Sometimes you have to listen to your inner instincts. The small voice we hear that whispers, this way, follow me. For some it is the voice of God. For others their sixth sense. For me I’d say it’s a combination of both considering they are one and the same.
Fifteen years ago I moved to Nashville following that voice. That’s the short and simple version of the story but it was that clear. Nashville. No other place on a map filled with other places, many options. I knew no one in the city, had no relatives in the area, and no particular job. It was the city where I had to be. I’ve never regretted following that voice but never more-so than last Monday when the celestial heavens aligned.
While others across the nation had carefully plotted their path for many years I lived oblivious, caught up in the daily rapture and apocalypse of my own life. It was only a few weeks ago that I actually realized the eclipse was headed my way. Or that I was headed toward it. Then I began to feel a bit unsettled. I blamed it on the news, the rolling tide of my emotions. On deadlines or fatigue. On just being me - artistic and emotive, passionate.
Plans were in the making all around me. All of the big events, major parties, bands and eclipse watching gala's. Glasses sold out, were recalled, sold out again. I never bought any. I bought Guinness. There was that small instinctual voice again. Alone, it whispered. So alone it would be. I would sit on my porch, watch and wait with expectation. Experience the unknown of what would come.
I woke up Monday saying Eclipse Day! As if it were Christmas morning. I was giddy. Such a silly word but I felt silly not melancholy. I worked on a short story about a woman waiting for the eclipse. The refrigerator man came to repair the fridge. I looked at my watch. I told him that it was about to penumbra was coming. I told him he could take a Guinness with him. I might have been hinting.
My house is circled with trees. Large Oaks of every kind, Elms and Hickories. I love the light passing through the filter of their leaves. The sun on their bark, the fog that moves through their limbs in the early morning dawn. I have a relationship with these woods.
I sat on my tiny, front porch, watched the shadows shifting forward, opened a beer. There was the singing of the cicadas and the birds. Dogs barked off in the distance down the hill. It was the middle of the day but night was falling, the shadows lengthening. There was the slightest of breezes and I felt the coolness on my skin as the day gave pause, began to bow to the passing of the moon.
I watched this approaching night for the hours it unfolded and then at the speed of atoms splitting, totality crashed over me. It was as if the keys of a thousand doors were unlocked at once and forever. And it took my breath. I whispered Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - not in fear or even in prayer - but in awe and wonder. A word of praise and thanksgiving to have lived in this moment in time, to have lived in the path of this happening and to be experiencing it in such an immediate and profound way.
I stepped out into the open beneath the dark sky where stars had appeared. Fireflies lit up the grass everywhere as if they had been standing by waiting for their orders to lift off. There are few moments in life this powerful and profound.
Day began to slide out from under the moon again, sweep across the yard, shadows being chased away by light until the fullness of day returned. The sound of the crowd miles away at the Riverfront irrupted into cheers.
Late that afternoon I watched the Nasa coverage, the interviews with people from all nations. This moment so exciting, so breathtaking. So unifying.
The following day I was in Parnassus Books greeting customers Visitors who had traveled all these miles to be right where I was all along. Sharing stories of where they’d been, how they’d watched. One man from Texas looked at me and said, “Totality is everything.”
"Yes," I said. “90% isn’t good enough,” he continued, adamant about this. He was preaching to the choir. “No sir,” I said. “Its totality or nothing at all.”
Another couple had traveled from Tampa. The man told me that they had run from the clouds farther up in Kentucky. Ended up pulling off of the interstate and watching from a field behind JC Penny. The woman said it was perfect. Her eyes were still filled with the wonder that I had felt. “An Indian man from New York and his family stood next to us,” he said, “and he watched the whole thing with his hand on his heart. He told me afterwards that in his religion this was a spiritual experience.” He smiled at me, tired from so many miles but so fulfilled. “I told him, buddy in my religion it’s a spiritual experience too.”
Another man told me, “You know, for just a minute we all stopped fighting. It wasn’t about politics or arguing. We were all in the same place. Suddenly we were all on on the same page.”
Eclipse books were on sale. People were buying them up. Opening to the pages for their next pilgrimage. Marking the trajectory. “Argentina,” one woman told me, “I was born there and haven’t been back in thirty years but I’m going for this.”
I realize that the world has scoffers, people who fall into the category of - What is all the noise about? Big deal. Sun, moon, eclipse - I get it. And those that say, Well, that was an interesting show, now let’s get back to business. But there’s another group. The ones who were deeply affected when those celestial bodies aligned, who felt an awakening of bold Illumination. When for those few minutes we became one people, looking heavenward, eclipsed by the vastness of the universe, our politics as small as those distant stars in the horizon. When all the pleasure and pain of simply being human traveling through this vast corridor of time was the greatest miracle of all.
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.
A little advice. Don't take your mother to the doctor and then feel guilty about leaving Big Dog and Little Dog so you tell them they can go for a RIDE when the doctors office is the designation. They think they are going to the PARK. They think they are going for a WALK. They do not think you are late for an appointment and need to take six bags, a bottle of water, a blanket, a coat, and get all in the door while leaving them behind, noses pressed out the crack in the windows.
A very special shout out and Thank you to Dr. WayneDay and his crew at Belle Meade Dermatology. They made mom's visit as painless and quick as possible, were downright genuine and put her at ease. I had picked up six magazines to take back to the little room where we expected to wait two hours for a doctor. Someone saw us before we could turn the first page. Bravo guys on being a beautiful exception to the rule. (But you still have a great mag selection. Might just arrive early next time to catch up on some reading.
Any Doc appt can be a little stressful in spite of how great everyone is so I decided getting Mom something cold to drink and a Fat Mo's burger would be just the ticket followed by a drive through our very own Central Park - Warner Parks in West Nash. So Beautiful. Watched the waning light looking out over the steeplechase field as the dogs alternately whined and tried to eat our hamburgers. I shared one with them, cranked the car and hit the trail. Mom pointed out -
It's really pretty and would be prettier if someone would pick up all those dead trees.
Ummm, kinda big place. Like, really big place. Nature doing it's thing and all that.
I'm just saying.
Big Dog and Little Dog got a chance to pull me through the cold across a field.
Back in the car I put in one of Mom's mixed cd's and drove on. Titan and Duncan stuck white noses out windows, sniffed the air. We spotted three deer. And mom said -
Look, it's just a baby.
Creedence Clearwater sang - I see a Bad Moon Arising.
I just love this song.
I turned up the volume. The sky grew darker. Drove left/right/round in circles like we were lost, like we would never find our way out, like lost was the only way we knew.
Then we emerged from the woods, cleared the trees, the lights of Nashville glittering.
Look, at the lights. And, there's a church steeple. We made it. We're not lost.
I turned due West and let the music take us all the way home.
Again it happens. My first visit to Nashville was based on my being a presenting author for my first novel, The Gin Girl (a swamp noir mystery) at SoFest as we call in here around the city.
So you might say it was Sofest that brought me here and Nashville that kept me. But I have no doubts that move was Divine in its making.
Right now authors are in packing to fly, drive, motorcade or camel back their way to the Athens of the South. Over 200 of them. Wise cracking and snarky, brilliant and inspirational, romantic and historical. Every genre and mood represented. The fact that it's FREE FREE FREE should be enough reason to get in the car, cancel other plans, stop what you are doing and attend. If I could drive to your door and pick you up and bring you I would.
Book festival have become more than a simple celebration of the word or a chance to hear your favorite authors tell funny stories about dropping their pants at the front door (Rick Bragg) or singing a song about Baloney and Beer (Clyde Egerton) - there is some serious stuff in there as well - they are a part of what America is carving out as our new town squares. Our old downtowns where humans actually walked the street and greeted one another. Where you were happy to see another face and you had something in common - you were neighbors sharing the same city and not minding doing so.
This weekend in Nashvlle people who love story, music, books, sunshine, innocent children, old dogs, all that is good in humanity - will converge on Nashville's Memorial Plaza. It will be a grand weekend filled with celebration and great reads.
Please join us and help us celebrate and welcome these 200 Authors to our city.
(I'll be in the Parnassus Book Tent all day Saturday and Sunday so please drop by and say Hi.)
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.