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,
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.