Home. Central time. 5:30am.
Last night I slept like a kid pretending to sleep. This is what it looks like to sleep. Pillow, blanket, eyes shut. Sometimes it worked. I napped for a few minutes. Maybe an hour. Then woke up and looked out at the moon. I did not make tea or go to the porch. This is the problem with being tired and insomniac. You want to sleep. Really, you do. But that brain keeps going clickity, clack down the track. A fun fact about the new novel - it involves two sisters who have inherited the insomniac gene that assails all the women in the family. The men sleep like the dead.
At 5:30 this morning I gave up any thoughts of going back to sleep because of the birds.
It started a long time ago, many, many years ago in fact when Mama and Daddy were at the creek. They spent some years there in retirement if that's what one would call it. They just called it life. They were some of the happiest of their lives. Daddy fished. Mama walked and worked in the flowers. She got some sun and that beautiful pale, skin that doesn't look kin to me got a tan. They both fed 'our birds' as they called them by which they meant the whole swampy creek full of birds. They had multiple feeders with seed For birds who like seed and fruit feeders for birds who loved fruit. They had raccoons that would eat from the porch at night and stare right in the window at them. They had a tribe of wildcats that came up out of the woods and took up residence. We had always had a few dogs and a few cats 'at home' down on the corner of 11th St. but now they had all manner of furry beasts that answered to their call. Even the wild birds came when they called them. They were Tarzan and Jane of Holmes creek.
One day a hawk took up there realizing he'd hit pay dirt. All those birds feeding at feeders were like me passing a fruit stand. I'll have one of those, and a red one and a green one and an orange one and so on. Momma and Daddy became sorely vexed over the situation because they felt attached to the birds that they had watched through this whole circle of life. The mating rituals, the nest building ritual, the baby birds being fed ritual and the fledglings learning to fly ritual.
When I got home recently after days away Mama wanted to tell me she was worried about 'our birds'. Now, this has been an effort of mine to make Mama happy. To hang flower boxes for flowers I don't have time to water so she points out to me - those flowers need watered - but the fact is my efforts to make Mom happy, to paint shutters and plant flowers has resulted in things looking down right lived in around here. Much more like a home than a house where I pull in and go to the computer with blinders on - write, work, write, work.
Now, I've put out multiple feeders. Seed feeders for birds that like seed and fruit feeders for birds that love fruit. Mama tells me she'd seen a hawk out there on more than one occasion the past days gone by and the birds aren't coming to eat at all. She's right. There is seed still down in the feeders. So, when I heard the birds at 5:30 I thought - well, I haven't slept all night why try to sleep now. Just go check on the birds.
Coffee made, to the porch I go.
The rooster is crowing. But it's a different crow. Either it's a new rooster or an old rooster. One finding his crow or losing it. That noise just doesn't sound like the rooster I know. And right I am. Because 'my' rooster answers this crow. Seems that there are now two roosters down the hill now. Maybe they live next door to each other. Down the hill is a good distance for a rooster to be at 5:30 in the morning. It's that kind of poetic ambience you can listen to outside but not one that is crowing at 5:30 in your ear right outside your window.
The birds are singing but only a little. Like they are whisper singing. A mother redbird comes to the feeder but she doesn't relax. She keeps looking up and over her shoulder. The next bird, some kind of finch I'm too tired to get up and get the bird book to identify is so nervous he isn't even getting any seed. He just sits there. Crazy eyed, staring up into the trees.
Bout a hundred years ago, a lifetime away now someone shot that hawk at the creek. Might have been boys on a dare. Or someone that just didn't care. My daddy found him. Brought him to my mother and laid it at her feet on the porch. She looked at the feathers, the span of the beautiful wing and said, 'Oh, how majestic,' through her tears. She still tells me about this. The beauty of that bird. "'They have a right to eat, too," she says, "I just don't want them eating my birds."
I google bird eating hawks. What to do. Move feeders under shelter, it tells me. Good ole google. At 6am it knows just what to do. I go down the steps that need replaced, make a mental note - these steps sure need replaced before they just fall off the house - and gather up the feeders. The seed feeders and fruit feeders and special little suet feeder and bring them back up the rickety steps to the porch and hang them up where I know they will make one heck of a mighty mess. There will be seed everywhere. And other stuff to clean. But, Mama's birds give her some peace.
Eventually, google says, the hawk will grow bored with birds having shelter and move off down the creek somewhere. Go to better hunting grounds. Someone else's backyard feeder.
When Mama gets up she takes her coffee to the porch, says look, "This one hangs upside down. That's just the way he likes it. He's that kind of bird."
These are the brief moments in my life where I know I did good. Where I got it right. And the world hangs for a moment in incredible balance where all is well and all shall be well and all is well with my soul.
Happy Sunday. I pray your soul find peace and comfort today, a perfect balance, in the middle of your busy life. And that you realize more times than not - you did good. You got it right.
ALSO - You can now check out my new Patreon Page here for new ways you can be a part of this wild journey called my writing life. Links for the Undercover Reader Posse, Story Support, the Phonebooth Writer Series and more!
A little fast and furious news from the Hill.
Three wonderful things happened yesterday. Ok, more than three. But these particular three I want to jot down for you.
Our very own Parnassus Peter Taylor returned from South American from his gap year abroad. I don't have time to do the before and after pics here but he left very clean cut and clean. He returned with a big grin and wild hair looking like a man of the world. AND because I screamed OH MY God and basically went running to him he gave me one the best hugs ever. Like a real hug. Like a I JUST GOT BACK FROM SOUTH AMERICA hug not one of those weak fish tiny pats on the back that says geez I wish you wouldn't hug me. Way to go Peter on all good and wonderful things. I can't WAIT to hear about his stories, his writing, his reading, and all about this totally life changing experience. So much so I want to invite him to come on Clearstory Radio and share them with all of us.
A three year old little girl yesterday that was cuter than pie approached me on the sidewalk in front of whole foods to explain she was looking for a blue car and had I seen it. I got a real kick out of this because I was wearing shades and cowgirl boots and don't know why out of all the people she smiled and waved to me and decided I was the person to ask. But I'm glad she did. Her mother was right there with her so she wasn't lost. But obviously was hot and a little over the lines and crowds and ready to find the car and get the heck out of there. I felt Charmed. Chosen.
Friend Silas House had an exquisite reading with musical guests last night at Parnassus to a standing room only crowd. His words were pure honey. They always are.
I'm entering into final edits for Confessions. Excited to be at this stage of the game where we get to wrap up this odd, quirky little book about faith and fiction and fast rides through the lightning storms of nights in the high desert of New Mexico. My deep thanks to awesome Ms. A. and the mighty Grace for bearing with me through my process. Can't wait to get on the road to visit readers, see old friends and make new ones when the book finally arrives in March. Before that you can find me in a few places and I'll be back for more on that later.
TODAY - I'll be live with Clearstory Radio, a literary show with soul - at 1:00 Central on 107.1 and 103.7 in Nashville or streaming through radiofreenashville.org So excited that author Joy Jordan-Lake will be joining me in the studio today to talk about her most recent novel and all things writing, reading, and living in a creative space. Please Join us!
Hope you are living this day with arms wide open and celebrating the light wherever you find it.
We are all wearing paper dresses. They have put us into the 'sub' waiting room. I didn't know that was a category. Apparently, it is. We laughed about that. We came up with many better names than sub-waiting room. That is rather generic.
There's nothing like paper dresses, breast exams and the power of story to help women bond immediately. The room was filled with that odd mixture that is at once both fear and faith combined. I am a private person. I don't discuss these things as my friend Kaya rolls out her journey through breast cancer with the kind of gun-powder prose that should be a best selling memoir instead of free Facebook posts. If you know of a woman walking through cancer or troubled-times I recommend they find Kaya McLaren on Facebook and read her posts back-tracking a few months or years in attempt to fully appreciate her 'for Friends who Like Long letters' posts. And - I take that back. If you are a PERSON who is living a life mixed with all the passion of beautiful bitter-sweet ups and downs of living I recommend reading her.
I've had Kaya on my mind daily keeping up with her but also in walking out my own diagnostic tests today. There is the first room, the dressing room, the drill. The no perfume, no powder, no anti sweaty stinky stuff for days. (My apologies to those who have had to be up close and personal during ladder climbing forays.) So Room number one and room number two and then into the paper gown and sub-room number three where you wait to be called for your turn at THE MACHINE and then return to wait with your gown on frontwards instead of backwards. With other women sitting and waiting for their turn to be called or their turn at receiving their results.
As I was waiting for an Oh Dear or All Clear report I was surrounded by women who began conversations about their surgeons. "Oh, do you have her? She was my surgeon and I just loved her." And a report of how long someone had been 'clean' and others who told so honestly of what they had been through so many years ago. The decisions they had to make. Do you choose the lump or the breast? The meds that will kill all the cancer but also possibly damage your heart. These women - all so beautiful I could weep thinking of them now. All so brave and so strong. Still able to laugh. To be honest, raw, vulnerable. There are days I don't feel worthy of that transparency. I want to cloister myself, close my shell, peep through the crack. Who me? No story here. Nothing to see. Move along.
But that isn't true. My story linked to their stories. For just a few minutes today. But those were some very, deep ocean moments. Entire lives flashing before my eyes. What they had faced and survived. Endured and carried on. I am surrounded by these women. Friends and co-workers. Mothers and sisters from high school. Old friends, new friends.
My news today was the best kind of news. As I told Kaya in a note. Long ago I learned the meaning of benign. It means that you will not die today. That you will die someday surely but not today. Not from this.
The day will come soon when Kaya is back in her Kayak with her dog racing the wind. I want it to be sooner than later. Her passionate embrace of all that life is leads me upward and onward many days. I taste her adventures on my lips through her words. It's what the power of story is about.
As beautiful Kaya and those beautiful women know everyday is a gift presented to us in a new way. Some days taste like dregs, dirt and ashes. Others are so simple we miss the fullness of the blessing of them. Just stomp right on through them taking out the trash, letting out the dog, bringing in the mail. Then there are other days. The ones where the light catches the trees just so and you hear your mother laughing with your grandson and the sound of them - the two of them - having an inside joke and laughing together, is the richest wine of all time. The days you know you'll revisit at deaths door and still breathe a thank you.
If I could manage a strong prayer today it would be to be alive all the days of my life. Really, truly alive. To not take this raggedy, scraggly, mutt of a messy life of mine for granted for one moment. Not even this one while I wait wait in the parking lot of the vets office for Kevin the Rescue dog as he gets his heart-worm treatment.
I whispered to him last night as he stuck his cold nose to my face - Tomorrow buddy we have a big day - you and me - and we're going to go through it. We're going to come up on the other side. And so we are and so we will.
That dog has a bone waiting at home and my son is taking me to see Star Wars tonight. I'm going to go to sleep counting my blessings. But not without thinking of those four women from today, that paper gown brigade, and praying for theirs. May they be blessed with good health and many, many tomorrows.
Peace to you and all those you love.
It's been the kind of regular old life that gets away from you. All the details in the doing. So here's a few of my doings and runaway thoughts and wandering hearts consternations.
Last week I had the awesome honor of being with a group of women that have been a taproot in my life for two years. It was a fast and furious weekend as I was speaking at the Anglican Church event in Alexandria, VA. What a BEAUTIFUL PLACE. And how many photos do I have from the event? Not one. Not one of the gathering of women at their annual event. Not one of the beautiful neighborhoods. Not one of the country club where I spoke that was decorated for Christmas and the Holidays from top to bottom and beyond. Not one with my friends and most important of all - not one with the beautiful faces of the women there and with them as they were buying books! All my new friends! Where is my self-promotional selfie mode? I just don't have it. One of these days as Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and I joked on book tour we will have that brilliant kid from the genius bar somewhere that does a great job covering those things. You'll have to believe me when I say - the women were beautiful. I looked out on that crowd while speaking and thought what beautiful faces of all ages from all places. Next time I promise myself I'll do better. (I have promised myself this at the last five speaking engagements I've had.)
This semester I have had the great honor of teaching students from A Novel Idea program for their Pen and Paper Writing Clubs. I've grown attached to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. How can young people be so smart now? Why wasn't this program a part of my growing up years? It would have changed my life back then to be so involved and encouraged as a writer. This has been one of the highlights of my 2017! How many photos do I have with these students? None. Just one shot from visiting them this Summer at A Novel Idea. I'm looking for that one.
Capturing the Christmas Tree for Mom
We come from a big, live tree family. I was determined to get Mom a real, big live tree. One big enough to hold her thirty years of ornaments. I haggled and bagged the tree in subzero weather - ok - it felt like subzero - the wind was blowing. I drove home twenty miles an hour the long, slow way up River Road with it on top of the car. It was eight feet tall. The only problem is my ceilings are NOT eight feet tall. Somehow I was imagining our old ceilings at home in Panama City. We basically lived in - the Den which was an add-on with higher ceilings than the rest of the house and a big fireplace. I miss those ceilings. I miss that fireplace. Not an inch more than Mom though. Which is why I was trying to get the big tree. That is now smaller. It looked so perfect out in that big, wide open field. Now, if I can only find all those ornaments it will finally be finished. We will leave it up until it is a real fire hazard and has to go. (I have not taken any photos for social media of the work in progress. I am promising myself that soon and very soon I'll do this)
Oh, then this happened. Tom Hanks dropped by Parnassus Books in Nashville on the day I wasn't happily in the store helping customers purchase great gifts for the giving season. REALLY. He went shopping and signed a few copies of his new collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. I actually have cried, teared up, had a moment, about this because HE is one of my favorite famous people. He writes stories. He collects old typewriters. He's still married to his wife. He made a movie about baseball. What's not to love? I DO HAVE THIS PHOTO of me missing Tom Hanks. Who is not in the picture? ME, me, me.
In light of this and keeping it in perfect perspective - I've been reading the Facebook posts almost daily of my friend author Kaya McLaren who is battling and winning the war on Cancer. She writes honest, funny, heartbreaking, raw posts like long letters. She is so much braver than I am. I wrote her and told her this. That I have a diagnostic mamogram next week and I hate that. Kevin the rescue dog starts his official heartworm treatment the same day now that he has finished meds and is strong enough for treatment after his near death scare. We are going to the doctor the same day and then I am attending a Christmas party with my sister and then my son has tickets for me to see Star Wars with him later that night and I think this is a good way to reward myself for doing something I hate doing but must do. There are only two things I hate more than the mamagram. One involves a doctor. One involves a dentist.
I wrote my friend Kaya and told her how stupid it was for me to cry about missing Tom Hanks because her posts about losing her hair and fighting for her life put everything in perspective for me. She wrote back that she loved me. And that missing Tom Hanks is still missing Tom Hanks.
The reason I am able to love Kaya so much is because I know her. I know her because of this little thing called The Pulpwood Queens and their annual celebration known as GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY WEEKEND. There is nothing in the world like this experience. It happens again January 2018. I will be there. If it is not too late to get a package I encourage to try to do so although it may be sold out. It always is. I have made more lifetime friends - both writers and readers - at this event than any other event or happening in my life. The founder, Kathy Murphy is also a writer, a world changer, a ball of fire and energy and is officially this year known as The Comeback Kid. She went back to college when life tried to take her down and out of the game. Tomorrow she earns her degree in Art and the work she has been creating and posting on Facebook the last two years BLOWS MY MIND.
As a quick side-note - you can check out the teaching page on this site for more info on the writing class I've been teaching, The Mastermind Path: Following Your Muse and Finding Your Audience. What a sweet surprise to work with these writing creatives as they explore their voice, write their words, and walk the path of their writing journey. We've had great conversations with other writers including Bren McClain, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Michael Moore, and Joy Jordan-Lake and it's not over. We have a few weeks left in the course and a new one will begin in February.
That's my Wednesday Wild Card! Which didn't go out on time. And is now posted on Thursday. I have no pictures to prove it was actually written on Wednesday.
Sometimes you miss out on meeting famous people but the most important thing is to not miss out on loving the wonderful people in your everyday life.
Love and peace!
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.