I don’t wanna grow up

I don’t want to grow up.

I’m a middle-aged woman with children, a steady full-time job, a new business venture, and a freelance writing business. Still, I have the mind of a juvenile.

I like it that way.

But I may have to tighten up the reins a little bit, especially if I get back in the saddle and continue my writing journey. I guess I’ll have to start with my blog. I mean, who’s going to take me seriously if I all I write about is chasing celebrities. I’m not the paparazzi.

No, perhaps I should focus on more literary-minded topics, such as agents, contracts, conferences, etc. That’s what I should be doing, but that’s not what I want to do. I like sparking the adventure in my reader. It’s okay to be a kid at heart. There’s a time and place for everything. I write to inspire, to make people laugh, to make people feel something. For without feeling, there is nothing left to say.

I ran into my dear friend Rebekah this morning. She’s the one who launched my journey by taking me on as a regular columnist in the paper she published. She’s fearless, possessing no qualms about approaching a source and asking anything.

See, we both like shooting famous people. Not with weaponry—with our cameras. We went on a few trips together to Nashville during GMA week and hung out at the Renaissance Hotel, gawking at every celebrity.

She attacked. I lurked, gathering the nerve to strike up conversations. But we both came home with stories to tell. Treasures.

I miss the hunt…the snag…the trophy shot…the adrenaline rush.

I try to surround myself with people who share my sense of adventure. I have a couple of writer friends at work who are literary groupies. They’re much too sophisticated to call themselves that, but I’m the one doing the writing here. I call it as I see it.

I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my groupie friends actually tracked down one of the most famous writers in the history of all of American literature—Harper Lee.

Brought the woman a milkshake to her assisted living facility. Was promptly asked to leave. But my friend has a story to tell.

Said friend also helped me follow my literary hero Rick Bragg during the Southern Festivals of Books. All I wanted was a trophy photo of me and him. Mission accomplished. My younger son, Michael, however ruined my story by accusing me and Bragg of being intoxicated. The first thing he asked was “Mom, who’s that drunk man you’re standing by?”

Okay, kid. Rick Bragg was exasperated–not drunk. He could not outrun me and my Harper Lee stalker friend through the back alleys and hallways of the War Memorial Auditorium. And I, dear Michael, had been carrying a professional camera bag, a notebook, a bag full of books, and a purse. I’m five feet tall. I was also out of breath and exhilarated. Can’t you see I looked a bit disheveled with good reason?

The dazed look in our eyes is easy to explain. I’m sure he was thinking, “Who is this woman, and what does she want from me?” And I was thinking, “Na-na, na-na, na, na. I got a picture of Rick Bragg —and You don’t.” Whoever You is.

But back to the story. I don’t want to grow up.

After a year off from promoting my writing, I’m hitting the publishing streets with literary feats in the running. I have a passion for helping others like myself find an outlet for their creativity, so I have agreed to sign on as a board member with the Tennessee Writers Alliance. It was through the TWA that I met Etta Wilson, who sparked my desire to write for young adults. I would like to pass on the torch that ignites the dreams of other writers.

I’m preparing to register for my Dallas ACFW conference, and I’m polishing two manuscripts. I have three more sitting in my brain. Two were spawned from killer titles, and the third is based on a late-night adventure a friend and I had while traveling through a small town, laced with mystery and intrigue.

If we hadn’t been in a silly mood that night, if we hadn’t been incognito, if we hadn’t been overzealous and in the red on the juvenile meter, I never would have come up with the plot. Actually, after I went home that night, I dreamed the entire story. Now it’s waiting to be written. A juvenile mind does have its merits.

I don’t want to lose my sense of adventure. The quest leads me to the story.

I take mental snapshots of the places I go so I can weave the experiences into the stories I write:  my trip to Roswell, New Mexico; my visit to Fishtail, Montana, to the world’s best little bait shop-gem shop-coffee house ever; my stop in the art district of Oklahoma City to wander into Galileo’s Coffee Shop. There are too many more to mention: Voodoo Village in Memphis, Elam’s Mansion in the Boro, and the Badlands of South Dakota top the tip of my inspirational iceberg.

But, alas, this summer I have to put on my writer face and behave like a professional. At least in public. And I can’t just talk about writing; I have to do something about it. It’s time to get my manuscripts to the agents and editors. I think I have my strength back. I think I can do this.

When God gives us gifts, He does so for a purpose. There is nothing in the world that makes me feel better than giving to the people I love. Maybe I can do for someone else what my writing mentors have done for me.

As an added challenge to my writing summer, I’ll also be taking graduate classes in English. I don’t want my professors to think I’m totally looney, so I have to be very careful not to spaz out. Focus, focus, focus. Focus shall be my mantra.

It’s only May 3, but already I feel summer coming on. I write best at night when no one else is around. And, like Gus on Psych, I have a super sniffer. I am very sensitive to smell. Honeysuckle and campfires spark my creative passion. Have you been outside at night lately? The fragrances are alluring.

Let the adventure begin. Yeah, I know. I’ve got to tone it down. Study. Do my homework. Dress professionally—save the tee shirts, flip flops and shorts for summer nights. Ease up on my Southern accent. Leave my yalls at home.  

But I shall always, always, always carry my notebook with me. Because no matter how sophisticated and cultured people appear to be, they’ve all got their quirks. They’re all characters waiting to appear in in somebody’s story.

Snapshots

I guess you just had to be there.

I’ve searched for weeks for something worthwhile to write about, but everything that comes to me is cliché. Or I’ve written about it one too many times.

Write what you know, “they” say.

What do I know? I know I’m weary. The school year has been great. My students have been awesome, but my mental faculties are zapped. My emotions are zapped. I’m depleted. So my focus isn’t what it should be. That’s okay, given the circumstances.

I’ve spent lots of time at my parents’ house. But I didn’t grow up there. The house once belonged to my aunt and uncle, and my grandfather lived there before he passed away. This is the first and only house my parents ever owned, and they were proud to call it their own. “My” childhood home was a rental house on the edge of the city limits.

I knew that old house, that tiny little, mildew-ridden house. I could stand in the hallway and see every room. The kitchen especially. I remember the green table cloth on the table. Green. My mom always decorated the kitchen in green. I don’t remember what I had done. All I know is that a switch was involved and that I was short enough to run under the table while standing up straight. Being short has its advantages.

I remember the black telephone hanging on the wall in the hall and the party line. I had some pretty cool conversations with an anonymous voice who said he was a vampire. I think his real name was Terry. All I know is if I picked up the phone and he was on there, our chance meeting turned into a mysterious conversation. Not that I believed any of it, but Dark Shadows was a popular show at the time, and my mom and I were really into it. I guess I was already writing books in my head at the time. I mean, how often does one have an interview with a vampire? I thought it was uber cool. Too bad we never met.

Before my parents bought their house and moved out of the rental, “my” house was grand central station of the neighborhood. I had a front porch with a swing and a basketball goal in the back and a beautiful redbud tree with limbs low enough for climbing.

I was a manipulative child, certainly not the demure individual I am now. But then again I was the only girl in the neighborhood, and it was every man for himself. And being the only girl on the street, there were times I had to man up for survival’s sake. Once I tied my neighbor to my beautiful redbud and refused to let him go until he paid for his crime. I don’t remember what he did to tick me off, but I’m sure he deserved the punishment. If he hadn’t convinced me he was having heart troubles, I would’ve made him stay there all night.

I am not a liar. In fact, if you ask me anything, I’ll tell you straight up to your face the truth. But back in the day, my front porch was home to some pretty profitable poker games. Again, the only girl, I learned to bluff—and held my smile when I raked in the loose change. We didn’t play for big bucks, but that’s not to say we kids weren’t privy to some secret info. I won’t say where, but it was a known fact that in my neighborhood, high-stake poker games were a pretty common occurrence. We used to ride our bikes by the place and count the cars out front, daring one another to knock on the door.

No one was stupid enough to take the chance. But dares were just part of growing up on my street.

My own kids never stepped foot in  the rental house I grew up in. They never would have understood. We couldn’t turn the wall heaters on at night for fear the water that ran off the iced windows might drip into them and short them out. Lack of insulation. We relied on quilts, plural. Piled high. We didn’t have showers; we had tubs, but we learned how to adapt with a hand-held sprayer. Nope, my kids would have never understood.

They grew up in a cozy little neighborhood, just down the road from our current home. Quaint, small, but comfortable–and safe.

Granny and Pa watched my babies like hawks. The worst thing that ever happened to Josh was a bicycle stunt gone wrong. He flipped it, literally, and did a 360 without any major injuries. Michael, my tough guy, made Pa play ball, made Pa, in his 70s, slide into home plate, again without any major injuries.

I can’t believe my parents let get me get away with the things I did as a kid on my street—namely, jumping out of tree houses just to prove I wasn’t scared. And I never broke a bone. Never sprained an ankle. Never cried. I ventured through fields, fearless of snakes, and I waded through ponds, never knowing how deep. And I never learned how to swim. And I rode my bike down country rodes and picnicked by myself in the loft of an old deserted barn just for the adventure of it. I didn’t mind being alone. I still don’t. It gives me time to think.

I learned how to be tough. I never cried when I wrecked my bike or got hit in the face with a baseball or forgot to let go of a firecracker before it when off. When it came time to choose up teams for baseball, basketball, football, whatever the sport, I waited to be picked–sometimes until the very end, depending on who was captain. The truth is I figured I was just as good as they were. Either they picked me for their team, or they didn’t.

I never whined. I never complained. If chosen, I went out there and did my best. I laughed when a new kid begged me to take my turn at bat. Ground rule. Got a sucky player? One of the better guys could take her–yeah it was usually a her–turn at bat.

I could take my own turn at bat, thank you. And if they didn’t want me, I didn’t tear up. I’d rather have someone tell me straight up how it is than to lie or pander to me. I still feel that way. Don’t like me? Don’t like my talents? I’m outta there. No hard feelings. Goodbye. Don’t expect me to beg.

When I was a kid, I roamed the neighborhood. I spent a lot of time  sitting on the porce steps of an old man’s house. Everyone called him Grandpa, but I never knew his real name. I just remember him playing a tune on his French harp, stomping his feet and stopping to sing a verse or two. “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” And my favorite—“If you want a good man, you gotta treat him right.” I probably still have Grandpa’s voice on cassette tape somewhere. I grew up and moved before he passed. Probably a good thing because if I had known, I’m sure his death would have broken me.

Grandpa gave me my first dog, Lassie. Original name, huh? She looked a lot like a collie, and she was so smart. It was as if we could communicate telepathically. I didn’t even have to say the words. Lassie and I were so close that I could subtly give a command with my eyes and she did whatever I asked—sit, catch a ball, jump through a hula hoop, whatever. My parents begged me to give her up. They promised to buy me another dog. I wasn’t sure why. I loved THIS dog, and nothing could stop me from keeping her. Good choice. I think that was the only time in my life I ever stood my ground with my parents.

The Kennel Ration Dog Competition came to town one year and held a contest in the old strip mall across from the high school. Lassie won third place. I was never so proud. I still have the trophy in my case. I sure loved that dog. She was my best friend, my confidant, my everything. I had already gone to college when she developed cancer, and the vet had to put her down. No hope. I lost my best friend.

So there you have it, a blog that’s nothing more than a hodgepodge of memories, snapshots from a spunky little girl who grew into a disillusioned adult.

My parents’ bought and paid for home, the one I inherited, holds few memories for me but dozens for my children. But, every time I’m there alone, I have to admit, I feel a little strange. I hear things. Tonight I had shut off all the lights in the house and was feeling my way from the back bedroom to the front door. That’s when I heard the screen door shut. No one was there.

And the lighthouse music box turned on by itself the first time we started moving things out.

Once, while I was alone, I ventured up into the attic—defying my fear of heights, just to see what was up there. And while I was exploring, I heard footsteps walking around down below. No one was there.

I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe there are things our minds don’t understand. I certainly don’t understand what I heard.  I actually sat down on a stool up there in the attic and had a rational conversation with myself.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes. I definitely hear footsteps.”

I waited. I listened. They continued.

I wasn’t imagining things.

I assumed it was Kenny. I waited for him to yell at me to find out where I was. But no one ever checked on me. I finally climbed down the ladder. No one was there.

Go figure. I have no answers. I just have an imagination and my memories. And sometimes that’s all a writer needs.

Jigsaw

The end is drawing near.

The seniors will graduate soon, and they’re starting to get all weepy. We sent the final issue of the newspaper to the printer today. Yesterday I watched the editor proofread the seniors’ Last Wills. She boohooed from A to Z. All I could do was hand her a box of tissues.

Feeling rather nostalgic, I went home and dug up my senior yearbook. I have to admit I teared up too. It’s hard to believe how quickly time passes, how people change, how fickle life is.

When’s the last time you looked at your old yearbook? I’ll bet you’ll see some of these quotes:

“Please always be my friend.”

“Stay the same, and you’ll go far.”

“I’ll never forget you.”

“R.M.A.”

Lies. All of them.

Oh, at the time the writers really meant it. But those kids in the yearbook don’t exist anymore.

Why is it I feel like I’m the only one who hasn’t changed? I’m not talking physically. I’m talking mentally, emotionally. I guess I just haven’t grown up yet.

I never really left my old high school. I still remember where I sat in homeroom, and I still remember where I used to hang out in the mornings. I still remember driving our beloved band director nuts and counting the steps between the yard lines on the football field for our flag routine with the band. (How in the world did I do that? All those people? Crazy.)

I believe if I could push a button and rewind time I wouldn’t have a problem stepping back into yesterday. I could still find my old seat in Mr. Burton’s room. And I meant every word I wrote in those yearbooks. I’m sure of it.

If by some freak of nature one of you is reading this blog, I challenge you to go back to your yearbook. What’s the funniest thing someone wrote? Has anything written stood the test of time? Did I write in your book? If so, what?

Kids at my school have their yearbook day next week. I’ve learned something over the years. I’ll always be Mrs. L. to them, but they won’t always be the charming little cherubs in the second row. Someday they’ll be doctors, business owners, moms, and dads. Now when I teach, I remind myself I’m not just teaching a child, I’m teaching my future colleague, dentist, mechanic, or nursing home attendant. (I always, always try to be nice—if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, I know several who are already plotting their revenge.)

The cool thing about being a writer and an English teacher is that I love novels. I love talking about novels (and writing them). A novel is ALWAYS present tense even if it’s written in past tense. Why? Because each time a reader opens the cover, it’s happening—now. Again and again and again.

There’s comfort in knowing some things will never change, like the details in a book. But that’s not the case with the yearbook. Sure we can open it and relive our glory days, but only for a moment.

As I looked back on mine tonight, I was able to see random pieces of the puzzle that make up the writer I am today.

I guess in some ways it’s the story of what made me, me.