Vicarious

When I was a little kid, I believed I could do anything.

I wanted a pony, and I didn’t depend on Santa to bring it. I devised a plan myself. I saved my pennies in a glass jar. I listened to the Swap and Shop program on WMSR radio, and when a farmer advertised his pony for sale, I called him.

I interrogated him over the phone. I decided he had what I wanted, and I asked him to deliver it to my grandparents’ house. And that he did in a old pick-up truck. I paid him the $25 I had saved, and I had my pony. I think I was in second grade.

What I didn’t realize is how much that pony would cost. My dad traded his shotgun for a new saddle, and they paid my grandparent’s neighbor for boarding. I also didn’t figure on old Jerry, my pony’s name, to be a mean son of gun. The first day I got him I sat proudly on his back while he was tethered in my grandparents’ front yard.

My silly uncle teased me by neighing like a horse, and for no good reason at all Jerry bucked me off in front of my entire family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents. I was humiliated. But my grandfather talked me into getting back on again, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.

Jerry didn’t stay around too long, but my little pony experience taught me never to stop believing dreams can true.

I miss being a little kid. When we’re little kids, time has no meaning. Life seems to go on forever, and the only thing about time we dreaded was bedtime. But the next day provided another opportunity for adventure.

When you’re a little kid, you can play and pretend and be anything you want to be. When you fall down, scrape your knee, or getting thrown by a horse, there’s usually someone there to pick you up again.

But when we grow up, recess goes away. There’s no time to pretend. No time to play. No time to think our own thoughts. Everyone says, “No you can’t,” and we stop believing we can.

Last night I saw a beautiful sight. My twelve year old was sprawled on my bed reading The Hunger Games. I didn’t force him to read. He asked me to buy the book. I didn’t beg him to read. He sneaked away by himself and took the initiative.

I’m a teacher. I don’t see many young kids, especially boys, who volunteer to read anything.

I get excited when I see young people read because reading gives them a chance to be anything, do anything they want, even if they have to live vicariously through characters in the book.

I wouldn’t discourage any type of reading as long as it wasn’t moral pollution. Comic books, graphic novels, sports magazines, romance novels, etc. I like to read interviews and biographies. Why? Because I can live vicariously through the writers who interviewed the people. In addition to being a novelist in training, I’m a freelance music journalist, and I love writing about artists and their music.

When I read biographies and music magazines, I always imagine myself having a candid one on one chat with the person the story is about.

Some readers like fantasies with dragons, fairies, and all sorts of mythological creatures. Whe readers open the page, they can be on another planet, in another dimension, or in a different era. Reading takes away the “can’t” factor.

I love to read, but I really LOVE to write because I still like to believe all things are possible. I live vicariously through my characters—and so far my books and articles always have a happy ending because I CAN make it happen.

In schools across the state, children of all ages have an “I CAN” mantra. They work from bell to bell, learning one state standard after another. We push, push, push them. And that’s great. We want them to learn.

But I wish they a little more time to pretend again, to play, to imagine, to read for pleasure, to live vicariously through the characters, to believe they CAN do what everyone else says is impossible.

If my dreams do come true, I want to reach the kids who don’t believe they can any more. I want them to take a recess, open their imaginations, dream a dream and believe it CAN come true.

I may have unrealistic expectations, but I still believe in happy endings.

Polyrhythmic ramblings

Polyrhythmic.

I love that word. I can’t do what the definition suggests, at least not musically, but I like the idea.

Polyrhythm refers to multiple beats or two or more independent rhythms sounding at one time.

I’m not a math person (though I went to a few math contests and took a few courses until I surrendered and they carried me out of analytical geometry on a stretcher.) But the more I get into looking at the creative side of math, the more appreciative I am of the discipline. Kudos to our math teachers. I think your love for numbers is much like the English teacher’s love for words.

Anyway, I am a writer, not a mathematician, but I’m also a fledgling guitar player. Sometimes the wires get crossed in my brain, and I think…differently. I have a “mash up” of my passions, and the result is a blog like this.

For me, creating a polyrhythm on guitar is difficult. But it sounds great. Beautiful. The two rhythms add texture to the song, make it more interesting, and communicate a deeper message, perhaps even on a subconscious level. (Research has shown that listening to music affects blood pressure, emotions, creativity, etc. Look it up. It’s fascinating to discover the creativity God has woven in math through patterns and equations.)

But anyway…on to my analogy and the new phrase I’ve coined. Polyrhythmic writing.

Actually there’s nothing new about it at all. (But if you ever hear that phrase again, tell them I thunk it up. I Googled it and found no reference to what I’m talking about.) Writers have added layers to their writing since the beginning. We comprehend on deeper levels that we realize.

 Jesus spoke in parables.

Shakespeare was the master of penning puns. (Another little nifty thing Shakespeare does in his writing is to switch from verse to prose. When? Why? Usually when the commoners spoke, Shakespeare wrote their words in prose. He save the more eloquent verse for his heroes.)

Edgar Allan Poe created his tour de force, “The Bells,” by layering alliteration, onomatopoeia, and tempo over metaphor and message.

I love writing. I love the rhythm of life that echoes through the words of a poem, a short story, a novel, and the lyrics of a song. But what I really love is polyrhythm in writing—the beautiful creation that occurs when a writer creates two or more distinct rhythms in one piece of writing.

I don’t think most writers set out to do it. I think it just happens. Kind of serendipitiously. God inspired, God driven, God designed. Perhaps.

I’ve heard writers say that after they’ve gone back later to re-read something they had written, only to discover a hidden message or a metaphor that had slipped in. Cool, isn’t it. I think so.

I do a lot of celebrity interviews. What makes my writing a little different is that I weave their story around the theme. It’s as if there are two stories, two rhythms, happening at once.

When I read a novel or watch my favorite show, I’m hooked by realistic characters with whom I can identify. I’ll keep reading if the plot is intriguing. But my overall reading experience can be compared to the way I might enjoy a meal—eating a Raider Rib in my high school cafeteria as opposed to sitting at the Blues City Café on Beale Street, listening to authentic blues and kissing my fingers after downing a half rack of real ribs.

You know what I’m talking about.

When writers play with their words, create texture, layer it with metaphors, or spice it up with subtext—just the right amount of each, too much overwhelms—then the reader can savor all the flavors, not wash it down with a carton of milk that’s pushing the date that’s stamped on the outside. There’s more going on that one simple beat. The mind picks up on the underlying rhythm.

Ever watch Castle? I love the twinkle in his eye when he delivers his one liners that are layered with double meaning. Two messages. Two rhythms occurring at the same time. Adds flavor. Yum.

I’m not sure how I got here–howI jumped from polyrhythms in music to polyrhythmic writing.

It wall started when I was trying to find the words to a song I wanted to write. When I can’t put my feelings into words, I usually put them into song. But I can’t always find the words. Especially if the feelings run too deep. In the words of Sugarland, they’re like “melodies stuck up in [my] head.” (I kind of dig that reggae-rap thing Jennifer Nettles does—kind of catchy.)

The next thing  I knew I was thinking about math. Then I was thinking about polyrhythms. Then I found myself on the Internet, Googling polyrhythms. And then I found Steve Vai’s article.

You remember Steve Vai, right? He’s the great guitar player who was in the 1986 Crossroads movie with Ralph Macchio. He was the devil’s guitar player.

Thinking about the movie made me think about the great blues player Robert Johnson. As the story goes, he made a deal with the devil at the crossroads.

And when I thought about the devil at the crossroads, I thought about teaching English to my eleventh grade students last year. We were studying “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving. I wanted to relate the story to something they could understand. I had a guitar player in my class, so I cpmpared the story to the movie Crossroads. “Scratch” was the name of the devil both in the story and the movie. We also compared the story to Charlie Daniel’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

And thinking about school made me think about what I’m doing right now. Sitting here with a guitar plugged into an amp waiting for me to pick it up and practice again. But the song that I can’t write keeps tugging at my heart. Arggg!

Life can be complicated. Underlying sadness topped with happiness here and there. Dreams mingled with reality. Yearning competing with responsibility. All of it wrapped in joy, though the joy may be tangled and hard to find at times.

Life is complicated. It doesn’t always make sense. But there is a rhythm to it, even if one beat is stacked atop another.

I guess that’s what makes life interesting.