Giving Tranquility Base Some Breathing Room

 

 

Lot 5 was our original purchase on January 2. The Lot 4 addition doubles the property for our Tranquility Base Writer Retreat Center Development.

Its legal description is Roundbottom Pool Estates, an approximate 50-acre land tract developed in a spectacular river valley near Mountain View, AR in 2007. When a one-hundred-year flood passed through a year later, it derailed plans for everything. Today it is the site for about seven homes, most of them vacation homes for people living full-time elsewhere. It is also the home of our Tranquility Base Writer’s Retreat Center. Outside the trickle of the White River and an occasional eagle, you can hear a pin drop there.

From Mountain View, you travel about five miles southeast and downward following the White River to reach Roundbottom. Not uncommon along the drive are deer, turkey,  and all kinds of wildlife, not to mention the occasional hillbilly. The Herpelites (those hillbillies living along Herpel Road) are the biggest challenge as they fly around blind corners in beat up pickup trucks (think Deliverance) with no regard to possible oncoming traffic. A Herpelite can kill you in a heartbeat. Watch out, and drive defensively for Herpelites.

The conclusion of the five-mile drive down into the valley on our River Valley Road is take-your-breath-away beautiful.

Last Monday, Dana and I spent an hour researching real estate records at the Stone County Courthouse. After some digging, we identified the lot owners immediately west of our 1.2 acre property. The kind clerk gave me directions to the owner’s house and we drove there. The owners kindly invited us in to their amazing mountain cabin overlooking our valley and I asked about his willingness to sell his property adjacent to tranquility base.

“I’d love to sell it,” he said. My heart jumped.

After a couple of days of negotiations, I’m happy to say we’re purchasing another 1.2 acres that will double the size of our sanctuary, providing room for more wildlife habitat, a walking trail and lots of breathing room. It also brings our river frontage to just more than 200 feet.

We’re hopeful that construction will begin on March 1.

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The Task is Complete

Some time back around 2010 I was getting desperate. I hadn’t worked in two years and chronic depression had settled in, seeming it might never go away. Dana and I were still relatively newly married and I wondered why she even stuck around.

One morning my mom called and explained a potential opportunity with a family that owned one of those elder care businesses with several satellite offices across Arkansas. They needed two people for their Mountain Home office and they needed them soon. I drove up a few days later and they offered us the job on the spot. The emotions were mixed. The money would be a relief but leaving “home” never felt right. I made the decision that we’d make the move despite gut feelings that said it was wrong.

Time passed. Not only were the owners downright tyrants, they were an emotional bunch who lived out most aspects of their lives without discretion. Husband and wife arguments right there in the office, the kind of family dynamics that have no business in the workplace. These people were mean. Mean and depression don’t mix well. Dana and I were miserable at new depths. 

And I felt completely trapped. 

We’d made the move, though we’d not sold our house back home, and the money paid the bills. We weren’t being a burden to anyone, but the work experience made us so physically sick we came home every weekend, happy to spend time back in our house with no more than a couple of lawn chairs and a blow-up couch. One Monday morning before we made the three-hour drive back to work I had a complete spiritual meltdown, one of the lowest moments of my life.

As the weeks passed, the experience took its toll on us physically. Dana, strong, and typically full of energy became sick with a level 10 sinus infection. She stayed home from work that day, but the owners were relentless sending her email and calling her at home to carry on with her work.

Dana returned to work the following day, still sick but overwhelmed with so much work responsibility. Staying home was no relief. 

Looking back, it was also the day that we reclaimed our lives and started living again.

That entire morning, the owners, now working in an office several hours away, pounded Dana with work assignments via text, email, and phone call. Still sick and feverish, she handled it well. (Dana is MUCH better at this stuff than me.)

At the end of a command from one of the owners, Dana replied with a simple, “Gotcha.”

The owner’s reply?

“Never reply to me with a ‘gotcha.’ Your correct response is ‘the task is complete.’”

I’d never seen anything like it. The task is complete. That’s the response she commanded.

We finished the day and went for cheap fast food at a Hardees. As bad as the day had been, we feared tomorrow might get worse. And the next day, and the next.

Dana looked at me. I looked at her. 

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I asked.

“I think so.

“Let’s blow this joint.”

That evening, we dropped our keys in a business mailbox, went home, slept like babies, got up early and packed to go home. We never spoke another word to those maniacs. And we literally cheered and sang and celebrated the drive home.

We reflect on it as one of the pivotal moments in our marriage. Solid. Together. One.

Sometimes you have to follow your gut.

Ten Things That Are Also 54

  • AstroTurf. AstroTurf hit it big in 1966 when the company was tapped to turf the newly opened Houson Astrodome.
  • Best Buy.
  • Doritos, only the world’s best snack.
  • Fresca. So refreshing for 54.
  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal. Bring me a variety pack to the old folks home each year at Christmas.
    • Toyota Corolla. Probably all made in 66 are still going!
  • Twister.
  • Super Bowl I. The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills 31-7.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Star Trek

Tranquility Base Writer Retreats (2021 Schedule)

 

Our 2021 curriculum is focused on four primary dates (4 days each) on site at Tranquility Base in Mountain View, AR.  Call us for specific information on a customized 2-day retreat at another location in the US.

Our retreats are private, intimate, and designed to focus on individuals. That’s why we limit each retreat to eight participants. This experience is designed for:

Learning – Relaxing – Cultural Experiences – and Hospitality (we are at your service).

Each four-day retreat focuses on four areas including: Faith & Craft, Content Marketing &  Authentic Brand, The Art & Science of Writing & Publishing, and The Deeper You.

Some of the topics covered in these four sessions include: Finding Your Voice, Don’t Waste Your Wilderness, Habits & Systems, The Valley of the Dry Bones, How to Sell Without Selling, Creating Stakeholders, Embracing Fear, Your Creative Rhythm, Traditional & Indie Author Strategies, and many more.

These are the 2021 learning dates and the cultural opportunities extended with them:

•March 11-14 (highlighting the bi-annual Mountain View Bluegrass Festival)

•April 15-18 (highlighting Mountain View’s famous Arkansas Folk Festival)

•October 21-24 (highlighting Stone County’s Beanfest & Outhouse Races)

•November 11-14 (highlighting Mountain View’s bi-annual Bluegrass Festival)

 

While we’re focused on learning in a rustic lodge setting in the amazing White River Valley, we’ll also work in opportunities for experiences such as:

A tour of the Hemingway-Pfieffer Center and the barn studio where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms; Blanchard Springs Caverns Tours; Shopping in the Town Square; World-Class Trout Fishing; Zip Line Course; Golf; and more.

COST: Each four-day seminar is $500, plus a $100 room and board fee for those who stay on the property. Our accommodations are albergue-style in our loft, a rustic, hostel-like, but cozy setting. Private accommodations are easily arranged. All meals (with the exception of one night out) are covered. We will work with each participant on transportation to our lodge, and to your return destination. Again, we are here to serve you.

This is not one of those experiences where you’ll leave disappointed. You’ll learn. You’ll have fun. Make new friends. See another part of the world. And you will be served. We are laser-focused on hospitality because we love serving people. Tell us you weren’t happy when it comes time to go home, and I’ll refund your money (if you even want to go home).

Spots may be reserved with a $100 non-refundable deposit, balance due sixty days prior to the event. For more information, call 870.926.4055, or write steve@stevewatkins.org

BONUS INFORMATION:  Depending on our completion date, we’ll offer two to three free group getaways during Fall/Winter 2020 to help us practice with our soft opening. This is the perfect opportunity for your small business retreat, leadership conference or other activity that will include up to eight persons. Interested parties for our soft-opening giveaways should write to steve@stevewatkins.org

 

The Honesty Box

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely that what others think of you. The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”  – Coach John Wooden

Is your character worth a penny?

Lake County has been the poorest of Tennessee’s ninety-five counties for a long time. It’s mostly two small towns with thousands of acres of the world’s richest farm land. This Mississippi River twists and turns through its heart, and the land is so flat you can see forever. There aren’t more than eight or ten families who farm all that land now, so the jobs aren’t all that plentiful.

“You don’t just put any yahoo to operating a half-million dollar cotton picker,” as one local resident recently noted.

Jimmy Lee Tucker remembers the late 1950s when his father worked as a commercial fisherman on Reelfoot Lake.  “If he had a good week, I got 25 cents on Saturday,” he said. “If it was a bad week I got nothing. The 25 cents would get you a Coke, a big Baby Ruth and enough bubble gum to last for the week.”

But Tucker, now a census worker for the government, remembers an abrupt change that came to his weekend routine one day.

“The Cokes went from a nickel to six cents. You put your nickel in the slot like always, and they attached a tin box to the outside where you placed the extra penny. They called it the honesty box. Paying six cents for a Coke was a big deal.

“Hardly any of the kids did it, and so it wasn’t a year later before they just upped the price from six cents to a dime. That showed us.”

***

When I was younger it didn’t bother me so much taking a pen from the bank or just accepting the extra french fries when the order got mixed up. And I must have left a hundred shopping carts right there in the parking lot.

That conscience, though.

The older we grow, I think, the more self-aware we are of that person we see in the mirror. I’ve realized that among all things, I have to live with that guy, and I don’t want him feeling guilty about some small, silly thing.

Dana and I once spent a five-month stretch in Ecuador not knowing if we’d ever return to the US. It was on the back side of a tough time, emotionally, economically, and lots of other ways. The thing I realized most from that adventure is that wherever you go, you take yourself with you. There’s really no hiding from yourself.

Everybody has an honesty box.

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COMING FRIDAY: Dates for the 2021 Tranquility Base Writers Retreats

Top 10 People Who Shaped My Storytelling

Any writer would have a difficult time counting all the things that affect his or her work. Places, different environments, other writers. Lots of things.

People inevitably affect the way we write, some from a technical, craft kind of standpoint, others from a place of voice and how we see the world, and tell the story.

These are ten people who’ve shaped the way my mind develops a story, and conveys it in black and white.

My Mom: After an unhappy first freshman semester at the University of Central Arkansas where I majored in public administration, I decided transfer to Arkansas State University with no idea about my life’s future. “Why don’t you talk to the people in the journalism department,” said said. And that’s where it began.

My Dad: Pat Conroy once said: “My father’s violence is the central fact of my art and life.” I didn’t live with a father who displayed violence anywhere near that of the Great Santini, but he was rough and tough enough. It was my father who evoked the strongest emotions I’ve known in a lifetime. Fear. Embarrassment. Gut rage anger. The strongest desire to do anything that would make him proud. It’s a strange thing to say, but my life is richer for my father’s rigid ways and a lifestyle more about his next beer than anything that had much to do with me. The stories born from my childhood and adolescence are a storyteller’s paradise.

Arkansas State University’s Journalism Department Triumvirate (Dr. Joel Gambill, Dr. Gilbert Fowler, and Dr. Marlin Shipman) : These three men were the foundation of ASU Department of Journalism for a good two decades. The foundational skills they passed on to me are are invaluable, and their great friendship was an uncommon encouragement.

Jesus: It’s pretty simple actually. Jesus was the greatest storyteller of them all. He was a master. Jesus used common, everyday, slice-of-life stories to teach the masses about God’s Kingdom.  His parables have been a model for my work from the beginning. For me, no story is greater, no image more amazing, than the prodigal son’s father running toward him upon his return.

J.L. Kimbrell (representing so many others): J.L. Kimbrell was an average, ordinary man from my hometown of Monette, AR. He was a farmer, a war veteran, loved his wife, told great stories of his own, and he was kind to everyone he met. He was like so many men in my hometown who, over the years, I had the chance to observe as they gathered at the local gin, or the implement company, or the duck blind. Watching their mannerisms and their language, even the way they crossed their legs was an extraordinary education. There are too many to name here. But I loved those men.

Fernand Brault: My French-Canadian friend told me an incredible story one day about his solo adventure from Montreal, Canada to the Bahamas on a vessel called Windseeker. To that point in our relationship, he’d never shared with me a story so captivating. As he shared the emotions he encountered when it came time to turn around and sail home, I was speechless. Fern’s tale was a great reminder that we all have a story. There is really no boring life.

Vegan Jake: That’s not his true name, but the name I used for the villain in Pilgrim Strong. Jake was a midwestern, number-crunching, vegan, atheist, extreme liberal of Polish decent, who believed it a sin to use things like washing machines, or lawn mowers, or even drink a Coke. As we spent time together on the Way of St. James, it seemed he expressed his disdain for my ways at nearly every turn.  One day I surprised him. “You can act as though I disgust you, but deep down inside you like me,” I offered. “You’re likable enough, High Roller,” he countered. He was a two-week lesson in conflict.

Jeannick Guerin: Another pilgrim with whom I spent considerable time on the Way. As we stopped one morning for second breakfast and Jeannick explained his reason for walking, it was clear that a terminal illness had brought him from Australia to his homeland in France so that he might say “goodbye.” I never asked another question about it. Some things are more important than the story.

Bradley Harris: My first editor. Upon our agreement to work together back in 2013, Brad was pretty straightforward about his toughness. He asked me to picture a dial 1-10 and give him a number representing just how much I could stand without having a meltdown. I think I offered a nine. Brad taught me so much. Mostly that every story that gets told can no longer be about me. It’s all about the person reading the words.

I’ve never met Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller, but his work has guided me for years. His recent book, Building a Story Brand outlines a simple, three-pronged idea for how stories can best hold readers’ attention. The writer first addresses a problem, then a solution, then explains how life is better because of that solution. Simple really. It’s a theme in many stories I write.

(Coming Wednesday: The Honesty Box)

 

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Photo of the Week

REELFOOT MORNING

Fog lingers across Reelfoot Lake and up to the cypress tree line in Tiptonville, TN on 2/1/20.  Reelfoot formed in a series of major earthquakes in 1811-1812 when many locals said the Mississippi River ran backwards for a time.  The 15,000-acre lake is known for some of the finest crappie fishing in the world and was the filming site for the movie US Marshals.

TOMORROW: The Top 10 Real Life People Who Shaped My Storytelling, and How.

 

The Power of Just Walking Away

“Boys, the best thing you can do with death is ride off from it.” ~ Capt. Woodrow F. Call from the movie, Lonesome  Dove

Dr. Robert Lewis was teaching pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock for many years. I lived three hours away and wasn’t a member of his church, but Dr. Lewis taught me lots of things.

Like many men, I spent considerable time in my early thirties searching for an identity, a purpose, and God’s plan for my life. Clarity on those bigger things isn’t always easy when you’re simply trying to earn enough money to pay for diapers, formula, and day care. The thirties aren’t easy.

Across the country there were rave reviews in the early 90s about Dr. Lewis’ curriculum called The Quest for Authentic Manhood. Thousands of churches taught the curriculum. Dr. Lewis led the effort at his home church, and for many weeks I left home at 3 a.m., drove to Little Rock, sat in on the session, and returned to Jonesboro for work by mid morning. Quest reinforced four basic tenets for a man’s life:

•Reject passivity.

•Accept responsibility.

•Lead courageously.

•And, expect a greater reward.

For 23 years, these four ideas have guided everything I do. There were moments of failure, yes, but fewer than there otherwise might have been without them, I suspect.

One of the most important things I learned from this comprehensive study on manhood was posed by a simple question that catches many of us off guard.

When does a man become a man? At bar mitzvah? When he completes his Selective Service registration? When he first votes? What is this moment in time when a male transitions from boy to man? How does he know?

It all emphasizes the important need for things like ceremony and symbols.

How do we mark a marriage? A ceremony and symbols. How do we mark milestone anniversaries? Ceremony and symbols. In the Christian life, how do we mark the milestone of our most important decision? Ceremony and symbol.

We need these things in our life as an important way of both marking growth, and leaving things behind. Sometimes we underestimate the power of leaving things behind.

***

About two-thirds through their five-hundred mile walk, modern-day pilgrims representing dozens of nationalities encounter a special place on the pilgrimage known as northern Spain’s Camino de Santiago.

It’s really nothing more than an iron cross atop big pile of rocks, but many consider it holy ground. 

For more than a millennia, tradition has encouraged pilgrims on The Way of St. James to carry a small object from their home (most carry a small stone) and as they walk. The object represents the pilgrim’s burden, or her sin, or regrets, however they may wish to characterize it. Upon arrival at this special location known as Cruz de Ferro in the Cambrian Mountains, the pilgrim places the object on the hill at the foot of the cross, offers a prayer, and walks away.

The symbolism of marking such a moment in time is a powerful milestone representing the heart of the gospel truth.

Some say that upon our repentance of sin God cannot remember our wrongdoing. The more accurate and amazing truth is not that he can’t, but that God chooses with a holy intention NOT to recall the past. Through the power of Jesus’ blood shed on a different cross nearly two thousand years ago, we need not wallow in the shame and regret of sin.

You may not walk a five-hundred mile pilgrimage, but you can surely mark a moment representing your repentance of sin.

•Write your regrets on a piece of paper, light a match, and watch your past mistakes go up in smoke. 

•Construct a simple cross and nail your paper list to the symbol of Christ’s crucifixion.

•Next Sunday, leave an object representing your shortcomings at your church altar, say a prayer, and walk away.

Remember, God has a purpose for every person, and His work is too important for us to remain bogged down in the past. 

That’s why He sent Jesus. For your freedom!

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Ask Yourself: What Can I Unlearn Today?

“Intelligence is what we learn. Wisdom is what we unlearn.” 

~ J.R. Rim

 

Never stop learning! Always be a rookie at something! The older the wiser!

The cliches about learning are almost unending.

We’re a society that values learning. And indeed, there’s not much substitute for education and life experience. Wisdom brings a certain peace that Jesus desired for all those who walk his Way.

But could it be that our deepest wisdom comes from the things we once believed as true somewhere back on the path, but no longer find true today?

Jesus spoke of this in the way he taught and told stories.  He begins with “you have heard it said…”, then continues with “but I tell you…”  The pattern is repeated in Matthew 5 starting in verse 21.  It was not enough for Jesus to give new information.  He needed to correct the wrong beliefs that lead people astray.

American pastor and author Mark Batterson says, “Unfortunately, unlearning is twice as hard as learning.  It’s like missing your exit on the freeway – you have to drive to the next exit and then double back.  Every mile you go in the wrong direction is really a two-mile error.”

As we study God’s truth, we may also have an awareness of certain things not so true.  Sometimes they are easily spotted, and other times they’re ingrained so deeply that it’s not so easy.  We need to work toward being Christ-like, while also rejecting the things that are not of God.

What is something you were taught, or once believed, that the Holy Spirit is now suggesting you reconsider?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” ~ Romans 12:2