I drove off under blue skies, tired body, weary mind, full soul. There's a lot to be said about communion and communing with others. To being with your tribe. Too many to write about. Some of the photos grabbed off facebook will suffice.
Every year that attend PWQGGW I think - wheretofordoIgoethforsofarforwhateth
Then I get there I remember. Everything. Every time.
It is for the opportunity to laugh and break bread with writers I have now known for years upon years. Our relationships being built layer upon layer, hard times and good. When the book contracts roll like honey off the tongue and when there is a drought. Meeting new writers and discovering their books, exchanging numbers, connecting. And the readers. God bless and keep the readers. The ones that make writing the stories all worth the while. To be able to not only hang out and conversant with them but to party just a little bit. To get silly and serve them dinner dressed in costume. To dance in a wild, wonderful night full of bohemian delights.
I have many highlights in my heart and things I want to write about this journey. But they will have to filter, little by little, over time and find their way into this small space in my world that slides out into the univerise.
II headed north to Little Rock and then turned East, the sun setting in my rearview, the skies so gorgeous I struggled to keep looking forward. That's what Pulpwood Queens is like. The drive to, the journey down, like the brilliant bright of a noon day, hot to touch, unrelenting and demanding. But the drive away, me forever casting my eyes backward at that full horizon, that indigo sky opening up the clouds with rays that lifted me onward as if lit by those hundreds of hearts I'd left behind.
The flat fields along the road were growing dark but white patches held the light, maintained it. Being a southern girl only one word came to mind - Cotton. My tired mind struggled to comprehend cotton in January. Then I realized it was snow. Snow had fallen. Freeze had come. I was driving toward Tennessee, to Memphis and the cold had kept the white close to the earth.
One of my reasons for making it to Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend this Year was that I had contributed to a little anthology titled 2nd Blooming with a forward by Anne Lamont. As usual I had agreed to contribute easily enough but when the time came for the deadline I grumbled and mumbled and got downright flumoxed about it. The lovely editor, Susan Cushman gently reminded me over and over again that I HAD TO SEND HER WORDS. So I said fine! Words it will be! And I sat down and wrote an essay titled Root inspired by the strength of my grandmother and mother which realizes ultimately - this is the stuff I am made of. It is a strange piece in that it is free and original - a break away from other work I've created.
Susan was gentle in the editing. Said she was afraid to touch it because it was - unusual. A hard thing to edit indeed. A friend of mine (or I) said it might be a New Dystopian Shakespeare . Not technically sound but it seems strangely right. All thanks to Rachel Craddock for her early reads of the essay and being just as frustrated as Susan in trying to edit something that defies transition. Thank you, Susan for allowing me to in a fit of angered deadline crack open a space in me that dared to paint words so freely. I'm honored to be a part of this collection with some fine writers and exceptional women.
That same editor understanding that I'd had an eleven drive down to Texas where I walked in the room as my panel was being introduced (timing is everything) took mercy on me and opened her warm doors to her home in Memphis for the evening. I pulled into her neighborhood nestled in snow. A large tree still covered in Christmas lights adored the road. A glass of wine and a bowl of gumbo awaited at their neighborhood pub. Then I settled down into a cozy, soft bed with the glow of those colored lights softly beaming just outside the window.
Now, I'm nestled with coffee in a corner of the bedroom floor, blankets and pillows about me where I can peek out the shuttered window to the snow lined streets. More snow to come tonight they say so I have to head on up the road Nashville way. It's time to get back to Mama and Rescue dog Keven before flakes start to fall. The hill is not a place to traverse after dark and ice.
So off to coffee, muffins, conversation. And to appreciate Susan's eclectic collection of fine art that graces her walls. She's a Pete the Cat connoisseur.
There are more stories coming out of Texas later but for now, thank you ladies for allowing me once again to be part of your tribe and in so doing feel like I am standing fully in my world.
*(more photos to add when I am off the road)
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!
Sometimes you have to listen to your inner instincts. The small voice we hear that whispers, this way, follow me. For some it is the voice of God. For others their sixth sense. For me I’d say it’s a combination of both considering they are one and the same.
Fifteen years ago I moved to Nashville following that voice. That’s the short and simple version of the story but it was that clear. Nashville. No other place on a map filled with other places, many options. I knew no one in the city, had no relatives in the area, and no particular job. It was the city where I had to be. I’ve never regretted following that voice but never more-so than last Monday when the celestial heavens aligned.
While others across the nation had carefully plotted their path for many years I lived oblivious, caught up in the daily rapture and apocalypse of my own life. It was only a few weeks ago that I actually realized the eclipse was headed my way. Or that I was headed toward it. Then I began to feel a bit unsettled. I blamed it on the news, the rolling tide of my emotions. On deadlines or fatigue. On just being me - artistic and emotive, passionate.
Plans were in the making all around me. All of the big events, major parties, bands and eclipse watching gala's. Glasses sold out, were recalled, sold out again. I never bought any. I bought Guinness. There was that small instinctual voice again. Alone, it whispered. So alone it would be. I would sit on my porch, watch and wait with expectation. Experience the unknown of what would come.
I woke up Monday saying Eclipse Day! As if it were Christmas morning. I was giddy. Such a silly word but I felt silly not melancholy. I worked on a short story about a woman waiting for the eclipse. The refrigerator man came to repair the fridge. I looked at my watch. I told him that it was about to penumbra was coming. I told him he could take a Guinness with him. I might have been hinting.
My house is circled with trees. Large Oaks of every kind, Elms and Hickories. I love the light passing through the filter of their leaves. The sun on their bark, the fog that moves through their limbs in the early morning dawn. I have a relationship with these woods.
I sat on my tiny, front porch, watched the shadows shifting forward, opened a beer. There was the singing of the cicadas and the birds. Dogs barked off in the distance down the hill. It was the middle of the day but night was falling, the shadows lengthening. There was the slightest of breezes and I felt the coolness on my skin as the day gave pause, began to bow to the passing of the moon.
I watched this approaching night for the hours it unfolded and then at the speed of atoms splitting, totality crashed over me. It was as if the keys of a thousand doors were unlocked at once and forever. And it took my breath. I whispered Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - not in fear or even in prayer - but in awe and wonder. A word of praise and thanksgiving to have lived in this moment in time, to have lived in the path of this happening and to be experiencing it in such an immediate and profound way.
I stepped out into the open beneath the dark sky where stars had appeared. Fireflies lit up the grass everywhere as if they had been standing by waiting for their orders to lift off. There are few moments in life this powerful and profound.
Day began to slide out from under the moon again, sweep across the yard, shadows being chased away by light until the fullness of day returned. The sound of the crowd miles away at the Riverfront irrupted into cheers.
Late that afternoon I watched the Nasa coverage, the interviews with people from all nations. This moment so exciting, so breathtaking. So unifying.
The following day I was in Parnassus Books greeting customers Visitors who had traveled all these miles to be right where I was all along. Sharing stories of where they’d been, how they’d watched. One man from Texas looked at me and said, “Totality is everything.”
"Yes," I said. “90% isn’t good enough,” he continued, adamant about this. He was preaching to the choir. “No sir,” I said. “Its totality or nothing at all.”
Another couple had traveled from Tampa. The man told me that they had run from the clouds farther up in Kentucky. Ended up pulling off of the interstate and watching from a field behind JC Penny. The woman said it was perfect. Her eyes were still filled with the wonder that I had felt. “An Indian man from New York and his family stood next to us,” he said, “and he watched the whole thing with his hand on his heart. He told me afterwards that in his religion this was a spiritual experience.” He smiled at me, tired from so many miles but so fulfilled. “I told him, buddy in my religion it’s a spiritual experience too.”
Another man told me, “You know, for just a minute we all stopped fighting. It wasn’t about politics or arguing. We were all in the same place. Suddenly we were all on on the same page.”
Eclipse books were on sale. People were buying them up. Opening to the pages for their next pilgrimage. Marking the trajectory. “Argentina,” one woman told me, “I was born there and haven’t been back in thirty years but I’m going for this.”
I realize that the world has scoffers, people who fall into the category of - What is all the noise about? Big deal. Sun, moon, eclipse - I get it. And those that say, Well, that was an interesting show, now let’s get back to business. But there’s another group. The ones who were deeply affected when those celestial bodies aligned, who felt an awakening of bold Illumination. When for those few minutes we became one people, looking heavenward, eclipsed by the vastness of the universe, our politics as small as those distant stars in the horizon. When all the pleasure and pain of simply being human traveling through this vast corridor of time was the greatest miracle of all.
OKay - it is T-days away from that wild Texas Book Event known as The Pulpwood Queens Book Club Girlfriend Weekend. Kathy L. Murphy always make's sure there is lots of pink, pink, pink and that there are COSTUMES in demand. The first year I thought costumes were just for the readers and boy was I shocked to discover that the AUTHORS in the know were in full flower of every kind. The author photo from that year shows 20plus authors looking creative and amazing and me in black pants and a blank turtleneck. Someone tried to make me feel better and say you just came in costume as an author. Shellie Rushing Tomlinson was kind enough on the year after she met me to realize I had issues where costuming was concerned. She brought extra from La and dressed me (that was the year of the pinned up/fat back/popcorn locked in my dress alone in the haunted b&b night event) and since then I have tried to pull myself together and get in the spirit. My best effort yet I think was coming as the book title War and Peace and a lot of fun! However, this year I have tried to THINK costume and research costumes on line. Have you put in adult female costume (fill in the blank) lately? Well, let me tell you - you can put in Lion Tamer and you get - HO. You can put in School teacher and you get HO. You can put in pilot, nurse, librarian, waitress, cook, dog washer, grave digger, day care worker and you get HO. WHAT'S UP AMERICA? Can an adult woman order a costume of any kind where she doesn't have to be a HO? OK, CAN A TEENAGE GIRL still order a costume where she doesn't have to be a HO? HOHOHO. ALL I can say is somehow the Pulpwood Queens pull it off every year coming up with some of the most amazing creative costumes around. And, I swear there are always in that huge crowd only a minority of HO costumes. :) Here are a few photos from years past. I'm still digging around. The only thing I found that worked well was in England and they don't ship to the US. Back to the drawing board. But regardless. I bought my special pink, pulpwood queen event t-shirt months ago. It's still hanging in my closet waiting. I'm grabbing a tiara and a feather boa and in just a matter of days somehow, someway, crossing that Texas border where rain or shine, the literary event of the year is going gather some of the greatest writers and readers alive together and throw down a good time.
Have just returned from one of those places that friends and I call 'the Thin places'. Places where design and prayer and purpose have collided to create a space where touching the hem of the Divine seems so very, easy. And, God knows, we need those spots because life has become so crowded, so noisy, so crazy, that we can't hear ourselves when we speak much less the whisper of the Lord.
Granted, it takes some work to get there. Think about it. It takes work to get to the store, to carve out space to go to a park, to wrestle your to-do lists out of your way so that you can walk right out your front door for a walk to be alone with your thoughts and the righteous wind.
Nevertheless, do it. Just do it. Do it. And, I say again, do it.
Part the red seas if you please to make room in your life for such as this. For three days or a week at Laity or a place like it. Although, at the moment I'm having a bit of a 'like it' block. If you check Laity's website and their schedule you'll discover a wide variety of renewal type retreats from centering prayer to discussion on the creativity and the arts, retreats for men, for women, for kids (see camps and family camp). And the kind of permission to rest that only comes from people being willing to trust God to work things out with people in their time and trust people to have sense enough to know if they need a nap in their room with a good book, art class, or a hike.
I was honored to be one of the speakers at this weeks women's retreat (Ronda Lowry was the other speaker who is a long standing visitor to Laity) and enjoyed the fact that although they had brought me in to speak, they gave me permission to rest, to reflect, to wander and to be myself. To actually retreat in the middle of my 'working' if you will. Sad thing is - If I hadn't been booked to speak I wouldn't have taken that time I so desperately needed. But, I was.
So, I did.
I watched a talent show which included a very, special golden girl dedicating a tap-dance to me. Now, you can't get that just anywhere. And, it was a special gift based on my story of losing a 3rd grade talent show to a girl tap dancing in a tutu. Things come full circle.
I visited the library and plucked my favorites from the shelves, reading in amazement of the authors who had visited before me. Who had found their muse at Laity. I gathered stacked of books from the bookstore where they - get this - let you borrow a book or buy a book. I stuck my feet in the beautiful blue hole springs, made new friends for life, listened to, no lost myself completely in, an Ashley Cleveland concert, and walked out in the dark under the stars to the special installation known as the Threshold where I lay on the stone and looked up at the sky watching shooting stars.
Most importantly, I came back renewed. Refreshed. Down right - Resurrected.
I got up this morning and put on Ashley's cd God Don't Never Change, (think traditional black gospel, rock, blues. Think four-time grammy award winner) And then . . .
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.