A day in the life of me

Assignment for my creative writing class:  Borrow some of the techniques Dean Koontz uses in Odd Thomas
and write your own story titled “A Day in the Life of Me.”

I am a night owl. I like to stay up past midnight when everyone else has gone to sleep and the house is mine. The solitude is mine. My thoughts are mine. And I can write.

But when morning comes I’m never ready to wake up. Just a few more minutes of sleep—I reset the alarm. I hate the alarm.

And I have to dress according to my mood. If I wear the “wrong” thing, well then, my day planks. No, I’m not a fashionista. Maybe it’s a feng shui thing, applied to clothing.

But I can never find my shoes. And off I go in search. Why I don’t look under my computer table, why I dig through the bottom of my closet, I do not know. I cannot wear shoes in my house. Off they go as I sit cross-legged in my rolling chair writing or playing my guitar.

Get dressed, dab on a little make-up, straighten my hair, find my earrings. Oh, have mercy. If I don’t wear my lucky earrings, I am incomplete.

And regardless of the time, I must complete my morning ritual. I check Facebook and WordPress, and I play my guitars, electric and acoustic. I switch them up. Both have their own little nuances.

I can’t put into words what these guitars mean to me. They are my life source.

I’m not saying God isn’t. He is, of course. I’m just saying that for me to be me, I have to find myself through song. Some people march to the beat of their own drummer. I make my own melodies on a six string.

And the first thing I do when I get home from school? Play guitar. And what’s the last thing I do before bed at night? Play guitar. My life source. The one materialistic thing that lets me be me.

And it never fails.

I play too long, or the clock cheats and makes me late. I rush to my Durango to head to school. And then I realize I don’t have my phone. I run back into the house and grab it from my charger and stuff it in my bag. Half way to school, I panic. Where is my phone? I think, “Did I put it in my bag?”

And I madly search for it while trying oh so hard not to go past the 15 mph school zone speed limit. I don’t need another $173 ticket. Nay, I do protest. I’ve lived near the school practically all my life, and it wasn’t until I received my ticket that I ever saw those signs, new of course, marking the extended school zone.

Someone pulled a fast one, and it wasn’t just me. But I was the one stuck with a ticket.

I get to school. Aw, man. Has the bell rung? Can I get signed in before 7:45?

I rush, rush, rush. I used to be an early bird, arriving at 6:30 a.m. But I’m a weary basket case, so 7:40 it is on most days…or 7:45.

I rev up to teach the college English classes. Seniors. Who woulda thunk I’d like them? They’re laid back. Heck they’re almost adults. We can so relate.

Oh, you teachers of K-10. Bless your hearts, especially middle-school teachers. How do you handle the giggles, farts, snickers, and burps? And I can’t believe I just used the f word in my blog. Never. Totally uncouth.

Attendance. I have to take attendance, but my computer will not pull up portal. I spend all of announcement time trying to log on. And then I’m bombarded by students who want one-on-one help. I can’t transition from English to sociology. The same thing happens with the transition to creative writing.

But ah….it’s time for newspaper production, a time when I can work ALONE on the technical aspects of desktop publishing that my students rarely learn. It’s too complicated. I have to do it myself to send the files over the Internet. Word, Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Distiller, Adobe PDF. I do the job of a graphic designer without ever having taken the first college class. And that’s why they pay me the big bucks to take on the school newspaper. Not.

By now I realize I have never turned on my phone. I turn it on and discover a couple of texts. Aw, man. No wonder everything has been quiet.

And I rush, rush, rush. Multi-task. Grade papers. Call parents. Check my email. Check my email. Check my email. Email for high school. Email for Motlow. Email for writing. Email for Harmony House. Would you believe I didn’t check it for a few days, and I exceeded 1,000 messages for one account. I hate email almost as much as I hate my alarm clock.

Then it’s back home.

Oh, what to expect. Usually something LOUD. It starts with boy grumbling about taking out dog. Then there are words. And then there is a quick trip outdoors. Back in. No success. The dog gets irritated and lays a passive aggressive plan in the kitchen. I hear more yelling. It gets ugly. Every day. Same old song and dance.

I must grade. I must grade. I must grade. But I have had my heart and soul telepathically sucked out of me from the other bodies in my room craving my attention. I want to give, but what’s left? I’m tired.

I need a break, so I watch TV. Last night it was Nashville. The show, to me, seems fairly realistic. I’ve been on the far, far outer fringes of the Nashville music scene for years. Been to a few media events. Done my fair share of schmoozing. I love that show. I do. The tension is spot on. I can feel it.

I also watch Criminal Minds, Leverage, Psych, Supernatural, Major Crimes Bones, etc.

Truth be told, though, I really wish I could give up TV. I want to read.

Reading and writing are gifts you give yourself and others. Oh, to read.

And, finally, I lay me down, my soul to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

So many distractions in a day. So many reasons to lose focus. So many sources of discouragement. Sleep is a fine escape.

Snuggled in my Ireland t-shirt and old black sweats, I drift off. I dream. But the dream never lasts long enough. The alarm goes off. And I wake up when the day breaks.

And I do it again.

7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Writer

To be or not to be...writing vs. playing Angry Birds

Disclaimer: After reading this blog—which you are probably doing right now instead of writing your own blog or editing your own manuscript–you will better understand the problem areas in your writing life. I offer no cures. I think we both know there’s only one way to get those words on the page. Write.

Anyway, here’s everything you need to know to become a highly ineffective writer.

1.      Surround yourself with clutter.

By all means, do not write in a clean, neatly organized room, for if you do, you will find limited reasons to procrastinate. If there are no laundry to fold, no papers to grade, no toys to pick up, no dishes to wash, no books to read, and no dirt to vaccum, then the only thing left to do is to write.

I am a minimalist by nature. Honestly, I HATE clutter. I could live in a hotel room as long as a maid cleaned the bathroom and made the bed. Better yet, give me a rustic, clean cabin in the woods. If I see clutter, my obsessive nature kicks in. I can’t think about writing because all I want to do is clean.

2.      Place an object of temptation within your reach.

Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t think you’ll reward yourself for your 500 words by with a quick interlude of entertainment. Like to crochet? Put down the needle. You’ll only hurt yourself. Of course, you like to read, but that one chapter soon turns into two, and then before you know it, you’re engrossed, hooked. There are no intervention plans, folks. Withdrawal from a good book is killer.

My object of temptation? The guitar. My laptop is within an arm’s distance of two guitars and an amp. Even as I write this, I tell myself, “No. I will not pick up the guitar. I will not pick up the guitar.” But I already have.  True, one chord never hurt anybody. But I can’t stop at one chord. Now that I’ve learned how to move up and down the neck, I’m sliding over every fret. Dangerous.

3.      Participate in a pre-writing ritual.

What do you do before you fire up the laptop? Make a pot of coffee? Watch some reality TV? You’re not one of those fitness people are you? Tell me you don’t work out before you write. (If you tell me you do, then I’ll feel even more guilty. Not only will I have to admit to being a highly ineffective writer, I’ll also have to admit to being a lazy, highly ineffective writer.)

The point is if you become too focused on your ritual, you’ll place more emphasis on preparation than on production. Me? I MUST have coffee. But coffee is not enough. To clear my mind, I must go for a ride and
drink my coffee. When I get home, I’m usually tired. Then I need a nap. By the time I wake up, the day is done, and my writing is not.

4.      Stop writing; start researching.

You’ve set a goal. 1000 words? 2000 words? But the world of research calls. Do you answer, or return to the page? Research is fun. Research burns minutes. And hours. Even days.

I love research. Give me a name or a subject, and within an hour I can tell you anything you want to know about anyone or anything. And when I research, my mind wanders. And when my mind wanders, I think of new projects. But my old project never moves forward. Then I have TWO unfinished projects.

5.      Immerse yourself in a bottomless pit of social media.

By all means, get your name out there. Twitter. YouTube. Facebook. Google. But can you stop at one status, or do you find yourself wandering off to Farmville, Angry Birds or Zuma?

My downfall? I’m hooked on stupid Facebook quizzes, but I have learned so much about myself. If I were a vampire, my hidden gift would be to see into the future. If I were a Disney princess, I would be Snow White, but if I were a character from a horror flick, I’d be Chucky. What do my eyes reveal? I have a deep, dark secret I don’t want to share with others.

I wonder how much writing I could have achieved if I hadn’t been taking these quizzes.

6.  Become a jack of all trades, a master of none.

Your family needs you. Your church needs you. Your boss needs you. Your organization needs you. You have 24 hours in a day. By the time you’ve made the meals, served on three committees, spent an extra hour on the job, and organized a Boy Scouts fundraiser, you’re tired. You probably don’t feel like writing. But the real question is did God call you to do ALL of these things, or did you call yourself?

I’m one of those people who have a hard time saying ”no.” I believe I have a purpose, a calling to write. But so many other things pull me away from what I KNOW I’m supposed to do. While it is commendable to teach Vacation Bible School or to take youth on church camp retreats, I don’t believe God expects me to do everything that is commendable. I think he gave me the desire of my heart (writing), and I think He will give me the time to pursue it—if I’m not guilted into doing the things He’s not calling me to do. Unfortunately,I am the most guilty at making myself feel guilty.

7.  Never, ever forgive yourself when you fail.

Life happens. Deadlines for contests pass, and we don’t meet them. We rush a query letter to the post office, and then we realize the editor only accepts e-mail. We trade our 1,500 words a day goal to go play in
the park with our children. We lose the business card of a potential agent. Epic failures.

While we’re at it, we might as well condemn ourselves for ever sin we’ve ever committed, It’s so easy to make ourselves feel bad. It’s so hard to make ourselves work when we feel so bad about ourselves.

In the past year, I have suffered tremendous losses, and my writing success has slowed to a crawl. I feel like a failure because I lack the emotional punch to keep me going. Sometimes I fear I have reached a dead end, but I can’t stop there—even if it means turning around and finding another way out, another route to success.

We know what it feels like to fail others. Have you really thought about how it feels when you fail yourself? It  hurts just as badly. But just as we forgive others, we must forgive ourselves.

No one is perfect. We are all works in progress.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky

It’s after midnight. I’m promised myself I’d hit the gym in the morning. I need a routine. I need to follow through. I’m stuck. I can’t move forward.

The thing is I can’t sleep. I have a mess of thoughts whipping around in my head like protons in an ion collider. Yeah, I bet you haven’t heard that analogy before. Me either. Funny what you’ll think of after midnight.

I’m going to the gym because I want to get back on track—literally. My goal is to try kickboxing again. If I can conquer kickboxing, I can conquer just about anything—my writing, my fitness, my fears.

But I’m not ready. Not yet. I need to build up my strength and endurance, starting with the track and then moving to the weights. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll take my new iPod. Music is a great motivator, but you knew I’d
say that. How about a motivator you wouldn’t expect?

How about Facebook?

Not really. I personally believe Facebook is an evil monster that consumes precious time. It’s also a numbing drug that alleviates stress and boredom—to be used temporarily, mind you. It can be habit forming. But
occasionally something good pops up on Facebook’s Recent News. I’m talking about a link to one of my favorite blogs, Parkour Training Blog. The key word? Flow.

Flow is usually associated with Parkour. (If you don’t know what Parkour is, check out the Parkour Training Blog.) Flow, as the author Dan Dinu describes it, is the “harmony of moving fluently.” You see, for a traceur (a person who practices Parkour), moving through an environment from Point A to Point B can be kind of a creative expression all its own. It’s like a dance with life.

I like learning about Parkour because I frequently transfer the principles of Parkour to the principles of life. I’ve been a freelance journalist for a long time now, but the one element that is I hope is characteristic of my work is flow. When I write a story about a person, I like for the parts of the story to flow smoothly from one part to another. In terms of writing a novel, it would be like moving seamlessly from scene to scene.

I’ve had a very difficult time writing lately because I am still negotiating the stages of grief—and not so well mind you, but that’s another story. The words don’t flow. My thoughts don’t flow. My life is NOT flowing. When Dinu talks about flow, he illustrates his text with examples of tango and ballet, “precise and continuous gliding.” Yeah, that’s what I’m aiming for—in writing, in music, in life.

In order to achieve said state of flow in parkour, Dinu says “never train.” When I read this first tip, I knew immediately where he was going. He relates this point to artists like Picasso. People who create are not drained by their “practice.” They are rejuvenated, re-filled.

Let us not forget that when God gave us our talent and passion, he meant for us to enjoy it. It should be gift, not a burden. Wouldn’t it be great if we always considered every moment of life a gift, not a burden, regardless of the circumstance? Some people say just “go with the flow and be happy.” Christian call it joy.

When I pick up my guitar, I immediately know the difference between the two types of practicing. I am NOT a great guitar player. But I do know enough to say that if I have to force myself to play, I’m not playing the way I should. When I play the piece during this type of practice, the notes are stiff, mechanical. But when I “feel” the music, I I find myself on another level of playing. This is the type of practice that occurs when I’m totally focused, totally one with the music.

Dinu refers to the way guitar guru Jimi Hendrix let his feelings flow when he played. Exactly! Hendrix didn’t just play the notes; he felt them. (Good example. I can relate to Jimi’s purple haze. No, the song isn’t really about some pyschedelic drug-induced haze.)

Right now my biggest obstacle in writing (and life) is fear. Of what? I don’t know. Failure, maybe. Don’t we all? The publishing industry has a very narrow gate. Will I ever find myself moving through it? I’m not afraid to write. I’m afraid I’m not writing right. I’ll admit I pray about this problem almost without ceasing, but God doesn’t grant wishes like a genie. He has a purpose, and sometimes He lets us work our way to a solution so that we’ll grow stronger–and wiser.

Dinu says with Parkour, there is more than one way doing something. I have to remember that when I write and follow my gut instinct, I get better results. It’s kind of like playing music. Rather than playing a copy cat version of a song, the really good musicians will make it their own. After all, people are remembered only if they stand out in a crowd. For writers, this means finding their own voice and knowing the right time to break the right rules.

Dinu brings up other pointers too, like paying attention to obstacles and being yourself—knowing where you stand so not to lose your orientation and again, making the song your own, making your writing your own, making your life your own!

If I could offer readers, wannabe writers like myself, and dreamers at larger two bits of advice, I would say this—remember the flow and read, read, read anything and everything well written. You can glean something worthwhile from anything well written. Who would’ve thunk Parkour had anything to do with music or writing or especially life? But how well indeed it does.

As I read the article, my thought processes flowed freely and smoothly from one discipline to the other. I’m inspired. I want to inspire others too.

What is it that you want? Where are your feet? Did you pay attention to where they were so that you can see how you got where you are now ? And where do you need to place them so that you can get where you want to go?

My feet are going to hit the sheets. It’s after 2 a.m. I’ve got to be at the gym by 7:30.

(P.S. Happy birthday, Dan!)

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.

Me and Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh called me today.

The end.

What more is there to say? For years I’ve imagined what it would be to talk to Joe Walsh one on one. And today it happened.

All I can say is here’s one more example of how God gives us little surprises when we least expect it, when we least deserve it. I can only compare it to a daddy talking his little boy or girl to Walmart for a special toy when it’s not even a birthday or Christmas.

I serendipitously stumbled upon an email that enticed me with these words: “Ever dreamed of talking with The Eagles legendary guitarist, Joe Walsh?”

Heck, yeah.

On a whim I sent a quick return email. I didn’t plan in advance. My heart poured out the words, and I wrote from the place where my passion for music lies. I hit send and forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise when I received a reply saying that Joe appreciated my email and that he had chosen me as one of the lucky few. I was supposed to be in school during the time of the call, and I really didn’t know how I was going to work it out. But turn down a chance to talk to Joe Walsh? No way!

No problem. We had a snow day. Perfect. And sure enough, Joe called. Just like he said he would.

My dream has always been to ask Joe about his songwriting, so during our brief conversation I asked him about “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” one of my favorite songs. And he told me how he wrote it, what inspired him to write it. And he specifically mentioned my favorite line of the song:

“And heroes, they come and they go / and leave us behind as if we’re supposed to know why”

He explained to me that sometimes the people we really admire let us down, or they go away, because they are human. Joe’s hero was Jimi Hendrix—and he died of an overdose. Heroes aren’t supposed to do anything like that.

What Joe said to me really hit me hard. Joe is one of my heroes, but he’s human, prone to flaws and tragedies as are we all. Why is it we’re so prone to see in black and white? Hero or zero?

Our conversation made me think about how beautiful people really are, despite their flaws. I wonder if my fellow Saints take time to see the beauty in everyday people, the people at the grocery store, at Bonnaroo, at the gas station. God made us all. Don’t you ever wish you could see through God’s eyes? What are we missing?

Anyway, now when I hear “Pretty Maids All in a Row” I don’t have to wonder what the song means. I know—because Joe Walsh himself told me. And that’s a gift I’ll treasure forever.

I have a passion for music that is almost uncontainable. I don’t know why it’s that way. Sometimes it frustrates me to the point that I’m miserable. I am not gifted like Joe Walsh. I wish I were. But I think this music love must run in my family blood. Is it a curse or a blessing? I don’t know

Many years ago I made the decision to walk away from anything that had to do with music. It was just too hard to be around it. I figured it would make everyone happy—everyone but me. But as much as I have tried to run from it, music has found my hiding place every time.

So here I am again. Music has spoken again. This time through Joe Walsh. Who would’ve thunk it?

I generally play by ear. I don’t always get all the notes right. But someone once told me to make the song my own. Maybe it’s time I did that.

“….It’s been a long time. / Seems like we’ve come a long way. / My, but we learn so slow….”

Joe Walsh and Joe Vitale, “Pretty Maids All in a Row”