Find Your Monastery

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” -Henry David Thoreau

I opened the used book store this morning. I work there once a week. I work for free.  I spend my time greeting a few customers each day. I browse the shelves. I sweep the floor. I huddle by the radiator when the heating gets temperamental.

emily dickinson

I drive to pick up Boo from school and I have no heat in the car, but the engine gives off plenty of warmth on its own.  I never turn the radio on…I like hearing the rumbling of the road and I notice more around me that way too.

It’s so cold here today that the iciness hangs in the air. It feels like it might snow. The bitter weather makes the indoors so cozy and nestlike:

warmth

I set my timer and write without stopping for 30 minutes, even if it makes no sense. And when the timer goes off I find my heart wanting to write more. And I sit here wondering how I ended up in such a place. How watching the clouds roll in and out can be enough to fill the soul. How living so close to nature took away my fear of the dark and things unknown.

woods

In the book Dakota, Kathleen Norris describes how the Great Plains became her monastery:

“…my place set apart, where I thrive and grow. It surprises me also to find that I no longer need to visit the city – any city – to obtain what I am missing, because I don’t feel deprived. 

[…]

Both Plains and monastery are places where distractions are at a minimum and you must rely on your own resources, only to find yourself utterly dependent on forces beyond your control; where time seems to stand still, as it does in the liturgy; where your life is defined by waiting.”

Yes. These mountains have become my monastery. A place where I thrive and grow.

Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God. – St. Hilary

Find your monastery.

I Am My Own Mechanic

We’ve all driven places and then wondered how we even got there. Snapped back to the present frame.  How did I get here? What happened to the last 30 miles?  Was I even between the lines?  Did I pass anyone? Driving back from Hendersonville the other day I missed a crucial turn, but only realized it when:

uh oh, there isn’t a tunnel on the way home….

tunnel

Things like this usually don’t phase me…a detour is good for the soul.  But Ruby (my truck) had been dead only hours earlier. No charge in the battery.   I should have known something was wrong 3 days ago when I was driving into camp.  It was dark, and I began thinking: my iPhone screen would be brighter than my pathetic headlights! And my blinkers had stopped working, and the seatbelt light would come on periodically. Ruby wasn’t quite herself. She was leaking energy everywhere.

And so, when I entered the tunnel, I realized that I was on my way to Tennessee, over the mountains.  There are no cities, no towns, no gas stations.  The road was already in that blue, dusky shade that signals the oncoming of dusk.  It just starts to look cold.  Very cold. And desolate.  My heart picked up its pace a little and I looked down at my gas gauge. Only 1/8th of a tank left.

About 7 miles after the 2nd tunnel I eventually found an exit to turn around.  There wasn’t a soul at the exit, except for a lone motorcycle rider who barreled past at twice my speed. I got back on the highway and drove south, knowing that every mile that passed meant that I was one mile closer to home. The fuel light came on, and I began to pray to just get close enough to a gas station that there wouldn’t be coyotes or wolves.

I coasted into a gas station on fumes.

 *****

I always feel like asking people if they have jumper cables is a reverse lottery.  No one wants to win. But, the first guy I asked said yes. He was with three other men and they’d just gotten off work from the quarry, tired and covered in dust. Opening the hood of their truck I was initially embarrassed at how clean Ruby’s engine was compared to the state of the other truck’s engine. But you could see their eyes light up when they opened Ruby up. Their eyes took in the Edelbrock carburetor and the 350 crate engine. The younger of the three lifted the hood into place and he looked into Ruby’s insides as if he’d known her forever. She was an old girlfriend. He tightened things here and there and touched the belts to test their tautness.  Places I’d never dared stick my hands before fearing I’d burn them or lose them.

“This is toast,” he said flicking the rubber length of one of the belts with his finger, “see how loose it is? It isn’t turning this other wheel.” 

“What does that mean?”

“The battery isn’t being charged.”

All of the sudden the whole world of gears and trucks and belts began to connect.  The painfully slow blinkers, the dim headlights, the flashing of the seatbelt sign while I was driving…they were all working off the battery.

He pointed and explained how I could tighten the belt myself. One of the parts was on a track that could be moved in either direction. Moving it to the left would pull the belt taut enough that it would turn the wheel. All I needed was a wrench.  It looked so easy. I could fix this.

edelbrock

Eventually they got Ruby restarted after sending invisible energy to her through a simple set of cables.  I teared up at her familiar initial deep growl and then idle puttering. And I knew I had enough gas to get her home now.  I threw my arms around all three of them and they each said with a slight grin: Your welcome ma’am.  

ruby

And yesterday morning….

I fixed Ruby. With a wrench, and a little elbow grease from hubby.

I am Rosie the Riveter.

I am my own mechanic.

 

Stretching

A journal page from the past, 11 years ago.  These words:

“stretch to others even though it hurts and strains and would be more comfortable to snuggle back in the comforting cotton wool of blissful ignorance”  -Sylvia Plath

I read in front of people today, something I’d written a year ago. That was stretching for me. Go-go-gadget arms. Now I’m crawling back into my comfortable cotton wool for the night.  Remember the movie Cocoon? They say if we go with them, we’ll live forever. That was a great movie.

sylvia-1

8 Halloween Craft Project Ideas

A compilation of all the things I’ve made for Halloween…from printables to costumes to decor. Links are at the bottom of the image:

Halloween project and decor ideas DIY

 

1. Lego Sticker Stamps and Pieced Block Dress

2. Sharpie Owl Pumpkins

3. Glass Clings Made From Packing Tape

4. Distressed Halloween Sign

5. Printable Trick or Treat Labels and “Treat” Ideas

6. House Number Pumpkin

7. T-Shirt Butterfly Wings 

8. Glow Stick Lanterns

or click here to scroll through all at once!

The Secret to Writing

I spoke about writing from the heart this weekend in Galveston at the Blog Elevated Conference. Yes I actually did it, despite being knocked silly and unable to turn my head after the car accident. And despite my being a deer in the headlights, the crowd laughed, and cried, and they were right there with me. And the genuine “thank you’s” afterward shook me to the core and made it all completely worth it because there is always that doubt: why would anyone want to come and hear what I have to say about writing?  I have no certified expertise.  I never did well in English and literature classes when I was in school.  I thought I’d share a few things that I shared with those that attended my session because it’s all so very close to my heart right now. This is what I know today:

1. A writer actually has to WRITE.

This is a work in progress for me. I’m always thinking about writing, but not always actually WRITING.  The book Page by Page by Amy Sellers is one that I love to read over and over, and never in order:

The secret to writing, books on writing

 

2. A writer has to disconnect every once in a while. 

I am the QUEEN of excuses when it comes to writing: I’m too busy. The phone is ringing. It’s too hot . It’s too cold. I have to organize my space first.

I have to find a quiet place to really write. Maybe it’s for an hour a day, maybe for an entire weekend.  Since we have such a small living space right now, I cleared out a section of my daughter’s room that I can use as an area for writing each day when she is at school. It isn’t glamorous but it’s all I need. It’s quiet, and without distractions.  Stephen King used to write in his laundry room.  It was a place where he could shut the door and show the world he meant business.

Sometimes I go to the library. Sometimes I just sit in my car in the library parking lot. Sometimes I ride the train by myself.

anne lamott quote, on writing

 

 3. A writer needs input. 

Just like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit….”need input”….who consumed books: I think a writer needs to consume books. I took this photo over the summer of Carl Sandburg’s house in Hendersonville, NC:

carlsandburg

It was like walking into a time capsule.  Incredible. Every square inch of his house is covered in bookshelves, to house the 14,000 books that he stored there.  He had twice that but he donated half to a university. And in each book were tiny pieces of paper where he had marked things to come back to.  He devoured anything he could get his hands on. When he died they found his jacket pockets full of newspaper clippings and phrases.

I am never without a book. I sleep with books. Books stack up next to my bedside. Magazines. Wikipedia. I live in bookstores. The more good stuff I put in, the more good stuff that comes out.

Also, input isn’t just about books. Dayna Steele who was the keynote speaker at the conference gave some great advice:

Never stop learning. Google everything. Google everyone. Look at the morning news. Know what’s going on around you. Continue to learn about things you know nothing about. Teach yourself stuff. Get out and meet people. Talk to people you don’t know. 

I love to wander because I never know where it’s going to take me. It also give me a chance to observe and write about what I would never notice otherwise:
quote by maya angelou

I think to write from the heart you have to live from the heart.  They are undoubtably linked.

Live to write, not the other way around, right?

 

A few books that I recommend:

Page by Page by Heather Sellers

“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. If it doesn’t work out, you’re heartbroken, but you move forward and start again anyway. You have to. You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing. There are no guarantees.” 

page-by-page

 

 

On Writing: Memoir of a Craft by Stephen King

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

on-writing

 

 

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” 

bird-by-bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Town USA

I really do live in Mayberry. i.e. Bryson City

This is Buford’s Barbershop. He waved at me each time I walked by today.

Barber Shop in Bryson City, NC - Buford's Barbershop  - just like Mayberry

 

A store that sells guns and ice cream:

donsicecream

 

The view from Main Street and Everett Street:

Visiting Bryson City, NC

Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering, or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.

-Maya Angelou

The Sky is Falling

Today I tried a new table down by the river and I checked underneath like I always do before climbing on top….and there was the largest spider I’d ever seen.  She was upside down on the table, her egg sac carefully wrapped up in her web, and hundreds of little babies were swarming about. Charlotte is very ill. She only has a short time to live. Instead of chasing her away I found my usual table.

The sweat bee came back from a few days ago and brought all of her friends. Swarming they began to take over my personal space and eventually I moved to the bright red picnic table under the walnut tree.  Butternuts were falling like bombs around me.  I was a sitting duck. One of these would have probably knocked me out:

walnut

A man approached me and asked if my truck was for sale.  I told him no. He told me he lived on the Cherokee reservation nearby, and then he told me his life story. Which I thought was awesome….I didn’t even have to ask any questions for once.  His brother and his dog sat near his truck and waited for him to finish talking and eventually I mentioned that to him. He told me his brother was scared of him.  As he left I told him to please be nice to his brother…and he hung his head a little as if he felt guilty all the sudden.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon working in the used book store…and the most important thing I learned is that it is not:

Used Bookstore

but

Used Book Store

Details, shmetails. Until it clicked and I realized we weren’t selling used bookstores.  Obviously in my last post about the book store I didn’t know this difference. I never did that well in English.  After that very important lesson, I spent my time going through 8 boxes of books brought in by the same elderly man. You can tell a lot about someone by the books they read. I think this man must have been a professor once, of history or philosophy….or anthropology.

I saw this rainbow as I drove home last night driving home from the bookstore:

rainbow

 

It doesn’t even look real. When I took it I thought: no one will believe this is real.

Something I Read in a Book

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void. -Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

Today was my first day volunteering at the Friends of the Marianna Black Library store in downtown Bryson City.  It’s a used bookstore that benefits the local library.  I’ve always wanted to work at a bookstore, especially after watching You’ve Got Mail, Notting Hill and The Neverending Story.  Today was really just a training day and I learned how to use a cash register again (it’s been probably 15 years since I used one).  I rang up 2 customers. One of those customers was me…because I bought 6 books on my first day.

Friends of MBL (located right next to Cork & Bean)

Used Bookstore in Bryson City, Friends of Marianna Black Library

Speaking of The Neverending Story…I watched that last night. It was just kinda weird, nothing like I remembered it. Falcor wasn’t the cute doggy dragon I remembered, Atreyu yelled way too much, and the Swamp of Sadness was just a big swamp of sadness.  Sometimes childhood movies should not be revisited. But the whole idea of being lost in a book…well I love that.  I’ve tried to set aside at least an hour a day now just for reading, and then I write. I sat by the river this morning and read a book as I drank a Grape Fanta:

grapefanta

If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger–

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early–

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless–

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.

-Michael Ende, The Neverending Story
  

That quote reminds me of when I read my last Steinbeck novel…I cried closing the last page, because I knew it was the end and no more would ever be written. Or when I read Katherine’s Graham’s Personal History…and I got to the scene in the middle of the book about her husband’s death…I had to close the book and put it away for over a year before I could read the rest. And Sylvia Plath’s Unabridged Journals I’ve read so many times the pages are falling out…and some journals are missing because they were either destroyed or lost and that drives me cuckoo. And when I read them it’s like she’s reading my mind. And so on and so on. And then there’s the whole appeal of a used book…especially the old and tattered ones. There’s something very mysterious about them, there’s something very mysterious about used bookstores in general…especially when they are in the setting of an old historic building, with the original soda fountain stools from years ago. And the treasure hunt! A very young couple today came in looking for Steinbeck. They were staying in the Yurt village for a few days up at the Nantahala Gorge. I loved hearing about their experience in a Yurt. And that all created a flashback to when I once studied Chinese movies in college and we watched Mongolian movies….everyone lived in Yurts. Mongolia may have invented the Yurt.  Someone asked me the other day about daydreaming….how I manage to do it. Learn to lose yourself in books first, then the daydreaming comes easily after that…

…and it could be really awesome in a Yurt.

Beautiful Things Don’t Ask For Attention

It was a rough day for Boo yesterday…she was grounded. I don’t know what got into her….maybe it’s all the freedom. There’s a wedding tonight and the bride and her family were here yesterday setting up and Boo was so excited to help…and she was a great help…but then she began to get a little snooty, too big for her britches as they say, and then she was disrespectful to the inn’s intern Harper and that was the last straw.  I confined her to the house and then witnessed a full blown tantrum and I’d never seen her so defiant before. She is well beyond her years in being able to turn arguments around on a dime.  After being grounded and realizing that her actions had serious consequences (like not being able to run freely around the inn) she turned back into my sweet, down-to-earth child.

But she is me. She wants to do and see everything.  She craves freedom and independence. She wants to disappear and wander aimlessly. She never tires. I get it…but when it affects others it’s time to reign it in.  I guess that’s why we need boundaries, right?

I stayed up way too late last night…reading Thoreau of all things.  I hadn’t touched Thoreau since being forced to read it in high school but something deep down was urging me to revisit it. I kept having to turn on the light to write down page numbers of quotes to share:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest.”

“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”

“In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

“The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats.”

 

let us spend every day deliberately - quote by thoreau

*****

Yesterday was the first day I took my big DSLR camera out…and I only took a few photos.  We watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty the other night and there’s that scene where the rare snow leopard emerges from its hiding place and Sean O’Connell doesn’t press the shutter button.  Watching it I’m thinking: PRESS THE BUTTON. PRESS THE BUTTON!

Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it?
Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O’Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.

(loved that movie…except I have been singing the line non stop “This is Major Tom to Ground Control….I’m stepping through the door.”)

I’m in these moments…I haven’t felt like I needed to capture them all for the first time in a long time.

******

I was a little uncertain for the first few days living here….the moisture of the mountains, the spiders and healthy insect colonies of the forest. It was all so new. I wondered if maybe I just wasn’t made for the outdoors. But yesterday, as Brett and Boo were skipping rocks into the river yesterday afternoon (her request) I found this place along the shore where the powerful Tuckaseegee river was flowing backwards because of the current. He leads me beside the still waters. I’m in awe of this place.  The richness of the land and the area. It’s humming with life all the time.  I find strength in the trees and peace from the water.

A year ago I would have needed the perfect office to write from, now I’m writing from the floor of my bedroom huddled next to the dog for the best sunlight. It’s quiet here and Diesel’s sweet panting breath is soothing. And other than that there is no sound whatsoever except for an occasional bird song. I could be the only person on earth right now…..except I know there is a flurry of activity up the hill for a young couple getting married on the property tonight:

rustic wedding

The Road to Nowhere

There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.
– Jack Kerouac

This morning we took a wrong turn and ended up on the Road to Nowhere. It’s a 6-mile-drive into the park that ends abruptly at this tunnel. (you can read the story here).  There’s not really anywhere to turn around so we just kept going.  Why not right?  We were the only ones there when we first got there:

Things to do in Bryson City - The Road to Nowhere Tunnel in Smoky Mountains

 

Boo and Brett talked me into going in. I walked behind them holding Diesel. One foot in front of the other…careful to stay right in the center…totally focused on the light ahead of me. I felt like I was going to be snatched into the walls. My heart was beating a million miles per hour and I just kept saying the Lord’s Prayer so it echoed throughout.  Funny how things can be scary and amazing all at the same time.

the light at the end of the tunnel

Things to do in Smoky Mountains National Park - The Road to Nowhere Tunnel

 

Here’s a photo Brett too from the other side:

 

exhilarated….until we realized we had to walk back through.

 

a graffiti compliment

 

So the Road to Nowhere actually does lead somewhere…to an eerie tunnel that feels sinister, earthy and breathtaking all at once.  I totally recommend walking through it…first thing in the morning (that’s the safest time of day in scary movies).

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