Don’t play the victim


Maybe you have a passion, a dream, but you haven’t achieved your goal—yet.

Whose fault is that?

How you answer the question has a lot to do with who you are.

Here’s a little scenario.

Suppose you want to be a writer, a painter, a singer, or a musician? You set forth, carrying your dream in a knapsack. Along the way, you must travel through a dark forest. The path is, like the paths of most creative people, less traveled by, and you stumble over branches and stones. Briars snag you. The journey is longer than you expected, and your supplies are limited. You run out of nourishment. To make matters worse, thieves lurk in the shadows, and they take what little you have. Others have gone before you and made it to their destination, but you are caught in a deluge without shelter from the storm.

It’s not fair. The others didn’t have the same problems you did. They had support. Some of them didn’t have to travel by foot. They had wagons. Others had scouts to light their paths, and a few even had sentries to guard them from harm.

You are hurt. You are hungry. You are tired. You are beaten. You are robbed. You are alone.

Do you consider yourself a victim?

Please, friend, though you may have suffered horrible injustices that have left you physically or emotionally scarred, even to the point of disfigurement or PTSD, don’t allow yourself to become a victim.

Fight it with everything within your soul. Why?

  • Because if you are a victim, you may be tempted to curse those who are blessed.
  • Because if you are a victim, you blame others for your defeat even if you could make a come back.
  • Because if you are a victim, you may stop trying.
  • Because if you are a victim, you may lose hope.

Regardless of your situation, refuse the label of victim. Give no one, not even yourself, the satisfaction of holding you back.

“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”   ~ Byron Katie

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

I will stand back up / You’ll know just the moment when I’ve had enough / Sometimes I’m afraid, and I don’t feel that tough / But I’ll stand back up ~  “Stand Back Up” by Sugarland




Am I a failure?


Am I a failure?

Sometimes I have to ask myself that. Things never turned out the way I planned, but they didn’t turn out bad. I guess I need to keep things in perspective.

I want to write. I’m a writer. I tell other people’s stories. I don’t get paid much, but it has never been about the money. I could be a biography channel junkie, so when I am privy to a “famous” person’s life, I get giddy. That feeling is a GIFT. But the real gift is the lesson the person I interview delivers to me. I get to share it with other people who need to hear it as badly as I do. That’s not failure, is it?

I wanted to write a novel, so I wrote a novel. But it sits unpublished. I don’t even have an agent, but I never pushed to sell it. My parents died. I lost my drive. I guess I figured that in a serendipitous sort of way, an agent and I would cross paths, and everything would fall into place. It hasn’t happened. Am I not working hard enough? Will the story be continued? Or have I failed?

I never wanted to teach, not really. I feel really bad saying that because there are so many very dedicated teachers out there who take pride in what they do. Teaching was my Plan B. I was a RIM major at MTSU. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I was a terrible RIM major. I had no direction, no prior knowledge. I just loved music. But I got married in college and faced the harsh reality that I would probably be living on a farm the rest of my life. Farm living was not for me. I live in a subdivision now. I guess nothing ever turns out like we plan. Now my older son is living the life I dreamed. He’s making music videos and has a writing job that PAYS WELL. I write for pennies per word now. He is worried about being a failure because he feels where he is in life is not enough.

Ah, music, my serenity. There was a time when God let me visit the music world on the weekends. I stayed pretty busy as a freelance music journalist until Michael came along. Then the writing trickled to a stop. The boy never slept. The boy never stayed still. All my focus went to him. His dad was busy coaching and being a youth minister, so I became Michael’s personal sports trainer, chauffeur, and teammate. I taught him how to catch and how to throw. I played football in the front yard. I raced him around the house. I took him on adventures in the woods. I camped out in the living room with him when his dad was on trips. I took him to every practice. I learned how to keep the books in baseball, and I worked the fair booth as a football mom. I coached his soccer teams and basketball teams and even his coach pitch teams. When he became older, I dragged him to his first drum lesson and said YOU WILL PLAY DRUMS. Why not? Every part of his body moved in a different direction, but in rhythm. I knew he’d be a natural. He says he likes it, and it’s something we do TOGETHER. His older brother got his writing love from me. Maybe Michael gets the music from me. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t want to live vicariously through my children. I want them to be happy. I don’t want to be a failure mom.

So I spend my day teaching, but I don’t want to teach. I don’t want to fill out lesson plans. I don’t want to grade papers. I don’t want to lurk behind the lockers to make sure couples aren’t sneaking a kiss or two. I don’t want to chaperone dances, to spend my Sundays at awards programs, to sell tickets at ballgames, or to listen to students tell me how much they hate the subject I’m teaching. Does that make me a failure? My dad never wanted to be a printer. His guidance counselors tried to match him up with a job, and that’s what was left. So for his entire working life, he was a printer. He brought home boxes and boxes of scrap papers and envelopes. I loved to write and draw, so I was never without supplies. I never thought he was a failure, but he never did what he wanted to do. But he helped me do what I wanted to do.

I teach because I have to. But I interact with students because I want to. I don’t keep them at a distance. I open my life to them. I am a firm believer God puts people in our path for a reason. People are treasures. So, okay, right now, I am not living the life I want to live, and I may never live it. I’m getting old. My time is now spent encouraging the kids I teach to find what they love to do so that they’ll never have to work a day in their lives. That’s not failure, is it? Maybe I’m not a failure because I can help others see that they’re not failures. Maybe that’s enough to be a success. Maybe all my creative dreams aren’t as important as helping others.

Today I got a hug from one of my first semester creative writing students. She came back to see when she could take guitar lessons again.

Today I got a BIG thank you from a student because I paid his field trip fee because his cash was running a little short.

Today I got a note on my board from a former student who visited me Friday, the day I had to go home because I had a fever, bronchitis, a sinus infection, and perhaps the flu. Ugg. She said she missed me.

Today I received word that my former student, J., wanted to see how I was doing. He’s working as a Walmart greeter now. I’m so proud of him. He had to overcome so many obstacles in school. He always has a smile on his face, and he always wants to tell me about the last movie he watched. I owe him a meal at the Mexican restaurant. After he graduated high school several years ago, I treated him, and I think it’s time he, his mom, and I went back for some more chips and salsa. Yum!

Today my seventh period students told me what teenagers look for when they read. They were trying to help me become a better writer.

What is failure anyway? What is success?

I haven’t gotten what I’ve always wanted, but maybe God has given me what I need.

Maybe success and failure is determined by attitude, not necessarily achievement.


Isn’t it funny how you can accept a concept basically all your life but not “get it” until someone else’s words trigger a deeper understanding.

For me, that concept is curiosity.

My favorite grad professor made a statement in class this summer about how the key for students’ success correlates to their level of personal curiosity.

We teachers can’t teach curiosity, but hopefully we can make the information so inviting that the students want more. In educational jargon, the students become so engaged in the subject they’re studying that they delve into their personal critical thinking skills to go beyond the target goal.

Curiosity is the key to survival, for if we as a people fail to assert our curiosity, we will fall deep into a pit of apathy and lose all problem solving and initiative taking. Then we will fall susceptible to mind control and submission.

I can’t imagine a life without curiosity. I guess that’s why I like to write. But writers don’t have dibs on curiosity. If scientists and mathematicians don’t ask questions, we will never have the answers that cure diseases, create durable structures, or harness energy.

Lately, I’ve been very curious about God. I have a myriad of unanswered questions, but the one thing I know for sure is that God is love.

I want to tell a good story. I want to make readers laugh—and cry. I want to make readers think. I’m a writer, and I’m a Christian, but I’m not necessarily a Christian writer. I’m a writer who writes from the Christian world view. Perhaps, however, through my simple anecdotes, readers can learn how to find love, how to find God.

But how does a writer convey the message that God is love? Sometimes I have to explain it to myself.

Love is powerful. There is nothing anyone can do to stop love. God loves all people, even if they hate him and even if he dislikes their actions.

But he’s the rule maker. He’s in charge. If he doesn’t want to allow anger, hatred, bitterness, murder, etc. into his home, that’s his business. He prohibits these things because they destroy love.

I make the rules for my personal life: Don’t lie to me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt my family. Don’t use me. Don’t manipulate me. Don’t control me. Don’t ridicule me. Don’t take me for granted.

If people choose to cross these lines, I can shut the door and keep them out of my life.

Likewise, there is nothing that can force love. Not presents. Not money. Not power. Not flattery. Not bribery. Not bargains. People try all of these methods to earn God’s favor, especially when they try to make their own rules while living in his house.

It’s impossible to force love. I can’t make another person love me. I don’t try. I will never beg or plead. Ever. I would rather walk away and keep on walking. Either love is, or it isn’t.

God doesn’t beg either, but because love cannot exist in an environment of evil, God made the Way for imperfect people to find a place in his home.

Again, you can’t force love, but you can leave the door open and wait for it to walk in. God has done that, but when he chooses to close the door, well, that’s up to him.

I’m a teacher. I know. I can’t make my students love me. I can’t even make them like me. It’s up to them. I’ll never beg or bribe them. I’d rather accept the truth than live a lie.

As a writer, my goal is to create characters that echo the same emotions and struggles that all people go through. It’s inevitable. When readers get into a book, they readily identify with one of the main characters and live vicariously through him or her or it. They feel what the character feels.

I think we all seek love, regardless of our ages, but teens, especially, crave love. Unfortunately, what they often settle for is not love—it’s a cheap counterfeit.

I don’t be a Pollyanna, but I like happy endings. My manuscripts are full of humor, of course, but what I really want to stand out in them is love—not just romantic love, which may be lust in disguise, but real love.

And what is real love? It’s not so hard to define.

  • Real love protects. The counterfeit hurts.
  • Real love puts others first. The counterfeit doesn’t care about others as long as its own needs are met first.
  • Real love forgives. The counterfeit holds grudges and reminds others of their failures.
  • Real love offers hope. The counterfeit delivers despair.
  • Real love is truth. The counterfeit is just one big lie.

You are the main character in your own life. Where is your curiosity taking you? Do you ever question love?


I possess neither the patience nor the finesse of talking to a soon to be 13-year-old boy. Michael met me at my school this afternoon, but instead of me driving him home, I made a right toward Walmart.

“Where we going?” be asked.

“Home,” I said. “But first we’re going to get your hair cut.”

Speaking of cut, he cut me off before I could say another word.

“Dad said, ‘Walmart has raised the prices of hair cuts, and they don’t cut it the way you want them to. They have a book that they HAVE to cut from.’ He said he’d take me tomorrow.”

During their football practice? Nope. I don’t think so. Thus, I launched into my conversation about truth.

“Michael, you know I love you, but I am very concerned with the lies you tell.”

“WHAT?” Indignation floweth forth.

“I didn’t lie.”

My response was calm and simple. “I don’t believe your dad would care to research Walmart’s haircut policies and prices.” As usual, Michael had an explanation. “Well, I ran my sentences together. I was going to say that Dad would take me tomorrow. Then I just added the other stuff.”

See, Michael has a particular place where he gets his hair cut, and he really likes it there. But the shop is closed on Wednesdays, and Michael has football practice every other afternoon.

And that’s when the conversation went from bad to worse.

“Why would I lie?” he asked. “You wouldn’t even know it if I lied. I’m a really good liar.”

Oh, really?

Again, speaking calmly and simply, I said, “Michael, I hate it when people lie to me.”

Ever the defensive Lockhart, his response was quick. “I don’t lie.”

There was a short pause as I shot him the evil mom glare, and then he added one word.


It’s true. I absolutely can’t stand it when someone lies to me. And despite Michael’s lack of faith in my ability to read people, I’m not so bad at figuring out what’s real and what’s not. I guess teaching taught me that little tool. I’m a conundrum. Either I trust too much, or I don’t trust at all.

As for my students, I don’t catch every one of them who tries to pull a fast one. But when I find out that I’ve been had, I ache inside. I really care about people, and it hurts when they betray me. I’d rather endure the sting of truth than suffer the deep cut of misplaced trust. A friend you can truly trust is like a safety net that catches you when you fall in life.

I tell my students that sneaking an answer on a test may earn them a few extra points, but in the big picture they’d rather have me on their side. If they’ll just be honest with me and let me know they’re failing, I will find another way to help them succeed. I’ll be their safety net.

I guess that’s how God feels about us, about me.

I don’t like it when other people lie, but it’s hard for me to admit that I lie too. Maybe that’s where Michael gets his deception. I lie to others, and I lie to myself. I suppose some people call that kind of lying denial.

In a few days I will be off to Dallas for the adventure of my life. I’ll be boarding a plane all by myself. I’ve never flow in a big plane before, and I keep telling myself I’m not scared.

My greatest goal in life has been to be a published writer. Yes, I want to hold a book in my hands and smell the ink and feel the pages. But no, I don’t expect my life to change drastically once I’m published, if I’m ever published. I won’t make a lot of money.

But money is not an issue with me. If I have it, I will spend it on the things that make people happy, myself included. If I don’t have the money, I don’t fret over what I can’t have. I just think of those things I want as little treasures at the end of the rainbow. Maybe I’ll stumble across them. Maybe I won’t. (Sure wish I could stumble over a 69 Camaro.)

What I really want to do is EARN the privilege to teach others about writing. I wouldn’t consider myself a legitimate source if I weren’t actually published. I dream of holding workshops and going to schools to teach young people how to write. So maybe this will be the year that I will find an agent and an editor who will help me get my books into print.

I’m going to Dallas because I am a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest, a pretty amazing achievement. Thank you, God. The winner will be announced at a gala. Although the finalists are not guaranteed a contract, the opportunities for meeting the right person to put the publishing plan in motion are ripe. My name will be “out there.”

But I think I’ve blown my chances. That’s me admitting the truth. The fact is I haven’t been writing as I should have. I haven’t been writing period. I can’t. My heart is too heavy. I have too much on my mind. When I lost my parents, I lost a part of me. And when I lost my parents, I realized that I am and always have been a human being separate from them. I always lived to please them. Now I’m on my own. I have to make my own decisions and accept myself for who I am, imperfect as that may be.

I’ve lied to myself, told myself that I’m all right. But that’s not the case. I want to be a writer, but just like the game rock, paper, scissors, sadness beats writing right now. I wish it didn’t.

The purpose of my blog is not for me to have an open diary. I’ve been telling my students for the past week that to write is to be vulnerable, to open up and to reveal a part of yourself. So struggling, hurting writers, I want you to know, you are not alone. I’m sure my writing mentors and heroes have had their own hurdles to overcome.

The past few days have been emotional ones for me. Both of my boys have birthdays this week. My older son’s birthday was Sept. 12. Happy birthday, Josh. I love you.

And Michael’s birthday is Sept. 14. I will soon be mom to a brand new teenager and a brand new “legal” adult. I don’t think I can handle it. What do I do? I miss my mom and dad. Now I know how they felt when I reached milestones in my life. But they always had the answers. I don’t.

So back to the truth. I fear I’m not ready for Dallas. Sadness beats writing in this moment, but will it permanently beat out reaching my dreams?

Writing requires a kind of self truth, even if everything you write is a lie. They just give it a fancy name called fiction.

So instead of accusing Michael of lying, maybe I should have asked him if he was resorting to fiction again.

Maybe denial has been my writer’s block. I know I can do this. I know I can write. The stories are there. I guess I’m just going to have to tell me and God the truth. I can’t do all this by myself. I’m not fine. I’m not the perfect person I want others to see. I need a little help.

I’ve been telling myself over and over, “I don’t lie.” I guess I should have added another word.


I love YA!

My kids

It’s Valentine’s Day. Who do you love?

(Yeah, I know I’m supposed to use an objective case pronoun there, but Bo Diddley didn’t write it that way.)

It’s my policy to stay away from syrupy sweet romantic anecdotes that make readers say “yuck.” So instead, I’ll talk about another kind of love.

The other day my English students and I were reading from Luke, Chapter 15, the parable of the prodigal son . What? Reading from the Bible in a public school? Our literature book includes the parable, so we analyzed it for its layers of meaning.

I asked my students with whom they identified more. The wayward son who wanted his rewards, squandered them, and then crawled back for redemption? Or the faithful son who never physically strayed but whose heart blackened with jealousy and entitlement.

Only the father had it right—unconditional love. He loved both of his sons despite their flaws. He gave his gifts out of love, not out of obligation.

I love young adults. Whenever I go to conferences and hear speakers talk about the YA culture, I want to scream, “I get it! I live it! Every day! Don’t you understand? I can write. Publish me! Publish me!”

Stories rush through my head like an Ocoee River rapid. But I don’t want to write just any story. I want to write a story that reveals truth and love.

Teenagers don’t understand real love. Heck, a lot of adults don’t understand it.

Like it or not, we’re all selfish. Rarely do we give without expecting anything in return. Young girls, especially, fall prey to their own selfishness. They want acceptance. They want to be loved, so they do whatever it takes to get what they want in return.

I want to tell them, “You don’t need any other human to validate your worth.”

Real love isn’t selfish. Real love isn’t real love unless you give it away, no strings attached.

My students’ responses to the prodigal son question varied.

Some of them have made major mistakes in their lives. They identified with the prodigal.  Some of them have tried their best to follow every rule. They identified with the older brother.

When I asked the class how they would feel if I gave an A to a student who slacked all year while giving a B to the students who worked hard, they protested.

“So,” I said, “you think you’re entitled to an A just because you think you earned it? I’m the teacher. I make the rules. The grades are mine to give. Who are you to say who gets what? You don’t see the big picture.” Or more accurately, the other side of the picture.

I used to be just like the older brother, quick to judge, prideful. But through my bought with pride, God developed my empathy and allowed me to see with His eyes, the other side of the picture.

The students in my class room are like portraits in an art gallery. When the kids come into my room, they see the other portraits, but they don’t see what’s on the other side.

I work with a lot of good kids. I’m blessed to have them in class. But sometimes they can be really hard on the kids who aren’t as smart or well behaved as they are. But then they don’t see the other side of the portrait. The portrait may pretty or horrendous on the one side, but the other side of the picture reveals the truth behind what’s up front.

The other day I had a student come into class with a scowl. She dropped her books on her desk and gave me what I thought was a death stare. I wasn’t exactly having a good day either. My first inclination was to say, “What’s your problem?”

But I resisted the urge to make it about me. Instead I asked, “What’s wrong?” And I listened. I found out she had been in an accident that morning, and she was still scared to death. I’m so glad I wasn’t a jerk.

Good or bad, students may never know their classmate sleeps on a mattress on a concrete floor in a truck stop. They may never know their classmate’s parents were taken to jail the night before. They may never know their classmate was the academic  leader in an elementary school in another state before his parents got divorced. They may never know their classmate cuts herself because her mother tells her she’s fat.

When people hurt, they do whatever it takes to make the pain go away. Their portrait shows “the whatever it takes to survive.” But the cause of the pain is hidden on the backside of the frame.

I teach. I see more than most. The good. The bad. The ugly. I see the serious. I see the silly. Today I witnessed a wedding. One of my students performed the ceremony while the flower girl carried a can of Febreeze.

The YA crowd is an anomaly. They live in an adult world, but they still have the heart of a child—hence their moments of random goofiness.

When I write my stories, I want to make my readers laugh, to give them an escape from reality, but I also want to give them unconditional love. I want them to know no matter what there is love waiting for them.

Words are powerful. The greatest gift anyone can give me is honesty. I want to trust what people say. I think young adults want that too.

I want my readers to trust me, but I don’t want to come across as self righteous or condemning. To imply I don’t fail is a lie.

I found a quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne in our literature book today. In case you don’t know, Hawthorne despised the judgmental attitudes of the Puritans, and his works reflect his disdain. Hawthorne said, “Those willing to resist society’s self-righteousness may achieve the humility necessary for genuine fellowship, but they will have trouble making themselves understood.”

I think young adults understand, more so, maybe, than jaded adults. Time hasn’t completely hardened their hearts—yet.

So I wish you a sincere Happy Valentine’s Day. Find someone who needs love and show it. We have the power—with our words—to make or break someone else’s day. May we use it wisely.

Skinny flowers

I could never work as a gossip columnist or a hard news reporter. I’m too sensitive. I don’t like offending anyone, intentionally or not. I’m also hesitant about dropping names, especially when I know all the interviews I’ve ever had, all the celebrities I’ve ever met, are gifts from God, not rewards. I didn’t earn them.

During the last year I have taken my relationship with God to a different level. I don’t think we can ever reach an ultimate level of intimacy with our Creator. The more we seek, the more He reveals about Himself and about ourselves. Honesty is the key. We can’t lie to God. He knows what we think, how we feel whether we confess it or not. Confession frees us.

I have had a rough year. I have retreated. But I’ve learned when we’ve had more than our minds can take in, we need a quiet place to reflect and to be still. That’s where I’ve been. And in my quiet place, God has not forsaken me. He has sent me flowers, skinny flowers.

“Skinny flowers” is actually a phrase from a song by Three Crosses, my all-time contemporary Christian band. And yes, God came through on that one too and gave me an opportunity to write a story about this bluesy rock band for a national music magazine.

I never dreamed I’d talk to the members, but God is good like that, giving me the desires of my heart. One of my favorite songs is about a band member’s daughter who picks skinny flowers for her daddy, little bouquets of love.

I liked the album so much that I bought one for one of my best friends who had a little girl of her own. Rhonda played the “skinny flowers” song almost every time they were in the car, and little Emily, who is now a freshman in college, could sing every word.

The irony is God recently picked a very special skinny flower for me, one that makes me say, “Wow. Who would have though God was planning this all along?”  Of course, we never know what God has in mind, how He can make anything work for our good.

The little girl in that song, April, is now a beautiful young lady and recording artist with a voice like an angel, and my son Josh just shot  a music video for her yesterday. I never would have dreamed it. What a sweet gift!

I’ve seen parts of the video. It’s beautiful. I’m not at liberty to post anything else, but I can tell you I’ve heard her singing the song at least a hundred times this weekend via video, and every time I have had to stop what I’m doing to listen. The song is a cover tune, but I refuse to listen to the original. April makes me believe the song, makes me live the song.

Who would have thought that God would use the little girl who picked skinny flowers to help heal my grief?

The truth is during my retreat into the wilderness, God has not abandoned me. He has sent me several flowers, all in the form of special people who have changed my life and who have helped me heal.

I don’t know what’s next in life. Everything is changing—and some of these changes are good, exciting. I can’t help but think of the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

I don’t know what will happen next. I do know how I feel. I suppose I’ll just keep climbing in faith. They say never look down when you’re moving to higher places.

Despite my flaws and fears, despite life’s circumstances, I haven’t abandoned God. He hasn’t abandoned me, and the skinny flowers he sends are constant reminders He has a plan. He makes things work out. He knows our hearts. He knows the truth.

So whatever it is that God has me doing, I want to be a skinny flower (quite literally, I’ll admit. I’ve been living the Weight Watchers life, and it’s working!) But more importantly I want to be a flower in someone’s bouquet, a reminder of God’s love. I don’t want to be a rose. Roses have thorns.

I think I’d like to be a rare wild flower like the ones that grow on the May Prairie. We had a few of them to pop up on our land when we lived in Asbury, and they dazzled me with their beauty. I never knew their real names. They were like nothing I’d ever seen.

I think I’m like a wild flower because I’m not typical. I think God places me in the bouquets of people who do don’t conventional very well.

I want my life to have purpose, to have meaning. I don’t care about material riches. I just want my life to be rich, so I invest in people, and so far, thanks to the lovely bouquets God has sent me during these dark days, I’d say I’m blessed beyond measure.

Last Duck March of 2011

I spent New Year’s Eve alone in downtown Memphis watching five ducks parade down a red carpet. Before you feel sorry for me, let me reassure you I had other options. I could have gone with the guys and watched Vandy take on Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl.

Me and football? Nah. I don’t like football.

I didn’t want to ruin the game for them. Plus, I like alone time. I like thinking my own thoughts, and Memphis possesses just the right ambience for writing.

I had no transportation, a little money, and a notebook. I was set. I found a safe spot at the foot of W.C. Handy’s statue in the park and let my stream of consciousness form words on the page. I would have made William Faulkner mighty proud.

I made the trip to Memphis to rediscover myself. Amidst my recent tragedy, I misplaced my goals, my dreams, my desires. But in Memphis they began to trinkle back, one by one as I listened to music drift in and out of one doorway then another.

The blues has a way of cutting to the core and making people move. You have to do something when you hear the blues. You just can’t be. You have to be something. I searched for what I was.

The first word that came to mind was crazy. My friends warned me not to go alone. They said I’d end up getting mugged or worse.

Nonsense. But a quick scan of a vendor’s wares reminded me how naïve I can be. For five bucks I could buy  a rhinestone Glock belt buckle. If I were in the wrong place at the wrong time, say just a couple streets over behind the Fed Ex, I could buy the farm.

I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t stupid either. I set my radar on high alert.

The wind picked up and rustled my pages. It was too chilly to stay outside much longer. I figured I might as well do a little shopping (loosely translated looking), so I headed to the Peabody Hotel to check out the boutiques, terribly expensive but free to browse.

Somehow I found myself in the lobby, awaiting the grand event of the day—The Last Duck March of 2011.

I had heard of the Peabody Ducks, but I never took time to watch them. As the story goes, after sipping a little too much Jack Daniels, General Manager Frank Schutt let loose three live decoys in the hotel fountain. The guests fell in love with the ducks. A former Ringling Bros. animal trainer took the official position of Duckmaster and trained the ducks to walk the red carpet from their pent house abode to the marble fountain and back each day. Thus, a tradition was born.

I am a writer who searches for metaphor, another level of meaning, both in literature and in life. For some reason, The Last Duck March of 2011 stuck with me. It had to mean “something” more than just a one-time event. Where’s the serendipity in that?

So I did a little research to unearth any symbolism associated with ducks. Because ducks can run, swim, or fly to elude their enemies, they are considered resourceful. Celtic legends also depict ducks as symbols of simplicity, honesty, and sensitivity. J.D. Salinger’s Catch in the Rye relies on ducks to convey a message of the motion of life.

But what about me?

Why did I spend an hour at the Peabody Hotel, notebook in hand, waiting, waiting, waiting to watch five ducks waddle down a red carpet to an elevator door?

Oh, it was a grand to-do, mind you. I snagged optimum seating, a red chair in front of the entourage. Children and adults lined the red carpet. Everyone toyed with their cameras, checking the flashes, waiting for the special moment.

The truth is I really didn’t care about the ducks. It was something to do. I watched. They waddled. I left.

It was getting late, so I made my way to Starbucks to finish my writing with the help of a grande three-pump, nonfat, half-caf, no whip mocha. Not that I’m picky or anything.

As I waited for my drink, I cast my eyes on a small table for two. But before I could sit down, some guy staked it out by setting his backpack in one of the chairs. I took a bar seat by the window. It was just as well. I could watch the carriages roll by. I looked over my shoulder. It figured the guy would be a writer. He gripped a pen and scribbled words in his notebook.

Inspired, I took out my notebook and wrote my own words in a frenzy, page after page. Then three street kids walked in. If I had to guess they lived behind the Fed Ex Forum, which is directly across from Starbucks. If I traveled a few streets over in that direction, I bet I could find a real Glock, not like the one with Rhinestone bling on the vendor’s table.

The funny thing was I knew these kids.

These were the kids I had written about in my first manuscript and the incomplete sequel. I watched them out of the corner of my eye. Unbelievable. The characters I created were so real to me I recognized them when I saw them on the street.

That’s when it hit me, and I almost said it aloud. “I have got to get my ducks in a row.”

My metaphor.

The year 2011 was very difficult for me, but 2012 doesn’t have to be, despite what people have predicted. I can choose to make the best of my situation, and if 2012 does turn bad, at least I will have spent my days living instead of hiding.

So if I have one resolution for 2012, it’s to get my “ducks in a row.”

I will polish my manuscript and send it to the agents and editors who have requested it. I will finish my sequel and plan out my other two story ideas that await being written. I will work on my lyrics and take a chance on a few dreams.

I have to get my ducks in a row.

What’s your metaphor for 2012?

Pushy people

What a difference a few steps can make.

I teach in the English department on the opposite end of the building from the band room. But a couple of weeks ago I found myself stepping back in time as I wrangled a set of drums for my son’s talent show.

It seemed like only yesterday that I was there with my best buds, hanging out and feeling like a part of one big dysfunctional, but generally happy, family. The atmosphere was the same. A cacophony of brass, wind, and laughter filled the room.

Show time. There was a stir of excitement as the band members packed their trailer for the night’s performance.

When I was in high school, I though my chances at joining were voided when a friend talked me out of signing up for beginner band in seventh grade. I never learned how to play an instrument. But somehow I found a home in the band as a member of the guard.

Actually, back then we referred to ourselves as the flag corps. The beautiful majorettes stayed to themselves, and the rifles stuck to their guns. But the flag girls were special. I’ll never forget the parties and those horrific fiberglass flag poles we had to carry. They were lethally heavy, nothing compared to the lighter and prettier poles the guard members carry today.

I’m not the outgoing type. I’m competitive, yes. I’m a Bell. But I never have been what you would call a girly girl. I’ve always felt more comfortable throwing a baseball, shooting a basketball, or riding a horse. When the band director and my friends suggested I try out for guard, I thought they were nuts.

Me, dancing around in costume on a football field, keeping time, waving around a flag? Yeah, right. I was the bonafide poster child for all the rhythmless, clutzy dorks.

I lacked confidence. I didn’t carry myself well, but a slouch doesn’t look so great on the field. I had to learn how to march with one foot in front of the other, how to maintain great posture with the chin held high, and how to stay totally focused even if I messed up.

I never, ever considered trying out until my band director and friends on the corps pushed me into it.

As they say, never say never.

I learned the routines. I tried out. But there were no guarantees. I had to get over my fear of failure and do what I thought I could not do. I still remember the music from my routine–“The Theme from Love Boat.”

(Many thanks to the flag captain who worked with me and help me put together my routine. I never throught I could–or would–do it.)

But I did it, and I made it. I survived camp and even won a Drill Down competition for the most precise moves. And even more unbelievably,I actually performed on the field in front of packed bleachers, twirling a flag
to the sounds of the “William Tell Overture.”

Okay. I’ll admit there were times I felt a little awkward, prancing around like the Lone Ranger in search of Tonto. But the friendships I made and the courage I developed were worth everything.

I’ll never forget the game when we planned our greatest feat yet. Members of the flag corps lined up in two rows, and the band paraded through the middle of us and we tossed our flag poles to our waiting partners on the other side, making them spin above the band members’ heads.

“Dear, Lord,” I prayed. “Please, on this night, do not let me kill anyone. And if I do hit somebody in the head, please don’t let it be one of the cute drummer boys.”

I am happy to report there were no casualties.

The point I’m trying to make her is that sometimes we need a little push to take the extra steps to move out of our comfort zones. Something grand may be waiting us just a few steps away. We may even see it, but our fear can keep us from crossing the line.

If my friends and my band director hadn’t given me a nudge, I would have never realized that I CAN do what I think is impossible, I never would have made friends with some of the most incredible people I’ve met in my life, and I may have never opened the door to my creativity.

As a teacher, I push my students. They don’t like it.

I make them do assignments they don’t like to do. I make them try new things. I make them talk in front of the class. I make them interpret poetry. I make them meet deadlines. I make them write.

Sometimes they say ugly things about me behind my back and occasionally to my face. I laugh. Some of them are very creative with their insults. I’m sure it’s just their “special” way of saying “I love you, Mrs. L.”

Truthfully, I think the majority of them know I do what I do because they know they need it.

The greatest compliment I can ever receive is for my students’ eyes to light up when they realize for the first time they possess a gift they never know they had, when they discover they can do something they once thought was impossible.

I always figured myself to be just another short, dorky kid that didn’t belong. But my band director believed I was worth “pushing.” I hope my students realize they are worth “pushing.”

I have a challenge for those of you out there with a gift, especially you writers. I believe God places people in our lives for a reason. Look around you. Is there someone in your life that you can “push” or “nudge?” Can you share a little bit of your gift, your encouragement, so that others can discover they have something special too? Don’t keep it all to yourself.

Just a thought. Push on.

NOTE:  Do you know someone who needs a little push, a little encouragement? Please encourage your friend to read my blog. I always hope for a new subscriber.

Easy writer

Disclaimer:  Little Miss Sunshine has left the laptop, and Sardonic Psycho Writer Chick has commandeered
the keyboard. Just wanted to let you know you can stop reading now…or proceed at your own risk.

I am a writer. It’s after 10 p.m., and I have an interview scheduled for a story first thing in the morning. On one hand, I’m pumped. I get to do what I live to do—interview a musician and write about it. For me it doesn’t get any better than that.

So what’s the problem?

I’m exhausted. I’m stressed. I really need to finish my research to prepare my interview questions, but all I can do is click on Facebook and play Zuma Blitz. Over. And over. And over again.

Playing the game requires no thought, no real focus. I can zone out and think about my life with no repercussions. If I lose, I just hit “play again.” When all my chances are up, I just have to wait a while, and they’ll be refreshed again.

I want to write, but life and stress and conflict have sucked all the creativity out of me. Writing should be fun, exhilarating, a rush? Right? That’s what wannabe writers think. I’ve had umpteen conversations with them, and they all go something like this:

“I need to supplement my income. It can’t be that hard. I’ll just write some articles about this or that, and then a magazine will pay me. Right? Maybe I’ll just write a book.”

Have you ever tried writing a book?


Taken any workshops? Submitted anything to the local paper?

“No. You have to pay to go to those. I’m trying to make money. And the local papers won’t pay anything. They expect me to write it for free. Psssh. I’m not doing that.”


No, dear wannabe writer friend, being a real writer is not what you think it is. I earned my degree in English. I have my master’s in journalism. I’ve taught hundreds of students how to write. I’ve advised the number one newspaper in the state. I can quote pretty much rule in the Little Brown Handbook. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about the craft of writing, and I’m already booking my fall workshops. I have done and will do whatever it takes to make it as a “real writer.”

But do you REALLY think all you have to do is write and they’ll buy it?

I write every day of the week, but I still haven’t seen my dreams come true. And what paychecks I do get from my writing don’t come close to covering what I pay to feed my dreams. It’s kind of like the amazingly talented musician who shells out more in gas money than what he earns from the tip jar just so he can play a gig. If he doesn’t play, a little part of him dies. I get it. Writers are like that too.

Wannabe writer friend, if you want to write, forget about doing it for the money. That’s not what it’s about—not until you pay your dues. Nobody owes you anything. Writing IS the payoff, the gift. A paycheck is just an added bonus.

I’m doing an awful lot of whining and complaining tonight. Sometimes I work 12 hours a day to support my family, and then I come home and work on my writing, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. I’m not even close to paying my dues. But I wonder, “Isn’t it my turn yet?”

I’m quickly reminded that no matter how hard I struggle with the problems in my life as I try to write, I still have more to learn. Rather than complaining, I should count my blessings. There is always someone tougher than I am who hasn’t had his or her breaks yet either. There will always be someone equally or more deserving than I am.

I challenge you to take a moment to check out the blog of a very special writer who is waiting for her break, in more ways than one.

One Woman’s Dream

The mother of four precious little girls, Krista Phillips spends a majority of her time caring for baby Annabelle, who spent approximately the first eight months of her life in the hospital. But now baby Annabelle must go back because there’s the possibility that her body is rejecting her recent heart transplant.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be for Krista to care for her family and still hang on to her writing dreams. I admire her so much.

We all want something. Whether or not we want to admit it, there are times we all think we deserve it. But we aren’t entitled to anything, not even life. Life is God’s gift to us. He has his own reasons for granting or
denying prayer requests.

God gives us free will. Sometimes we can make things happen, and other times the best we can do is just pray like crazy that he will make things work out—even when we don’t see a way.

The clock nears midnight. I’m afraid if I don’t get my work done by then I’ll turn into a pumpkin—or, worse, oversleep my interview.

I hear Zuma Blitz calling me. A couple of games should breathe new life into me, keep me awake. Right?

But then again, I hear my guitar beckoning. Oh, what a wonderful friend it has been to me in the last six months, opening doors and dreams I thought might be shut forever. It has breathed new life into me and made me remember who I am. I need to work on a song. Maybe I should do that first.

Ah, there goes the Romantic in me again–and the procrastinator.

Better the Romantic procrastinator than the cynical writer who wrote the first paragraphs of this blog.

Writing is so easy

If I told you, I’d have to….

It’s Friday night. I’m sitting at home, battling the cat for access to my laptop. Stevie Ray, for some odd reason, has taken a liking to watching the cursor move on the screen as I direct it with the mouse. He’s entertained, but it’s awfully hard to type with a fur ball pawing at the screen.

The truth is I’m having a little trouble deciding what to write. Oh, I have a thousand ideas. But I’m wondering just how much can I actually say without crossing the line?

A blog should have a purpose. I could write a blog that interviews other writers. But as a freelance writer that’s what I do. That’s how I earn my paycheck. Oh, I would write for free—don’t get me wrong. But there’s a sense of accomplishment in being recognized as worthy to be on the payroll. Plus, other bloggers are already doing a great job of incorporating interviews on their blogs. I do have a few amazing writers lined up for the future. I don’t want to miss out on a opportunity to learn from them as they tell me about their craft, but again, others are doing a great job with this approach. Why should I duplicate?

What should be the purpose of this blog?

I want to encourage others to find what it is that makes that little light within them glow. I’m not talking about their love for Christ. Only He can make that little light shine.

I’m talking about that other little light, the one that makes a person’s passion come alive. All good things come from God, so I have no doubt that God puts that passion within us. My little light, of course, is music—and writing. I gravitate toward people who have the same light because we speak the same language.

I want to encourage people to do those things that make their lights shine. Pushing an emotional button seems to help. Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em feel something.

Most of the time, I prefer makin’ em laugh. It’s good medicine. But there is a limit. One story after another fills my mind, but I can’t print them. I could be blackballed—or, even worse, arrested.

Many years ago, I took a mass communications class at MTSU. The  We all shared the same vibe, the same little light. We were all professionals in the world of mass communications, musicians, writers, journalists, etc. I was low man on the totem pole, just a lowly stringer, a freelance writer.

One of our first assignments was share with the entire class the over-the-top emotional impact that pop culture had on us. In other words, we had to come clean about stalking at least one celebrity.

Awwwww no! I hate confessionals. I didn’t want to spill my guts in front of strangers. One girl, a young journalist who worked for a popular country music magazine at the time, confessed to attending a Ted Nugent concert and jumping out of her balcony seat and swinging out onto the stage. Of course, security whisked her away. But whoa…what a story.

When it was my turn, I recounted my tame story of naming my child after a celebrity. (But my parents named me after a singer too!) I hadn’t really done anything too bizarre. It was almost as if my classmates wanted more. The lady next to me turned to me and said with a compassionate voice, “You know where he lives, don’t you?” Several other professionals sitting in my area turned around and looked at me.

Spurred on by a roomful of professional paparrazi, I thought, “Hmmm. This could be fun.” So I spoke up with hope in my voice. “No, no, I don’t.” I waited.

The lady then drew me a detailed map to his house. My other classmates told me where he usually hung out. My cartographer friend was a close relative of a well-known name in the music biz, so I figured she knew what she was talking about. I wasn’t so sure about everybody else.

But the point is, I can’t give you the details. I can’t give you the directions. I can’t even name names. If I do, I’m in trouble. What’s a story without the details?

Maybe if I can’t ignite the fire, maybe I can at least fan the adventurous flame  that burns within my visiting readers. Life can be routine and boring–if we let it. What’s wrong with tweeking a few variables to get a different outcome?

Stevie Ray has grown weary of my laptop and has found something better to occupy his time–a nap. As I watch him snoozing, I’m reminded of what they say about curiousity and the cat.

Writers thrive on an adventurous spirit, but we also need a little common sense to go with it.

André Gide once said, “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.”

So is it with writers.