and maybe not painting when it is 454 degrees in the shade. But I am determined. I do have that going for me. And then I have the tiniest little big of that thing where once you get into something like counting toothpicks you can't stop. So now it's all about MUST FINISH PAINTING THE SHUTTERS. Because the fact is it has picked up Mama's spirits considerably and I count that a great thing. Depression hurts at any age. And if happiness and a little relief from that can be had for the price of a gallon of paint and some muscle work on my part - I'm all in.
Now to the news at hand that has saddened my heart.
I'm not going to write much about Anthony Bourdain except for this because the news is full of it. But It's truly why I didn't post that blog yesterday. I didn't see that one coming. Just like Robin Williams who was someone else I admired immensely. One of my sons had been on the security detail for Robin Williams when he went to entertain the troops and I treasured a photo of them together. Like Robin I have been a true fan of Anthony Bourdain since the beginning of No Reservations. I have his shows recorded. I've loved his books which I own. The most important thing to me was his compassion and understanding of people from all walks of life and all cultures. Someone referred to him as a global ambassador and I thought that fit him perfectly.
Years ago I had a dream where I was hanging out with Anthony (or Tony as his friends called him.) We were eating and talking and laughing like old friends. Having the best time and the best conversation. And I think in the dream I actually called him Tony and told him I hated to go but that I had to be in New York the next day to speak so I had to catch a plane. To which he replied, Well, I'll just come with you. So that we could continue our conversation. It was something I always looked forward to as if I would actually meet him in person and we would just pick up that conversation and laughter where we left off.
My heart goes out to all who loved him, to all of his fans, and to those who are experiencing the darkness that drove him to such despair. I am posting a link here for an article written by my good friend author Kerry Madden which just ran in the L.A. Times about how Anthony's death resurrected her painful past with family members who died too young by their own hand.
Maybe, someday in the wide, strange world of the hereafter I could still pick up that conversation like we had never missed a beat. In the meantime, I'll take a deep breath, and rewatch his shows and keep painting those shutters for Mama while she's in this world.
Be ye kind to one another. And, be kind to yourself. This world so desperately needs a gentle touch if any of us are to carry on. And for those who struggle with the dark edges of a depression that leads you down the path of imaging your death here is the link to the National Suicide Hotline. It's NEVER too early to reach out and get help. And it's never something to be ashamed of. 1-800-273-8255
Peace to you and all you love from The Hill,
The sun is still lazing it's way through these Tennessee hills. Hasn't broken ground yet. The birds don't care. They are singing as if Spring has sprung. An old rooster crows from down in the little valley and it bounces right up to us. I thought I heard a donkey but that could be wishful thinking. They are good for something and good company. Donkeys stuffed and otherwise have been my friends.
Rescue Kevin says he doesn't need to come inside to shake off the midnight cold today. He is fine thank you in the drive waiting for the sunrise and I should join him. He takes a bone and digs a hole, hides, hides, hides, it with his nose shoveling dirt and leaves and rocks to nestle it. No other dogs can walk around the yard because he growls when they draw close to bones buried for a year. It's like an easter egg hunt but not.
Last night I dreamed of things that could have been. After all this time. But I was tired the night before, had cried a little at carrying on but carrying on we must. Realizing we get tired of our burdens but then we are only human and that a little rest, a little tea and all will be well. Or better. Or different. Or all of these things. I woke and looked out at the dark and went back to covers. Now the sun is promising to rise on a new day.
A sign went up down the road on a large piece of land. It will be sold at auction soon. The sign said in just one tract. It is the most beautiful little meadow that meanders along Little Marrowbone creek, a ridge rises up behind it and in the middle against the hill, a tiny, white house sits silent like a chapel. Although I can't see it from the hill this is my view, the air that rises up above it. Down in the valley is that meadow and that house. For years hay was baled and rolled and before that cattle roamed freely. Beautiful, majestic.
Once Big Dog Titan loped off and went missing. For a day and then a night and I was beside myself with worry bordering heartbreak panic. Then a phone call reached me at work where I'd been writing a million dollar grant for Nashville State and the phone rings. A woman asks -
Are you missing a dog?
I say, Yes, I am, I am.
And she says -
I think I have him. Is he real big, and white?
And I tell her, Yes, he is. And she says -
I'm sorry but he is so big I was afraid to reach under that big mouth to read his tag. We locked him up in the goat pen but this morning we saw he was friendly.
Friendly was an understatement.
She said we live in a little, white house. There's cows out front but just come through the gate and then on down the path they won't hurt you.
I told her I knew her place and passed it everyday and I'd be right there.
My Big Dog! Oh, happy, happy, joy, joy!
I stopped to open the gate and drove in and closed it behind me so the cows didn't get out. Then I drove across that field up to the little, tiny house nestled up against the ridge. A grandmother's house. A great-grandmothers house. From times gone by when people didn't need so much of everything.
The door was opened but the screen shut and there stood Big Dog, in the tiny house now. The woman met me at the door.
Well, I can see he's yours. (This after a Titan hug as only he could do) Then, come sit down. I am 74 and this is my mother she is 93 and it was just the two of us here so we didn't know what to do. That's when I locked him in the pen.
'But he ain't nothin' but a baby,' her Mama said. "And he likes chicken.'
When I figured out this morning he was friendly I brought him in.
'He likes collards, too,' her Mama said, "And Biscuits."
Big Dog took up half the little kitchen, was bigger than the Mama.
She smiled at him and said again, "He ain't nothin' but a baby."
After some time the cows were gone. The field was empty but every year it would be baled for hay. A truck would be parked and I wondered. About the woman, about the mother. Big Dog passed away last year and I think of him every time I drive pass that spot. (You can click to read his eulogy.) I need to stop and take a picture. Because things will change now. Someone will buy that tract and like everything else around here begin to dig up the ground, plow it under, pour concrete. It will be houses upon houses or multiple apartments. People will move into them. The noises down my hill that rise up from the valley will be different. And in due time that will be okay.
They will be good people with children who will play in their yards and whose voices I might hear until dark. Then they will go in at night and turn out their lights, maybe say a prayer or be thankful at least they have a roof, a place to lay their heads. They will grow up and grow old but they will never know they live on holy ground where once upon a time there had been cows and a little white house and an old, woman who'd fed a BIG White Dog biscuits from her table while they waited for his human to come carry him home.
Recently I read and fell in love with Nathan Englander’s new novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth. Mr. Englander’s collection of short stories, What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank was a finalist for the Pulitzer Award. It won’t surprise me a bit if his latest walks away with it.
Set in the Middle East in present day it captures the relationship of Prisoner Z and his guard. The story evolves from and around that relationship. It features spies and counter spies, Jewish mothers, Immortal war generals and of course, lovers. It’s the kind of book that makes words that try to describe the novel too trite or too weak. Suffice to say, read it. If it’s your cup of tea - read it. If it’s not your cup of tea - read it. It feels like an important book. A really, timely, important book.
Quite by accident I bumped into an old Psychology Today post which was centered around Nathan Englander and an interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. A reader had posted a comment a year ago that I suddenly just saw. Which led me back to the post. Which led me back to reading it and thinking - that was 2012 - this is 2017. The question is still relevant. The weight on my heart even heavier.
In no way do I mean to embarrass Mr. Englander by posting this memory but the words he shared in that interview are as heart-wrenching and moving to me today as they were then. As is his new novel.
In spite of the news that terrifying news from around the world that seems to pop up on my phone by the minute I lean into the words of Anne Frank as anointed as they ever were.
“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Anne Frank
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.