Today or Tomorrow, Noon or Evening

Today, another assignment from Blogging 101: use a prompt from the Daily Post and make it my own. Here’s today’s prompt:

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe.” What’s your reason to believe?

Bruce tells it like it is.

By many people’s standards, my days are not “hard-earned.” I have a good life, not without its problems and sorrows, but relatively easy compared to some.

My dad’s days, on the other hand, were hard-earned. He came up poor, and after high school, he went to live with and work for my uncle, who had a car dealership in a nearby town. When my uncle decided to move back to Pontotoc, the tiny town in the hills of north Mississippi where they had grown up, my father moved with him. In those days, Daddy  followed the big bands that traveled the South. He was quite handsome, and I have old photographs of the pretty girls he knew. But my mother put an end to what seemed to be his confirmed bachelorhood. When they married, she was eighteen and he was thirty-two, and the love affair that was their marriage continued until his death forty-five years later. For the rest of his life, he worked six days a week, from six in the morning until six at night, to provide for my mother and me. Maybe we were his reason to believe.

Do I believe in providence?

Daddy @ 1937

my father, about 1937

Yes, I suppose I do. I’m not certain how my parents met. I do know that my mother’s best friend lived across the street from the little service station my dad ran. I imagine her walking past the station, blushing, never looking his way. Did she and her friend watch him from the friend’s front porch? Did they giggle? Did she write her name as his–“Mrs. G______”?

I wish I knew the answers, but I don’t. What a shame I never asked.

I can only speculate, just like I can speculate about the coincidence of meeting my first husband at a college party. We were both there with other people, but he cut in and danced with me. Later, I ran into him on campus and he offered me a ride back to the dorm. Still later, he called and asked me out. And that was the beginning.

Or much later, some twenty-five years ago now, a phone call came from a man I didn’t know, the man who is now my husband. He needed a judge for a high school literary magazine contest; would I do it? When I said yes, he offered to bring the materials to my house. And soon, there he stood, on my doorstep, this man I would eventually marry. He says he remembers I served him iced tea (it was July, maybe August). What if I’d offered him coffee? Or lemonade? Or nothing? What if I’d said no on the phone? I so easily could have, but I didn’t.

Today or tomorrow, noon or evening.

This restaurant or that one. Why are we in particular places at particular times? Five minutes, or less, even seconds, and the turns our lives take could be so very different. Call it providence. Call it fate. Call it God-ordained. Our lives unfold in mysterious ways.

What is my reason to believe? My best answer is how can I not?

I’ve lived long enough to look back on the days of my life–some of which were indeed hard-earned, heartbreaking days that I thought at the time would surely break me–and see how they didn’t. They shaped and matured me and made me a different person from the one I might have been. That evidence is my reason to believe. No, I can’t prove it. But it sustains me, and that’s what matters.

Have you experienced a particular moment in your life when you felt something larger than yourself at work? I’d love for you to tell me about it here.

 

Reason to Believe

Great Expectations: Ten Things to Expect When You Launch Your Book

Welcome to the new world of this first-time author!

It’s a grand place to be, full of surprises and rare moments. The learning curve has been steep at times, but it’s oh-so-much fun.

Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS

Lemuria Books, Jackson, MS

After months of preparation and anticipation and, finally, these last two weeks of launching Crosscurrents and Other Stories, I want to share some observations about kicking your precious baby, your book, out into the world:

  • Expect to learn about marketing. Unless you publish with a major house, you’ll need to do much of your marketing and promotion on your own. (Yes, even with a terrific small press like mine–I say that word, mine, with great pride, Press 53.) You’ll research bookstores and review possibilities, make those contacts and introduce (sell) yourself and your book, set dates, send promo material, follow up, follow up, follow up. (Did I say follow up?)
  • Expect to get comfortable with self-promotion. If you don’t believe in your book, who else will?
  • Expect to choose what you’ll read at a signing (a real signing; imagine it) ahead of time, but have a backup plan so that, when you size up your audience (and realize the adultery story Just Won’t Do), you’ll have another option. Read your selections aloud and time them. Better to be too short than too long. Read scenes, not an entire chapter. If your book is a short story collection like mine, read scenes from two or three stories and stop each time at a powerful moment; leave your audience hanging so they’ll want more.
  • IMG_3973

    TurnRow Books, Greenwood, MS

    Expect the unexpected: The hem comes out of your pants. Your hair goes limp. Your ex shows up. Your best friend from childhood, whom you haven’t seen in ages, shows up, too. She’s the first person you see when you get out of the car in front of the bookstore and you fold into each others’ arms and hug and cry like the girls you used to be.

  • You’ll see people you haven’t seen in years. Expect not to remember the names of everybody you’ve ever met who might show up at a signing. It’s okay to ask. It’s also okay to say, “Now, you spell that with ie, not y, right?” Much better than getting it wrong. You’ll meet strangers. Treat them like friends.
  • At a moment when you least expect it, expect a lump in your throat when you’re reading, that rare moment when your own words move you and you know–you know–they’re good.
  • Expect the turnout, however small, to be great: these folks are your readers. Make them feel significant. Make their coming out to meet you feel worthwhile.
  • Expect to be disappointed: the turnout isn’t what you expected; the audience (if you’re lucky enough to have one) doesn’t laugh where you thought they would, or they laugh when you think they shouldn’t; you don’t sell many books. But you’re making contacts. You’re creating a network of bookstores, readers, and friends who’ll come back–next time.
  • IMG_3984

    Off Square Books, Oxford, MS

    Expect a remarkable level of generosity and hospitality on the part of independent book stores. They are gracious. book-loving folks; they want you to succeed.

  • Expect to be gracious back. Pass along the wealth of good will. Thank the bookstores for having you. Recommend them to others. Write notes or call or at least email your friends and thank them for coming. Go to other authors’ signings, like their Facebook posts and pages, and generally be a cheerleader for other authors’ voices whenever and wherever you can because now you know what it feels like to be a first-timer, which, I expect, is not so different after all from being a second-timer or a fourth or a  twenty-first. Because we are all after the same thing: we want our words to matter.

Other first-time authors out there: what was your most unexpected moment? Your proudest?

Lucky: A Tree Tale

A Facebook friend recently posted that two of her favorite trees are dying and must be taken down. She was genuinely sad about it. I could relate.

I have a love/hate relationship with our trees. My husband and I live in a 1940s bungalow in a neighborhood where ancient hardwoods tower over the houses. When it doesn’t rain for weeks and weeks—like late-summer this year and now on into the fall—we worry about their shallow roots drying out and letting go. When it does rain, we worry about their shallow roots getting saturated and letting go. When it storms, we worry about wind and lightning.

And yet, we love our trees. We love the canopy of shade. We love it when they bud out in the spring, yellow against the sky. We love them in the fall when they turn. We wouldn’t trade our trees for the world, even though they can be scary and dangerous.

Katrina

When Katrina roared through Jackson, Mississippi, still packing 75-85 mile-per-hour winds, we “lost” a tree. The big oak on the north side of the house had a forked trunk; at the base, the trunk must have been seven feet in diameter, but maybe fifteen feet above the ground, the trunk split in two. One part leaned south, toward our house; the other, north, toward the neighbor’s.

At the height of the storm, the “south” trunk snapped first and came down on our den, knocking a huge hole in the roof. My husband went out, determined to place a tarp over the hole, but the ladder shook (I was holding it; could I have stopped it from falling? I doubt it!) and the tarp kept blowing off. We gave up and retreated inside. We started moving things out of the den as the rain flooded in. While my husband carried out books, I unloaded china, including my mother’s, from the antique pie safe, the one with its original pierced tin doors. I don’t know why I stopped, but I left the room—maybe to check on my twenty-year-old cat, who I thought was dying—and while I was gone, the other trunk, the one that should have fallen on the neighbor’s house, not ours, came down on top of the first, splintering the rafters and filling the room with massive, broken tree. The pie safe was still standing in the corner of the room, but a big limb had stripped the opened tin doors right off. Later, in the debris, we found the tin panels crumpled like newspaper.

I’d just been standing there, right there, in that spot. Minutes before, my husband had been in the middle of that room. We held on to each other.

We couldn’t stay in the house; it was too dangerous. There was the poor cat, though, my beautiful calico, Portia, the last of four generations dating back to when my sons were young. I couldn’t leave her in the house, but our car was inside the garage, blocked by the tree. I called our vet’s emergency number, and she told me to bring the cat to her. She had a generator, she was taking in animals, and she wasn’t going anywhere, she said. So I asked our neighbor (looking back, I can’t believe I did) to drive me to the vet clinic, just a few blocks away. God bless her; she did. We drove through wind and flying debris and heavy rain, and I left my sweet cat in the arms of the vet.

We spent the night at the neighbors’ house. Sitting in their candlelit den, I couldn’t stop looking out the window. The storm had weakened, and the sky was strangely light. I could see the trees whipping in the wind. My husband and I couldn’t sleep, and finally, about five in the morning, he was able to get a call through to our insurance company—a crucial step, since the lines had been jammed earlier and most likely would be later, too.

In the light of day

We went out early the next morning and surveyed the damage. Devastating; we’d lost a major portion of our house, but we were lucky.

We were lucky to get a “tree man” that same day to start removing the massive tangle of broken tree. We were lucky to find a young architect who was also a builder/contractor to take on our rebuilding. Nearly nine months later, we had a brand-new 400-square-foot space in our house that is much nicer than it was before. Compared to the folks on the Gulf Coast, we were lucky, indeed. We had our house back. We were alive.

PORTIA
Portia — photo by Clay Jones

The cat, my sweet Portia, died, by the way. The vet called me the morning after the storm. “You’d better come,” she said, “if you want to see her again.” And so another neighbor drove me back to the clinic where I sat and held Portia, already cool and nearly lifeless, while she slipped away.

The neighbor drove me home, and I got on with the business of cleaning up.

Ten years ago, all that

And still, every time it storms, which it does here in the deep South, my husband and I get nervous. Huge limbs of a neighbor’s oak tree overhang our bedroom; through the skylights, we can see the trees dashed about by wind. There’s no safe place in our house, really. Oh, maybe an interior closet in case of a tornado, but I have a feeling not even that closet is safe from a hundred-year-old tree that decides to let go of its hold on the earth.

Every region has its bad weather. I’ve lived in places where it snows from October to April. Not for me. I think I’d rather hedge my bets against our majestic trees, especially this time of year when they start to turn, when the autumn sunlight has that shimmering quality and the sky is so intensely blue it looks like the filtered effect in a photograph.

Yes, I think I’ll stay. Trees and all.

Where you live, is there an element of nature that you both love and fear?