Midnight in your imagination

Admit it. Don’t you wish you could escape reality, just for a moment?

I have. This weekend I faced returning to school, cleaning out my parents’ house, reorganizing my house, and making some other important decisions.

I felt as if my brain were spinning like a cage on one of the old Zipper rides at the carnival.

So I escaped…vicariously, of course, through a romantic comedy, my all-time favorite genre of movies.

I blame my movie adventure on one of my newspaper editors. We were planning the February issue of The Edge and found ourselves making a list of our top romantic movies. We both agreed on Leap Year, and I was determined to watch it this past weekend.

The luck of the Irish was not shining on me though. I couldn’t find Leap Year on any of my movie channels. But I serendipitously discovered another movie called Midnight in Paris that could possibly rank second in my all-time favorite movie list, falling close behind my top choice Serendipity, of course, and giving Leap Year a tight battle for the number two slot.

Midnight in Paris may be the most romantic movie I’ve ever seen. It’s as if someone tore a page out of my journal, tweaked a few details, and turned my thoughts into a motion picture.

Owen Wilson takes the lead role of Gil, a hopeless romantic writer, who pays the bills by turning out lucrative Hollywood screen plays. But he wants to write a novel. He’s written a manuscript, but he has shown it to no one, primarily because his finance Inez (Rachel McAdams) belittles him and doesn’t support his dream.

He wants to move to Paris and walk in the rain and reminisce about the past. Inez finds herself attracted to a pompous know-it-all pseudo expert in everything from wine tasting to art. As Gil grows closer to his dream city, he moves further away from Inez. Their ideas of romance don’t mesh. His imagination fuels his passion. She can’t see beyond dollar signs and prestige.

When Gil takes a midnight walk, his life changes forever. A strange car pulls up beside him, and the driver offers him a ride. He finds himself transported magically back to the Golden Age of the 1920s, where he meets a host of creative artists who re-ignite his own passion—F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, to name a few.

Gil must decide whether to live in the past, to stick with the status quo, or to change his present.

Admit it. If you had the chance, wouldn’t it be great to step back in time to meet the artists who fuel your passion for literature, music, or art? Wouldn’t it be great if that one moment breathed new life into your dreams?

I actually had the chance to do that once, well, kind of. I took a creative nonfiction class for my master’s degree in journalism education through the University of Missouri, and my professor asked us to incorporate all five of our senses as we wrote a piece about a specific place. Back then I hadn’t started my novel, and I was still doing quite a few celebrity interviews. My favorite band was the Eagles, and my chance of interviewing one of the original members was approximately one in a million. But what if I did interview one of them? Where would we meet? What would I say?

I threw caution to the wind and imagined myself in The Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Why? Because that’s where members of the Eagles band used to hang out when they first got their start in the music business.

I didn’t have the money to fly to California, and I certainly couldn’t go back in time. But that’s what I what I wanted to write about, and somehow I needed to get there. I researched the place and its surroundings, including the Italian restaurant next door, and somehow I found myself sitting next to Glenn Frey and Don Henley in The Troubadour, watching Steve Martin on stage, and drooling over the aroma of pasta dishes wafting in from next door.

It was one the best experiences in my life that never really happened, and I remember every little detail, despite none of them being true. That’s why I find it so ironic that a few years later Eagle guitarist Joe Walsh did call me, and we did have a real one-on-one conversation. This little incident just reaffirms my belief that ANYTHING can happen. Dreams do come true.

So if you had a chance to step back in time to meet someone who inspired you? Who would you meet? Where would you go? To what era would you travel?

I’ve occasionally written about creative escapes in my blogs. I’ve spent quite a few weekends in Franklin, perusing the Henpeck Market and eating at McCreary’s. As often as I can, I go to Memphis and hang out in Handy Park and the Memphis Music store.

But when I can’t travel very far away, I find myself in one of the quaint railroad towns like Normandy, Wartrace, or Bell Buckle—Bell Buckle, especially. There’s just something magical about that little town.

I have several readers from all across the nation. If you ever find yourself traveling down Interstate 24 toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, you MUST take a short detour to Bell Buckle. I’ve never had the pleasure of staying in one of the several bed and breakfast homes, but, hey, what a GREAT place for a writer’s retreat. Someone needs to organize it. It might just have to be me.

There’s one particular antique store in Bell Buckle that takes me back to the 30s and 40s every time I walk in. I can’t explain it, but I can feel it. I also like visiting the ice cream shop.

Now that I’m committed to a diet, I probably won’t see another ice cream soda until this spring, but every time I step foot in this parlor I feel as though I’m ready to order a strawberry phosphate or an ice cream soda with Emily and George from Our Town.

To me, Bell Buckle is enchanted. Of course, I’m a tourist, not a local. But you can find me there almost every week, strolling through the town, visiting the boutiques, or simply going for a ride through the country side. It is my escape.

So far I haven’t “met” any of my favorite writers in Bell Buckle although I wouldn’t be surprised in Edgar Allan Poe were to show up. I imagine he and I might speculate about the Victorian houses that appear to be haunted and the graveyard that sits in the middle of town.

Do you need an escape as badly as I do? Where would you go? Who would you meet? Why? When? Give me all the five w’s and throw in the h.

I really want to know.

Run away

Back in the old days when we walked to school uphill both ways in snow knee deep, we teenagers had nothing better to do than to cruise the four-lane and eat burgers at the Burger Queen. We had a few game rooms, where for a quarter, we could play Ms. Pacman and Joust. We could always bat a dot back and forth on a game called Atari.

But we didn’t have iPods and iPhones and laptops and 3-D game systems. We just had each other face to face. “Message me” meant “Hey, sneak me a note across the room during Spanish class when the teacher isn’t looking.”

We also didn’t have Bonnaroo. I bet a lot more people I graduated with would have stuck around had they known the world would come to them.

What we had was the county fair—the highlight of every year.

When I was a little kid, my backyard swing set transformed into the Zipper and the Himalaya. And when the real fair rolled in every September, my cousins and I counted the quarters we had saved in the glass baby food jars we kept on my Mom Bell’s window edge.

I begged my parents to let me go every night. They didn’t. I always entered my artwork in the competitions, and I always won a ribbon. My Mom Bell pulled okra from her garden and slapped my name on the entry slip. I couldn’t wait to see if I won anything. I always felt as if her garden was mine. It was all of ours really.

But my feelings for the fair changed my senior year. It was one of the best days of my growing up years–and one of the saddest because it came to an end. I went with a group of my friends, all of us band geeks. The last night we vowed to stay until they shut it down.

And we did.

Sometime after midnight the carnies pulled the plug on the rides, and they let down the canvas covering their games. And the midway without its lights lost its magic.

We had a grand idea. “Let’s follow the fair to wherever it goes!” And, suddenly, the magic was back—but short-lived when we faced the reality that Monday morning we had to go back to school.

It’s true though. Every year some kid would run off with the carnival. It happened when I was in high school, and for years after I began teaching I always lost one or two who ran away. Kids today don’t go. They don’t need the fair anymore, and they don’t believe in magic.

I still believe in magic. I have a dreamer’s heart. It’s the one thing I hope I can pass on to my students. One of mine caught it. He ran away with the circus.

Literally.

I have been so blessed to have had students in class who have gone to do great things in life, but I never expected to teach a student who would someday become an official Ringling Bros. clown.

A former journalism student of mine, Chris Sullivan joined me and my current newspaper staff for lunch Thursday when we celebrated the publication of our third issue.

Chris captivated me with his stories of being a part of the Greatest Show on Earth.

He never set out to be a circus clown, but his work with theater put him in the right place at the right time. He tried out but didn’t expect to get the job. He waited for the call. Meanwhile, he received a spiritual call to go to India to share his clown talent with orphaned children during a Vacation Bible School program. He answered that call, and when he returned, another call waited for him—an invitation to join the circus.

So now he lives his life traveling all over the nation on a circus train, living in a 5 x 7 room that he calls home. He has learned to simplify, simplify, simplify—not just materialistically but philosophically too. He focuses on his job at hand…publicizing the circus, helping transport the elephants to the arena, or meeting children during the pre-show. He lets his other worries go. He leaves them miles behind somewhere down the track.

Seeing Chris again was good medicine for a weary soul. He reminded me life doesn’t have to be so complicated and running away with the circus isn’t always a bad thing.

I doubt that I’ll be boarding the circus train anytime soon. Nor will I follow the fair.

But I do have a fascination with gypsies and Travellers. Ethnically, I don’t think I qualify to be either one, but who says I can’t use my imagination and run away with them in a story I write.

Ah, imagination. I hope my students never lose theirs. I’m so proud of Chris for following his dream and never betraying his imagination.

Sometimes it’s the student who teaches the teacher. Maybe it’s time I enjoyed my imagination again and let the magic lead me to a story I can treasure.

Wild hogs

When I opened the refrigerator and found the pigskin sitting next to the eggs and cream cheese, I knew it was time to get out of the house.

For the last week, I’ve been sick, too sick to write. Oh, maybe if I didn’t have to get up and go to work at the crack of dawn, I could have mustered up enough energy to put a couple thousand words on the page each day.

But having been consumed by the plague, the name I’ve given to the persistent hacking and coughing and fatigue that eventually sent me to the doc for a round of antibiotics and two shots in the old keister, I just didn’t have the energy to write and to teach. Either the writing or the teaching had to be put on hold.

I’m not sure my boss would have understood if I called in sick while sitting with my laptop at Starbucks, so every morning for the last week I dragged my weary body into work and assigned those essays, graded those papers, and did my best to keep all the kiddos from killing each other before the holiday break.

Now, having a day off from school and having regained my strength from my mystery illness, I decided to escape Manchester and to look for my muse in a coffee house somewhere out of town.

I packed up my computer, jumped in my truck and turned up the volume on the radio. I like to drive to music. But a Fox news broadcast preempted my listening pleasure, warning me that there was a wild hog outbreak across the state.

Wild hogs.

Could the outbreak have anything to do with the pigskin in my refrigerator? I doubted it.

But there was always hope that along my journey I might be swarmed by a herd of them. There’s nothing like a herd of wild hogs that says creativity.

But I encountered not one wild hog. The drive to the coffee shop was painstakingly normal. And the coffee just didn’t do it for me. And the music was just dreadful. What in the world does Danken Schoen mean anyway? And who was that woman singing to me?

As I looked around the shop, I hoped I might find one interesting character that might wander into my current WIP (work in progress), but, alas, these people were just too normal, sitting alone, texting or talking to an invisible friend—alone.

How am I supposed to eavesdrop on their conversations if they won’t speak up? They could have at least had the courtesy of inviting a friend to meet them for coffee.

Bad atmosphere, bad coffee, bad music, and a room full of bores. Well, there you have it. Forget the wild hogs—I’ve been swarmed by monotonous bores.

You would think that I would know by now that I cannot pre-plan adventures that result in ideas for my books and blogs. I must stumble upon them—hence the name of the blog, SerendipiTee.

But I was hoping the pigskin in my refrigerator and the radio report of the wild hog threat were omens that a stream of creativity was on the way.

You see, at the beginning of November, I committed to NaNoWriMo. In less than a week I am supposed to have 50.000 words logged in. I only have 40,000 to go.

But I was sick! I was sick!

Who cares? NaNoWriMo, she don’t care. If I don’t come up with 40,000 words, I fail, and there’s nothing a sounder of wild hogs can do about it. (In case you are wondering, during my boar-dom at the out-of-town coffee shop, I resorted to a mad Google search and discovered that when referring to a group of wild pigs, one says sounder, not herd.)

So I sat there for another 15 minutes, waiting for my muse to walk through the door. And by muse, I almost always mean my “a-muse” because I draw my greatest creativity for those things that are just preposterously hilarious.

There’s nothing funny about a woman singing “Danken Schoen.”

I finally gave up, dumped the coffee, and drove back to Manchester. Want to guess what I heard as soon as I turned on the radio? You guessed it—another report of wild hogs ravaging the countryside.

Where are these wild hogs when you need ‘em?

Desperate for something, anything, to spark my creativity, I returned to my home coffee shop and ordered another drink. The barista, probably noting that I was hyped up on caffeine and half crazed, said, “Let’s make this one a de-caf.”

And here I am. Sitting a table in the corner, listening to smooth jazz, and….answering my cell phone.

You’re not going to believe this. It’s a fundraiser rep calling, reminding me that I still owe for the HAM I’m supposed to pick up tomorrow.

But I’ve already paid for the ham—I shelled out two twenties and four singles. I’m sure of it, but the caller has no record of it. She says I have to pay. I’m sure it’s an oversight.

But, maybe, if I’m lucky, we’ll have a throwdown at the ham pick up tomorrow.

Guess I’m going to get my excitement after all. 

Wild hogs.