Today is St. Joseph's Day. I would not know this but my friend tagged me with a memory on Facebook. This is one of the days where Facebook feels like the best, good friend ever because of those fun memories which involved a hit and run accident in New Orleans.
St. Josephs is the day that Mary's husband Joseph is recognized and paid honor. In some places more than others.
Sicily, it is also believed that if a woman manages to sneak a lemon off of St. Joseph’s Table on this day, then she have better luck finding a husband. It is also customary for people to wear red on this day and to indulge themselves with doughnuts and crème puffs. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, St. Joseph’s Day is Father’s Day. (Obviously, Sicily is a really good place to be on St. Joseph's Day)
Since New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 1800s and has a large Sicilian population, this holiday is celebrated by the whole city. On St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Tables are built both for the public and by private individuals. These altars are then filled with a variety of different food – just like the celebrations in Sicily – however, these foods usually have somewhat of a Cajun twist to them. Afterward, all of the food is then usually donated to the poor. New Orleans also has a variety of parades and marching bands performing on the streets during this day. (Obviously, New Orleans is the best city to be in if you are in the US on St. Joseph's Day! Furthermore - this information was totally lifted and pasted from the St. Josephs Day site on the internet)
So - OUR St. Josephs Day memory all started like this.
I have known Virginia Dixon all my life which means since Middle School formerly known as Jr. High. My first memory of her is when I was forced to teach Algebra because for some reason we all had to teach for a day or maybe we got extra credit for that and I needed extra credit because I have never understood Algebra a day in my life (never mind that I think I can understand theoretical physics and quantum mechanics or at least lets say TRYING to is a hobby of mine) but this day trying to teach 7th grade Algebra Virginia kept saying she didn't understand as I wrote on the overhead projector. She wasn't being mean - she really didn't understand. What I wanted to say is LOOK, I don't understand EITHER but I'm trying to wing it for extra credit and sit down. In spite of this we somehow passed 7th grade and went on to High School where we were friendly if not neighborhood friends and we were friends with the same people. Got it? Okay.
So flash forward a few busy years and we both end up married with children (literally) in Pensacola and renew our friendship. And we are both writing in one capacity of another and we learn of a Screenwriting Seminar in the Big Easy and we decide this is one of the greatest reasons to get out of town ever. So we load up and head to New Orleans minus husbands and children. We planned to stay with our darling high school friend's Sue Finlaw's mother who was one of those mothers every kid wanted. She was mother to a tribe of kids that basically moved in her house for the summer and never left. Me being primary said kid. She had moved to NO so we had the perfect place to stay. We went to the Screenwriting conference which used The Body by Stephen King as it's working example which went on to be the movie Stand by Me - which is a great movie.
I remember we had a great dinner one night in the French Quarter and we went to Preservation Hall and Virginia says we went to a Voodoo palace but since we are and we were both Christian voodoo really wouldn't have been our thing so I don't know how that happened unless we just wandered into a whodooyouvoodoo nest without knowing it. This kind of thing can easily happen in New Orleans.
What I do remember is that night in the French Quarter where the moon was hanging just over the buildings and a parade broke out down the street and we were sitting like queens on the balcony looking out over the city. Totally in the right place at the right time. Here came the marching bands, the floats, the happiness extreme and the kid playing the saxophone who may have grown up to be Tina Turner's sax player for that infamous TV concert and there is a magic that is a New Orleans night that belongs to no other place in the world.
The next morning, coffee in hand, driving in the car on our way to the 2nd day of the conference we were hit and hit hard by a car from the rear. Totally in the wrong place at the wrong time. The driver jumped out and fled on foot, abandoning the car and was never found. We were fine until Sue's Mom showed up and said, Oh, honey's and hugged us and we both started crying being the grown women we were but suddenly feeling fifteen again. We were taken to the hospital for whiplash and so forth, both given neck braces and heavy duty motrin and sent on our way. We made it to the conference late and walked in the big auditorium after the guy had started teaching and he just stopped mid sentence when he saw us and said - OK, I have to ask - WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU GUYS? At which point Virginia and I tried to turn and look at each other but we couldn't do it without turning out entire bodies because we couldn't turn our heads. Then someone said, My God! There's blood all over you we realized, No, that's coffee from the accident that has somehow turned to the color of dried blood.
I assure you - a good time was had by all. We made it to Cafe Du Monde which is one of the most important things in the world. And we ate that sweet concoction known as New Orleans beignets (which don't count if they are not from Cafe Du Monde) And we talked about the power of story and then Virginia told me the entire saga of her three book trilogy for the ride back to Pensacola which was many hours but it made the trip go by quickly.
Memories. It's what friendships were born for. I hope you have warm ones from adventures gone by or that you are planning a new road trip in your near future.
Wishing you blessings on all the ordinary and high, holy days of your life.
wDisclaimer: This is a tired, free-for-all disjointed update from the hill.
IT SNOWED! In the beautiful, you have to be kidding me, is this for real? Is this my view? Am I one of the luckiest people on the planet or what! Kind of ways! I woke up, looked out my window and went - WOW! Just, wow! (This is what me and cousin Deb say a lot now. It's our go-to for every situation. Many of them that fall into the realms of really? really? Wow. - see previous blog on being a super ZAZA.)
I have such a headache today in spite of this beautiful view that I broke down and bought Goodie powers which I have sworn off for a week. Goody powders are a magical southern remedy for headaches of all sizes. The last time I was in New York City they did not sell Goody powders. The last time I was in Phoenix, AZ I was pulled out of line for having what looked to be an explosive substance on my palms. Then taken to a little room. Then frisked. Then the bomb squad guys were called in. White powder residue found. "Goody powders," I said. "This southern writer on the road's best friend." It was the first time I'd ever been an hour early for a flight in my life. I thought I'd be sitting for an hour working on a new book on the laptop. Hahahah. NO! I just made the flight. I took a Goody. Ordered a beer. If you had been there and had to be frisked in a little room and have your luggage attacked by the bomb squad you would have done the same.
Today. I realize that I really, really, really don't cut myself enough slack. Seriously. I wrote 1500 words on the new novel. Did some additional research that was just like rocket fuel for the story. Planned to write 1500 more words mid-morning and another 1500 words late afternoon. This was the perfect plan. I was on it. And all about it. And into it. In spite of taking a few breaks to post pics of the snow on facebook and instagram (I've been locked out of my Twitter acct for over a year because I can't verify the right password and just as soon as I have TIME I will fix this) so - in spite of those little breaks I had my writing plan down to a fine art. But then I had to take care of some other things that involved the real world.
Like food. And shopping. And paying bills and doing laundry and - trust me - these things have to get down to critical mass before I do anything about them while in novel writing mode. So - while I was getting laundry together I decided to shovel out some clothes that needed to be donated. Two bags full. Too small, too small, too small (gee when is the last time I wore these pants?!!! )Looks great but has bad memories, gotta go, gotta go, too small - and so forth. Don't judge me. It had to be done. It's overdue. I'm not finished but I bagged two bags full of gotta go and loaded them in the car. I suspect they will stay there until Saturday but they are THERE. They made it that far. And I did some other important stuff and worked on class for tomorrow morning for the Phone Booth Writing Series that I'm still over the moon about teaching - and yes, you can still sign up for classes.
BUT - I have been so - Well, River - what happened to those other words today? Where are they? Why aren't they done? 1500 words is a good, normal day. Shoveling clothes is a good normal day. Doing laundry and washing your face good, normal day. Slack. We all need some. Because in the middle of that I watched the news for a few minutes which can derail the most determined of any of us. Because there is scary stuff happening in Austin, Tx and scary stuff around the world. This may have been when my headache set in. Because I am affected by this. Thank God. I am still affected by this.
I am behind in half my life. I am long overdue updating my Psychology Today blog. I'm overdue writing about the women of history and the amazing women who surround me in my present life. These two things shall be done. Maybe not as soon as I like but they are on the horizon.
So is the finishing of this amazing, new novel. And I say that about the story because I love the characters, the setting, the story. And it keeps surprising me every time I return to the page. I hope that it surprises you as well. I have loved telling little inside stories to the Undercover Reader Posse every Saturday at Noon. (Which you can also still sign up for)
Which reminds me that I'm also overdue blogging about all the great books I've been reading or the wonderful new releases of my author friends - but I'll get there.
Tonight - I went to the store so tired. Thinking of my friends who are walking through the healing battle of cancer like Goddess Warriors and how can I worry about deadlines or being weary about anything. But still - I. am. human. So, very human. So I'm trying to check out at the little self check thingy but I run into a problem and a cashier woman I've never seen comes over and pats me on the shoulder - and I could have broken down in a puddle of tears! There is nothing like the momentary kindness of a stranger out of the unexpected blue to turn me into mushy me. That and those insurance commercials where people are singing - I'll stand by you.
So, I'm saying special prayers tonight for that woman. Don't know her name but I know her face and her touch. As if she could see through my soul to the burdens I carried there.
Then I came home and talked baby talk and passed out treats to Rescue Kevin who always greets my car like I've been gone a month. And poured a glass of cheap, red wine and stuck a pot pie of the cheap variety in the oven that is the kind my sister and I always flipped upside down and ate, the kind (and my friend Rachel C. agrees with me) is the perfect comfort food. And I built a fire and sent out a reminder for our phone conference Phone Booth class in the am and read Facebook friend Will Maguire's post - "Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a great wind is bearing me across the sky. ~ Ojibway Indian Proverb
And I thought - Yes, and Amen, Will.
Today - with all my to-dos and behinds and loves and worries - a great wind is bearing me across the sky. And I am so very, very thankful.
Peace to you and all you love tonight from my small corner of the world.
Today I was missing camping but for certain in my neck of the woods it's too cold for camping. There will be a fire in the fireplace tonight but not a fire ring. I've been following Kaya McLaren's daily walk through cancer and her raw, vulnerable letters on facebook. I thought if there was anything I could send her it would be a warm Summer evening where we all camped together, sat around a perfect fire ring, a just right kind of fire so you can see the smiling faces of your friends above the flames on the other side. That kind of perfect evening of drinking some fine wine or herbal tea, sharing stories heartfelt and funny, watching the sky for shooting stars as the fireflies climb higher and higher into the trees before morning light. That's what I'd give her right now if I could. I love the sharing of stories. it's the best kind of medicine.
Sometimes people ask me if I still pray for strangers in the middle of watching Star Trek Discovery and going to see Star Wars and reading great mysteries such as, By Gaslight. Yesterday I wrapped two days of speaking at the Writing for Your Life conference. Nothing excites me more about writing stories but sharing stories about writing stories. Mine and those of my friends. It occurred to me that yesterday I mentioned the name of five author friends, talked about their books and their publishing stories, and even their upcoming titles that weren't out yet to watch for. (And now I'm suddenly looking out the window thinking - Gee - I'm a good friend :) ) ) But seriously - how blessed I am to be surrounded by people who write stories. I'll have to write more about my experiences with those attendees on my teaching page here on this website. But for the record. On that praying thing which I still do in the middle of my Star Trek, mystery loving heart. I do. Mostly. Differently. Sometimes and always.
That is - a woman asked me to sign my book for her at the event yesterday and then she stopped and asked me - Does the book tell about how the experienced changed you? I smiled. Good Question. It does I told her. And I paused for a moment to think back all those years ago at the kind of person I was. I was and still am what you would consider a good person. Kind in all the right ways. Standing up for the weak and the underdog. Protecting small children, stray animals, and those who might be on the outskirts of society. The helpless, the homeless, the forgotten, the beat down. The overlooked.
But - it was those years of Praying for Strangers and telling someone almost daily that they were my stranger for the day that cracked open a part of my heart I didn't know was sealed. It gave me a much better, closer, more intimate look into humanity as a whole. While I may have been willing to stand up for the forgotten I never knew how lonely, forgotten, fearful people were that were surrounded by family and friends. Who maybe went to church regularly but were still in many ways all alone. If people weren't concerned about their situation they were always concerned about the situation of someone they loved. And in that I began to care more deeply than a passing moment when you lock eyes with the woman living in the alley behind that store you frequent.
So how does that play out in real life? Back to the conference. I've been speaking for years at conferences, teaching writing for years at events, workshops, and writing programs. I've always loved my students and connecting with them, celebrating their good words and accomplishments. But last night as I was thinking about the people at the conference and in particular those who had signed up with a one on one with me and taken time to tell me their story, ask my advice in some small way, I prayerfully lifted their writing projects, goals, dreams up in prayer. Hoping that their words found their way to readers the way that mine have done likewise. Praying that they would do so. That they would continue in their good work and write the best story possible.
I closed my talk yesterday by reciting The Artist Prayer that I wrote years ago and have shared on Facebook. Many of the attendees asked me to please send it to them by email which I have but I am also closing with it here. In the event that you or someone you know would benefit from a few words fashioned as a prayer that will help us all bring the story home.
An Artist Prayer
Creator of the deep,
of the secret places,
of the wide, blue skies -
open in me a place today
that may be willing to create.
To write words worthy of my breathing,
to paint images of human longing,
to sing of heart’s satisfaction.
Help me to capture
the softer edges of our existence
to share with my people now and forever.
Let there be a hush,
a holy hush,
in the space of my beating heart
all that is good,
all that is well,
all that will stand the test of time.
Empower me to translate
this amazing existence
we call life.
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!
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.