Today is the day my Daddy died. It's been years now but when I woke up, got my coffee, looked out the window - those were my thoughts and that's when I began to cry. Just like I do every year. July 5th - I can count on it.
There's no getting over some things. As a woman told me who had lost her husband six months ago, "I'm still not over it,"
Of course your not, I said. You aren't meant to be.
She nodded. Seemed relieved and said, "That's right. That's right."
She left our meeting in a better mood.
We aren't meant to stay stuck in grief to the point we aren't enjoying life but the getting over it. I'll leave that to the other people.
He was a life-long Army man. Loved Holmes creek where he grew up. Knew it better than the back of his hand. After his death I have replayed moments where I wish I had made a different choice. Conversations where I wish I had communicated better. Times he had put out an olive branch to a stubborn teenager or young woman with a wild streak - and I just didn't take it the right way. Those times echoed to long and loud after his death. I wanted to take them back. Over and over again. Fix them. Perfect them. Don't we all. Always.
I pulled in the driveway a few days ago from a family vacation. One of those family get togethers where I flashed all my disfunction obsessions. We must be together. We must all sit next to Nana. We all must pay attention to each other every moment and tell stories. And, and, and - - - this vacation time together must be . . . perfect. Again. That word. My determined expectations. I am precious in my passions. As well as a pain the butt. I'll save that little blog I call Dysfunction Junction what's your function (being mine) for next week but the thread here is the same.
I'm a family girl. One that wants to run and roam. But I'm also the girl that packed her bags when I lived out in New Mexico after Daddy's health took a bad turn. Me and the boys moved back home. My sister packed up her stuff where she was in Georgia and did the same. No matter how crazy our times together may get when we are trying to take a break from life, it's real life we get great. It's real life where we tag-teamed when daddy was in the hospital. She took one shift, I took the other. We rode up and down that elevator so much that people thought we were twins, clones, time warping. We confused them in our coming and going but that weren't at all confused about the fact that we didn't miss a beat. Daddy wasn't there alone.
Daddy died today. One day after the 4th of July. Fireworks now, the sound of them from inside a house brings to mind that night. That last night. I think it was his stubborn that kept him alive that night. A soldier that didn't want to die on Independence Day. He passed the next morning.
My stubborn streak. I come by it honest. I got a double dose. His kind - quiet final, conclusive and my Mama's kind - determined, hard-edged, tenacious.
When I pulled up in the driveway after all those days of family togetherness, after July 4th crazy traffic and traffic jams, heat and more heat, a broken air conditioner. Too many hours on the road. There was Daddy's memorial stone right there in the circle as I turned in. The flag I put up for Mama on the porch blowing in the breeze on the hill. Daddy's old boat sittin' on that broken trailer. Me and sister begging Mama when she moved to please not leave that boat. We couldn't leave that boat. We had to have that boat. No matter how long it had sat up. No matter if we couldn't use it, float it. We had to keep Daddy's boat. It was his lifeblood. It's a freshwater creek boat, the kind you'd use with a cane pole and a red bobber. It's worth nothing but everything.
They fished from that boat just like me and sister did. He took em up in the creek in it when their heads couldn't clear the edge. Showed up how to fish and where the clear springs bubbled up in the swamps. Where you could scoop a cup of water up right there and drink it down. Him grinning to beat the band. Those Cyprus trees rising to the sky, him skulling that boat with one hand, whistling through his teeth.
That man survived Korea. Survived Vietnam. But still --- time and time and time.
Today instead of those missed opportunities, those imperfect moments that stuck out in my mind for years where I didn't say what I wish I had said, I thought of all the times we laughed. Together. Of the way I'd say, Daddy that would light up his smile and no doubt his heart. I saw this wild, long tapestry that was us, our relationship, and I saw how very, very much of it was good. How most of it was really, really good.
And I think about those boys of mine. (Yeah, I call them mine whether they want me to or not.) And how I gave him the greatest gift I could ever have given him by making him a PawPaw. About how my boys became his boys. And as much as this gypsy heart of mine wanted to roam the earth and exotic places, this Southern girl stayed close to home so that they had each other. So we all had each other. While there was still time.
In Daddy's memory I went to chapel and lit a candle. Whispered a prayer. Then bought a watermelon to eat with my baby boy's baby boys. I'll tell them creek stories of their Daddy's Pawpaw and help them remember a man I won't forget.
I think I hear him whistling.
Morning has broken. The rooster down the hill, crowing. More fervently today. More frequently. Morning has broken indeed, he says. Awake! Arise! The great night of the storm has passed. We are still here. On this hill. All is well and all shall be well and all is well.
The storm last night was a doozy. Wind blow, gusts roar, rain deluge. Tornado watches and threats. Worry, toil, trouble. Rescue Kevin was antsy because I brought him inside as the winds picked up, screaming and roaring up the valley and into the ridge, rolling up over us. He bounced, he barked. He picked up an old Christmas tree ornament he found in a corner and ran with it, the hook dangling from his mouth as I chased him saying, Give me that! Give me that right now! Then I put him out again and followed him to the edge of the porch where he bounded down stairs, turned and looked back at with me with a smile, saying - Let's play! It is wild tonight and we are free beasts to roam and roar back at the wind.
I said, the rains are starting dog. I'm going to bed. An hour later when the deluge hit, I got up again, opened the door and called. Toweled him off and declared lay down. He still pranced nervous until I got a blanket and went downstairs tried to sleep on the couch, be in the lower level close to the closet beneath the stairs. To the bed, to the couch I went. Then finally, to my bed in the dark, my head nestled in covers thinking maybe they alone could protect me.
This morning. I open my window. The clean, clear air. The rooster. The all clear sound. My thankfulness. The house has stood yet another storm. The storms I've faced down in life in the natural and in the human would fill a multitude of books. Some, I've simply just survived. I'm sure you, too. We are simple and same like this. We face our storms. Or we hide our heads beneath our blankets and pray for them to pass. But always, the clear morning air, the all is well sound relieves our soul.
This week - The taxman I had to meet. Downtown in Nashville. Clearing up some old business that wasn't mine to do but looks like now it is. I check in and take a seat. The office full to overflowing. Men, tired at midday. Tried from work and strife and troubles stared at their boots. Women waited, coupled whispered consolations and assurances. A man came in to make an appointment. But you can only make appointments by stepping out the door and calling a different number. He took some brochures, said ok. Then he turned to go. He was built like Santa with a beard and suspenders. He glanced around the room before he left and said, "Good Luck, Everybody," with a booming voice. A heartfelt hope. There was no sarcasm there. No frustration. A ripple of laugher rolled across the room. Then an echo of thank you, thank you, thank you. From everyones lips including mine. There was something special about it, about him. About that sincere moment where he cared what happened to the people waiting. He saw us all. He took us in. And, stepping outside whatever trouble he might be in, he offered a peaceful benediction. The room felt lighter when he left. Less concerned.
I have the oil lamp lit on my desk. I had readied everything in the storm. Prepared for our lights out moments. I trimmed the wick. It's amazing how the lamp burns more evenly when you do this. How much more light it casts when you wash the globe. Our souls must be like this. Our lives. Needing pruning, care, a little time and consideration.
This week - The Undercover Reader Posse began. (A nod to my Daddy's birthday, also this week and a great personal anniversary for me. To my Daddy's love of westerns. To me and sister loving to watch them with him.) Early readers will be riding shotgun with me as I finish this new novel and bring it home. This alliance is something brand new and fills me with the excitement and expectation that new births are filled with. Not just the novel but this early connection with readers and story lovers. You can read more about it here. (Or find in navigation bar if page changes)
Yesterday. I read in Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal published after her death. The prayers are filled with angst and love and longing. Sometimes, too intimate to touch. Like this -
"I am one of the weak. I am so weak that God has give me everything, all the tools, instructions for their use, even a good brain to use them with, a creative brain to make them immediate for others. God is feeding me and what I'm praying for is an appetite."
I've been that way before I can relate. Praying for abundance when my mouth is full of blessings.
This week - We continued the amazing Mastermind Writer Series with Session Two. 100 percent of the class decided to enroll again. To stay with it. To keep working on their writing with me in this small conference class group with one-on-one conference calls. This week I'm kicking off a new Fiction Writing Workshop series. For any who are interested you can find out more here. And look for updated posts on the coming fiction series Monday.
That rooster. Boy, is he proud this morning. Relieved and happy. I suspect he might crow all day.
I had planned to work this am so early on the novel. But the novel is a page turner, a mystery. Better to write in the midst of the stormy night beneath the covers. So, I'll turn my eyes to peaceful words and worlds. Kevin went back out at four after the big storm passed. But still the rains were there. This morning he heard me making coffee at 6:30 looked up at the window from outside. His resting now on the couch, milk bones in his belly. The night has passed, the day at hand, the all clear sound. He knows finally his watch is through and he can sleep.
I pray your week holds victory, peace and sustenance in all the ways you need it most.
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.
It's wicked cold in north Tennessee. Fellow writer and Facebook friend Mandy Haynes has been enjoying it to the fullest. She posts the funniest little videos on Facebook walking with her dogs in the snow. So someone is enjoying this. I am not enjoying it. If it were snow at a normal temperature - Maybe. With fat flakes falling. And the lamp lights glowing. For a minute. The kind of large, flake, dry snow that found me curled up with a coffee and writing away at the outdoor covered cafe of Bent Street Deli in Taos, New Mexico. But this is Tennessee cold and it's the kind of freezing temperatures that make your arms fall off.
I posted a photo of Rescue Kevin on Facebook yesterday lying in the snow because he is Part PYR and has a double coat which amounts to TWO fur coats at all times. He does not prefer Summer. He does appreciate that he has a blanket with not one, but TWO HEATING PADS PLUGGED in for him to keep toasty when his toes begin to feel chilly. He likes being outside to guard the - no sheep here. Guess he likes guarding his heating pad. So unlike BIG Dog Titan who slept in whatever room I was in at the time, Kevin prefers to be outside. His greatest wish is that I would be happy sleeping on the porch with him. This is not going to happen. At least not in the Winter.
I am from the tribe of blue jeans on the beach, walking in the sand to the sound of the waves rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, playing catch me if you can with the water as you walk along the shoreline. This results in the hem of jeans being wet unless you roll them to your knees. Back when we were in high school everyone wore bell-bottom. This was not an option. Bell-bottoms do not roll to the knees and stay there.
I have gotten a kick out of Mandy's post because she is downright giggly. I am downright grumpy. I grump from the woodpile to the fireplace. Yesterday when my sister drove to work it was 6 degrees. This is not fit for friend or foe, beast or man. Who lives this way? I just stare out the window and shiver. It is beautiful - I grant you that. But for me and my constitution meaning my blood and skin and so forth I need sunshine. I operate best at 75 and above. 75 and a breeze and I need a blue jean jacket. I am a Gulf Coast girl. An island girl. I am stuck on this hill in the snow. I haven't left home since I came back from Texas. The driveway (hahahaha) more appropriately, the road that leads to the house is steep. What passes for a driveway goes off the side of a hill. Kid you not. I might need to hire someone to place some really big rocks there or build a wall to catch the car. When it rains and snows and turns to ice it is a bit precarious. Then when you get past that there is THE REAL HILL that goes down, down, down around the curve and down.
Snowed in. This means I must write. Writing what you are thinking about is better than thinking about what you should be writing. This is the kind of thing that makes you crazy. I have been as surprised writing this top secret novel as I have any of them. I write a line and then something AMAZING happens - I write ANOTHER ONE. And another one. I made myself sign off facebook this morning, put myself into time out and wrote. I started to get up out of the chair after an hour. Or to peek at facebook. But then I saw that I had promised I was out writing till 12. This made me go back to writing. At 11 I tried to quit again. Nope. Made myself continue. I think the Facebook Timeout Writing program may be the best writing diet I could be on. I can't check on you or see your faces until I meet my word count. This is a great carrot for me. I may not appear to be the most facebook savvy or that I have commented on everyones everything but I am reading and keeping up.
On the Writing Front -
I am wrapping up the Mastermind Path writing group class this month and will miss it terribly. So I'm offering a continuation of the class beginning in February. Both via conference call which has proven an excellent choice for all. Please stay tuned if your interested.
I am an old Star Trek junkie. Some of my best good times were growing up and the fact that of all things my mother became a Star Trek watcher. We never missed an episode. The dawn of Star Trek The Next Generation brought a whole new world of watching. And, guess what? Guess who was watching it with me? My boys. Who grew up to be Star Trek guys. (And Yes, Star Wars too!) So EVERY Star Trek movie was a hit but in the midst of the busy life I did not watch the continuing saga of Star Trek or Deep Space Nine and so forth. HOWEVER- with the advent of Star Trek Discovery I was itching for a new Star Trek to beam me away. (Yes, I did sign up for that silly CBS streaming service just because of Star Trek) All I asked was for an hour of space talk beyond our Milky Way. In my book Discovery delivered. It took a few episodes to lay the ground work and introduce the characters and set up the storyline but then it did it. It's not your Mother's Trek. Or for that matter your Grandmothers. But they have in many ways boldly gone where no Trek has gone before. It's a whole new world. Snow day. That's how I spent one of them. Catching up on Star Trek.
Mama and Me
We are surviving. Up on this hill. In the snow. Carry in wood, prep the oil lamps, wait for the lights to go out because they always go out up here. We will have power outages for no reason at all. Much less snow storm or ice out. This time it went zap, zap, zap right in the middle of me streaming Star Trek on the big screen. So I went downstairs and lit candles and stoked the fire, helped Mom find pajamas and get into bed. Then I pitter-pattered back upstairs and opened my laptop and watched the rest of the episode curled under sixteen blankets. Deep space indeed. Downstairs in Mama world we watch Golden Girls on that TV and Grantchester (which is on break perhaps forever because the star has become all kinds of popular and may be the next James Bond) and Antique Roadshow. When someone says Oh, I bought this record for a quarter at a yardsale and then Elvis's birth certificate just fell out of it when I got it home and it is worth a quarter million dollars and I look at Mama and ask her, 'What are the chances that we would ever?" She tells me in negative numbers. We are not those lucky people and we will never buy anything that is worth a secret fortune. Then I found her with a table turned upside down on her bed trying to see if it had a 'mark' or a signature. It did not. We both got a good laugh. We still have not hit it rich from Antique Roadshow but we've had a few great conversations about junk we could drag in for assessment.
I have dreams of inviting the Property Brothers to my house for that whole magical remodel thing that they do. Then I have visions of them going hahahahaha. This is one where we see taking it down to the bones. And by bones we mean the ones in the ground.
We are here and out of the cold for the most part. The house does 'breathe' a lot but still we can get cozy. LAYERS as the crazy Winter people say. LAYERS and they skip around while they say it. I feel like that bloated tire man creature that cannot walk with all these layers. BUT - I have Greek style chicken and potatoes in the oven. There's a fire in the fireplace and surely, there's a new episode of Golden Girls recorded. That beautiful white view out the window is melting and the temps will rise to something that allows me to move around outside without crying. Spring is just around the corner. And so is the day I will reach THE END on the new novel.
Peace to you and all your world.
For months now I've had an itch, an inkling, a constant whisper that I needed to just offer a pop-up creative class for writers and other artists. For those who might not be familiar with the term 'pop-up' it's simply a short handed way of saying it wasn't there and now it is. Seemingly overnight, inspiration hits, the muse speaks, and we all benefit.
I was invited in what seemed like a spur of the moment flourish to speak at 'pop-up' secret group of creatives in the Nashville area. Secret because you had to be a member of the closed group and maybe nominated or added by someone who knew you. Then and only then could you receive last minute invitations to a party, dinner, gathering of like minded cool creatives from all corners of Nashville. So overnight - there is this guy - who sends out an invite and oh, about 40-200 million people show up the next night. POP-up. My invite - I showed up not certain of the group because hey - they could have been strange in all the wrong ways… except I really trusted the person who suggested me and was going. Turns out - they are AMAZING people from all walks of life. Scriptwriters, movie distributors, directors, film-makers (ok, so it's a little wonderfully movie/TV heavy), storytellers, writers, and PR people.
On the drive home I thought - yep, the pop-up has its place. At least for me it means I can guide a class without spending a year planning it.
THE LOW DOWN
Between shootings in Paris, bombings, and threats of nuclear attack from North Korea, ping-pong news about talks about war and peace around the world - ships on the move from Russia, Fleets getting ready - hmmm, this heating up of crazy - I've never been more convinced that the creativity of good people is more needed or in demand. I've never been more certain that storytelling is our lifeblood, and that partnering with the divine in that telling is a sacred act.
All that being said: What is it that would help you get to the next level in the writing of your script, novel, song, or story? What would it take for you to go home and actually pick up your paint brush, get out your easel? Turn off your phone? Who needs to tell you that you don't have to wait for the perfect day, hour, life to embrace that sacred space inside you?
If you are a professional who has hit a wall in your creative thinking - this is for you.
If you just want to add a little jazz to the great work your already doing - this is for you.
If you are at the end of your rope and feel like you are going to just die if you don't simply begin somewhere - this is for you.
It has been my experience in traveling, creating, writing and speaking for more than 20 years now that it is conversation that make people bloom.
Often the Q&A after speeches provide the greatest opportunity for learning and creative growth. The reason being those Q&A's and conversations is a two way street, and the room becomes a roundtable.
One week from today I'll be hosting a gathering for those who would like to take part in a new series:
The Sacred Art of Storytelling.
Teaching and Creative Conversation:
Where: Capitol Coffee Company - Bellevue, TN
When: Friday, April 28
To claim your spot email Tomi Wiley at firstname.lastname@example.org -
Leave it All Behind. Renew Your Muse