Has anyone ever written anything for you?

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Funny how one thing leads to another.

I was out doing errands this morning when a Stevie Nicks song came on the radio. I didn’t get a chance to hear all of it, so I marked my mental “to do” list to go home and to look up the song so that I could see if I wanted to learn how to play it.

I never made it to  the song on the radio because the title of another one of her songs caught my eye, one I’d never before heard—“Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You.”

One of the verses goes like this:

“Has anyone ever given anything to you
In your darkest hours
Did you ever give it back
Well, I have
I have given that to you
If it’s all I ever do
This is your song”

The song isn’t written in what I call a standard format, but it ends with these lines:

“So, if not for me, then
Do it for yourself
If not for me then
Do it for the world”

Of course, I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song. I could barely breathe as the song was so hauntingly beautiful. And, as I always do whenever I hear a song that moves me, I researched it. I can’t verify the facts because I haven’t talked to Stevie herself, but supposedly the liner notes from her TimeSpace explains her inspiration :

Stevie had just finished a gig and then walked into a party at the hotel where she was staying. She saw this guy from across the room and immediately fell in love (something she does not / did not believe possible):

No, it wasn’t Lindsey Buckingham. It was Joe Walsh.

He held out his arms to her, and she walked right into them. Two days later he took her for drive in the mountains of Colorado to a “magical park” where he used to take his little girl. Joe had a special connection with his daughter, a connection that only a parent understands, a connection that can only be experienced, not transformed into words on paper. I suppose Joe felt totally vulnerable and REAL around her because she was so pure, so innocent. Her only complaint in life was that she was too little to reach the water fountain in the park.

This story is sad because this sweet little being he loved so much, the one he could truly connect with, died. I don’t know how. Joe’s heart must have ached for her. In dealing with his grief, he built a fountain for her and all the others too little to reach “it.” And Joe wrote a song for her, titled “Song for Emma.” Here are a few of the words:

“There’s a feeling I get
When I look to the sky
As if someone is watching
Someone hears every word

We are filled with regrets
It was such a short time
But we told Him we loved you
Hoping somehow He heard
We hoped He heard”

As the story goes, Stevie was so moved by what Joe told her on their drive and during the visit to the park that she wrote the song “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You” for Joe.

And for this reason, I feel a connection with Joe Walsh and Stevie Nicks. We’re all seeking relief, love, and answers. We look in different places, but we all look. You look. The person in line with you at the grocery story is looking. It doesn’t matter what sins or troubles he or she wears. The person is looking, seeking, needing.

I am a writer of songs. I know that what I write is for myself, not for a commercial market. Writing helps me digest life experiences and gives them meaning in my world.

I am a collector. I don’t collect fine things that cost a lot of money. I collect things that remind me of people and the experiences I’ve encountered.

Today’s journey through song was quite serendipitous for me. Only by chance, or better yet, God’s design, did everything line up at just the right time, just the right moment, so that I would do the research, hear the song, discover the meaning, and remember, the wonderful experience I had talking with Joe Walsh about one of his songs he wrote—inspired by his music hero, Jimi Hendrix.

Isn’t it amazing how we’re all connected in one way or another? The experiences. The songs. The journeys. The inspiration. The meaning our experiences bring to our lives.

There is dire conflict in the media today, such a clash between religion and beliefs and tolerance and intolerance.

God created each one of us and gave us the freedom to choose. We can’t force people to love us, and who would want a relationship with someone forced to love us? Do we expect God to want anything less?

Just because people don’t love us doesn’t mean we don’t love them. Right? You can’t stop love. God still loves people who don’t love Him. So why do we spend all of our time yakking about the sins of somebody else when we’ve got enough troubles of our own? Is God not big enough to handle the situation? He knows why they (we) do what they (we) do.

But what do I know?

God created each one of us, and each one of us has a purpose. We choose our own destiny. But God’s plan is always fulfilled. He orchestrates all lives so beautifully that a grand purpose is accomplished. I can’t explain it. I can’t comprehend it. But I can feel it. And write about it—in a blog , in a book, or in a song.

So thank you, God, that I was able to connect with a couple of human beings through song this morning. We may not think the same way, we may not share the same talent, we may not share the same beliefs, but I know You are pretty proud of them and of me too even when we break Your heart.

Five ways to court your muse

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We can blame Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry for the notion of Right Brain / Left Brain. There are a lot of naysayers out there who say his theory is poppycock. Me? I believe it. I work with people all day, and I see evidence of how their brains work.

That’s not to say a person can’t be adept at both ways of thinking. In case, you’re not familiar with the concept, the right brain is supposed to influence creativity, intuition, emotions and music. The left brain governs basically logic and numbers.

I used to think I leaned a little to the left, a little to the right. I was always a writer and a dreamer, but my best subjects in school were math and science. Well, until a series of unfortunate incidents severed my relationship with math. (I was so proud of myself last week when a student asked me to explain absolutes. I did it! Even after…um…cough, cough…decades.) But here I am an English teacher, a music lover, and a writer. What is meant to be will be. Goodbye, math.

But Right Brain, oh, how I love thee.

And for that reason, I consider my right brain to be my muse. I relish opportunities to dream aloud. Thus, I try to make my right brain happy.

If you’re trying to boost your creativity, you might try these tips too.

1. Create ambiance.

When I write, I like to be alone. Not always. Basically I just don’t want clutter, physical or mental. Negative energy can clutter my brain, so I try to escape conflict, arguments, and tension. I try to find a place where my Right Brain can relax.

2. Set the mood.

Okay, once the clutter is gone, I’m good to go, but if I really want to be uber creative, I light candles. I love firelight, and I am drawn to the smell of burning wood. I never play music when I write unless the music I play helps set the scene or makes me feel the emotions of the characters whose heads I’m in.

3. Embrace adventure.

Today I set out to write in a little coffee shop in a mystical little town, but it was closed. I didn’t want to go to the other two places where I usually write, so I drove off and counted on serendipity to take me to the right place. I found myself in front of an old inn, so I took a chance and tested the doors. Sure enough, it was open, and the guy in charge of the place invited me to roam all about. I was the only one there, and the second and third floors were dark. “You can go up to the third floor,” he said. “But it’s supposed to be haunted.”

A lot of people don’t think before they speak. They have no filter. Me? I have no brakes. Going where I shouldn’t is a flaw I readily admit. Considering my new book idea teeters on the speculative side, I thought I might get some ideas. And ideas I did get. I wasn’t the least bit afraid or freaked out—even when I saw something I dreamed about two nights before.

4. Turn off the alarm clock.

Life robs us of our creativity because we become so structured we forget out to play. Kids today don’t know how to make a mud pie or how to create a fort. Oh, they can whip up a gourmet meal using a computer program, and they can fight battles online with one of their many gaming systems, but they don’t know how to create from scratch. I say we’re made in the image of our Creator. We should use the imaginations God gave us. I adamantly oppose forcing children to enter pre-school. Too much structure! I am not a proponent of giving homework for the sake of giving homework. No time left to let the mind relax.

My favorite hour of the day is spent in the bed alone right after my alarm clock goes off. I purposely set my clock at an ungodly hour on Saturdays so that I can just lie there and think for one or two hours before I have to go somewhere. When I let my mind wander, I come up with my best story ideas. Yes,discipline is important. It’s good practice to make yourself write when you don’t want to write. But to have no time limit, to just be able to let your mind roam, that, my friend, is freedom.

5. Surround yourself with things that stimulate your right brain.

I like color. I like mosaics. I am not one of these chicks who shops for the sake of keeping up with the latest trends. I like to wear comfortable clothes that reflect my inner style. For me, that’s lots of color and flowy fabric. If I feel good on the outside, I am more productive from the inside back to the outside.

These are my rules for writing, my methods for courting my muse. Writers are odd souls. No two are alike.  They (we) all have our own methods of courting our muses.

One of my friends picked up Celia Blue Johnson’s book and shared it with me. She knows I’m an Odd Thomas fan (Dean Koontz), and she thought I might like it. It’s called, appropriately, Odd Type Writers. I have to admit, I wondered if she was hinting at something.

I ended up buying my own copy. I highly recommend it if you want to take a peek into the minds of the eccentric writing elite. Here are a few tidbits to pique your curiosity:

  • Edgar Allan Poe balanced a cat on his should when he wrote. (So did I until my favorite feline walked out the door and never came back.)
  • Virginia Wolfe believed “a woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction.” I may never get either, but I will try to make my own nest.
  • Alexandre Dumas was OCD about the color of stationary he used for his different types of writing: yellow for poetry, articles on pink, and blue for novels.
  • Truman Capote did not gel well with the number 13. He was quite superstitious, never starting or ending a work on a Friday, never boarding a plane with more than one nun.
  • Eudora Welty would not write while facing a window.
  • When Maya Angelou writes, she rents a hotel room and orders almost everything removed so she won’t be distracted.

TODAY’S CHALLENGE
So, do tell, what are your secrets of courting your muse?

WORDS OF WISDOM
“All of us need to be in touch with a mysterious, tantalizing source of inspiration that teases our sense of wonder and goads us on to life’s next adventure.” ~ Rob Brezsney
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

MUSIC NOTES
Are you wanting inspiration? / You spill your secrets on me / Then you tell me with a whisper / Of things that will never be. (The Black Crowes)

LOOK AND SEE CYBER SERENDIPITEE
http://blog.freepeople.com/2013/05/inspires/

FINAL THOUGHT

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Don’t play the victim

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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.

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

WORDS OF WISDOM
“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.

MUSIC NOTES
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

LOOK AND SEE CYBER SERENDIPITEE
http://www.livinglightnews.org/story4_05.12.htm

FINAL THOUGHT

CAPABLE

Why There’s No V-Day Post

LOVE BLOG

I have ten reasons why I cannot post a Valentine’s Blog today.

1. I had planned to ask Cupid to guest blog, but he was busy.

2. I’ve been writing songs lately. But you’d think people would have had enough of silly love songs.

3. At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. See #2. This blog is all about the prose, baby.

4. Pearl Bailey says what the world needs is more love and less paper work. Does that also include electronic paper like the Kindle or the laptop?

5. Anais Nin says the role of a writer is not to say what we all can say,  but what we are unable to say.

6.

(Talk to Anais Nin about #6.)

7. Saul Bellow said, “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” I should have gotten out of bed.

8. The road to hell is paved with adverbs, so sayeth Stephen King. That’s not really a reason, but I think Stephen King is pretty funny.

9. Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment, so sayeth Robert Benchley.

10. According to an old Arabian proverb, a promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain. I have a deadline hanging over my head, a story to write. My editor deserves a downpour.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Snarks and sharks

I am a self-confessed control freak.

I don’t want to take charge of other people. I just want to take of situations. I am such a people pleaser that I worry, worry, worry if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

That doesn’t sound like such a bad flaw, but really it is, especially for a writer. There is simply no way to please everyone. And everyone is a critic, both in a literary and a literal sense.

The experience of teaching has been a great teacher for me. I’ve never had any type of real discipline problem in my classroom. I have a quiet voice. I stand five feet tall, yet when I was younger, older adults who had never stepped into my classroom used to say, “Oh, I bet you have trouble keeping the kids in line.”

Their words fired me up. How dare they judge me without knowing me!

The first year I taught one of my students nominated me as “My Favorite Teacher.” A Channel 4 newsman surprised me with his camera crew, visited my classroom, and presented me with my award. I was on TV. Ms. Supa-stah Teachah.

Not.

I had to go through a season of my life when I learned I was not a superstar. Everyone didn’t love me.

There’s a quote by Natsuki Takaya that says, “Even the smallest of words can be the words to hurt you, or save you.” I learned the hard way that telling a teenager “no” can be dangerous to one’s self esteem.

The last year has been a struggle. I’ll never forget the week my mother was dying. I had two separate altercations with students, both simply because I told them “no”—not out of meanness but because I was doing what had to be done.

One might think my foes would have had more compassion, but they didn’t. I had to face a firing squad. Even when I tried to tell them I still cared about them, they responded with hatred.

It’s not like it was the first time I’ve had to deal with mean people.

Snarks and sharks. That’s what I call them.

Snarks are those people who serve up backhanded compliments and snide remarks. Sharks are those people who attack when their prey is weak.

I used to do a lot of ministry work, but I’ve learned snarks and sharks are everywhere, even churches. Once I took a group of junior high girls to Nashville for an overnight Bible study. A relative loaned us his old limousine—emphasis on OLD as in ratty and falling apart, and off we went.

The girls felt as though they were princesses on their way to a ball. (I didn’t tell them about the rat we found later in the trunk.) We stayed downtown in a hotel with inside doors, a first for most of them.

When we returned, a lady from our church compared us to “the streetwalkers on Second Avenue.” And all we did was eat in a restaurant, play a game of laser tag, and have a Bible study. (I will admit one of the girls entertained the crowd at the Melting Pot restaurant by doing a monkey walk in front of the restaurant window, but she wasn’t imitating a streetwalker. She was imitating a monkey. There is a difference.)

Why would someone say something so mean?

When my oldest son was born, he almost died from a prolapsed umbilical cord. I had to have emergency surgery, and he was completely blue at birth. The doctor told us to keep him at home for a month with limited visitors. Yet, the pastor of my church chastised me for missing. “God gave you that baby,” he said. “And he can take him away.”

How could someone be so callous?

I’ve often asked God, “Why do some people hurt us at our weakest moments? Why do some people kick us when all we want to do is be kind?”

The answer He gave me is really very easy. We can’t force another person to love us, and we can’t be forced to love anyone else. That’s why God gave us free will. Even though God loves us, He won’t force us to love Him.

Love isn’t love when it’s forced.

Love has to be given and accepted unconditionally. I know that if there is anything good in my life, anything that speaks of love, it is from God. God is love.

I’ve had limited success as a writer, mostly as a freelance journalist. If I had to give any advice to a beginner, I would say, “Toughen up. Not everyone is going to love what you write. You’ve got to learn your craft. Take the advice your mentors give to you in love, and shake off the criticism from the snarks and sharks.”

To be honest, if I do get published as a novelist, I will be overjoyed, but I won’t be overly surprised. You see, everything that I’ve ever prayed about and dedicated my heart to, God has given me. He gives us the desires of our heart because He puts them there.

I may not be writing for BMI, Rolling Stone, or any of the major music publications, but I get to write. I get to interview some of the most interesting people in the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more. A bigger paycheck couldn’t buy me any more happiness.

My goal as a writer for young adults is simple. I want my readers to believe that this author loves them and understands them, unconditionally, just as they are.

Maybe they’ll find a way to reciprocate that love and pay it forward, maybe even to a snark or a shark.

Éirinn go brách

Ever since I can remember I’ve always been in love with all things Ireland. For the last two days I’ve searched my memories, wondering why. Why am I so fascinated with a country to which I’ve never been?

Surely, my dad is responsible for the influence. Before the Red Sox finally won the championship after seven or so decades, people used to ask me why a Southern girl like me could be so hopelessly in love with a team from “up there,” Boston. My dad loved Boston, and therefore so do I.

I always hoped I could take my father to a Red Sox game. I doubted he’d ever make it to Fenway, but I crossed my fingers for Atlanta. It never happened. When I was pregnant with Michael, I traveled to Boston just about this same time of year, determined to put my feet into Fenway Park, not for me but for my dad. I was determined to do whatever it took.

The first time the security guards kicked me out. This was for my dad.  I couldn’t travel all the way from Tennessee just to be told no. I was going in. If being arrested were part of the deal, so be it. But instead I pleaded with the security guard, and he let me in, and I got to see that glorious Green Monster. I stood in away and took in every detail so I could bring it home to my dad.

There is so much Irish influence in Boston. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to Ireland.

I remember planning a week in advance what I would wear to school on St. Patrick’s Day—the holiday of my people. I was determined, even as an elementary school kid, that I was Irish. The funny thing is that’s exactly what my son Michael did when he was in elementary school. He told all of his friends he was Irish. He would come home and tell me his buddies all commented on his Irish brogue, which, by far, does not exist. His Southern drawl is as Southern as they come.

I’m not embellishing the truth. Irish blood does run through my veins. My great-grandmother Clancy’s parents were born in Ireland. But I also have roots in Denmark. My other great-grandmother immigrated from there.

I think all writers need a magical place that fuels their imagination. For me, that place is Ireland. My favorite place to write a couple of years ago was a coffee house called the Celtic Cup in a nearby town. I used to take my laptop and sip on a peppermint mocha while Irish music and lush Irish scenery played on the flat screen hanging near my table.

And at Christmas a group of local musicians asked me to play Celtic Christmas music with them. I’m not so great at guitar, but I loved the music. I was enchanted by it, moved by it.

I’ve always dreamed of going to Ireland, but I never really believed I would. I am afraid of heights. Therefore, I am afraid of flying. (To be more exact, I’m afraid of falling, crashing.) Therefore, I could never imagine myself on an airplane.

Oh, it’s not like I haven’t flown before. My dad worked with a man who had his pilot’s license, and he took us up in his tiny little four-seater plane. The ride was miserable. My parents kept saying, “Why don’t you look down? Look down. You’re scared, aren’t you. Look at her.” Then they laughed.

I don’t think I would have been so nervous about the whole ordeal if they hadn’t been telling me how afraid I was. Plus, the guy who was flying us failed his motorcycle test on multiple occasions. You tell me? Wouldn’t you have been a bit unnerved?

And for years, I have felt it is just not Biblical to fly in a plane. If God wanted me to fly, we would have given me wings. Right? There’s scripture to back me up—Matthew 28:20. “Lo, I am with you.” It doesn’t say anything about being up there among the clouds.

But times have changed.

I have decided that one day I will go to Ireland, even if it requires strong drink or heavy medication. I will board that plane.

Ireland is like a magnet that just pulls me toward it. Maybe it’s my destiny. But if I ever do go there, I’m not sure I’ll ever come back.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

May the sun shine, all day long,
everything go right, and nothing wrong.
May those you love bring love back to you,
and may all the wishes you wish come true!
~ Irish Blessing

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?

Falling backwards

Once an English teacher, always an English teacher…I guess. I live my life in metaphors. I’ve reached the point in which I can’t think in simple terms. Lessons learned come to me in imagery, painted on my heart, my mind, my soul.

What lesson have I learned lately? Life is hard.

And on those days when I just feel as though Igive way to the stress weighing me down, I imagine myself falling backwards, hoping that there will be somebody there to catch me because I can’t catch myself anymore.

I love my two sons with a tenacity that no other mother’s love could match. Son Number One is off at college learning how to live life “on his own.” In just one week of apartment living, his building has caught fire,
and his car has a flat tire. Ah, college life.

Son Number Two has grown another inch in the last week, or so it seems. He almost looked me eye to eye tonight. Our noses almost touched. He’s my baby, and the thought of my little imp growing up leaves me heart broken. I can’t compete for his attention anymore. He has discovered girls and cell phones. Life will never be the same.

I was looking through some old pictures and found my younger son’s snow angel picture from last year’s “blizzard.” It made me think. Wouldn’t it be great during our times of trouble if we could just fall backwards and know one of God’s angels was there to catch us?

Today I had a check up at the doctor. He was a little concerned about the stressors in my life, and his advice was for me to let people take care of me for a while. I couldn’t help but think of my snow angel. Maybe God has his own “snow angels” on earth to catch people when they’re about to fall.

The truth is I have had many, many people taking care of me—my walking friends at the park and at school; my students, both former and present, who surprise me with cards and gifts and balloons; my closest friends who let me share a little bit of the “imperfect” real me; and my family, who literally keep me going day to day. I can’t sufficiently express my gratitude.

I miss writing. But it’s difficult for a wounded heart to let go and fall backwards into a pool of imagination and dreams. A couple of Sundays ago I awoke with the idea for a novel from start to finish. I believe the idea was a gift from God, just a little incentive to remind me there’s something there waiting on me when I feel like writing again. He’s waiting to catch me too.

Sometimes we just need to rest to heal. And sometimes the best prescription for a wounded heart is the presence of a trusted friend.

For my mom

Mother’s Day will have passed by the time I finish writing this, but I’ve spent all day trying to come up with the right words.

I write a lot about my dad’s side of the family. I know a lot about them, but my mother was an extremely private person who never said much about herself. The week before she died, she hinted that some of her people may have been moonshiners. I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes for a good story. My mom liked a good story.

She was one of nine children, the oldest girl, and spent most of her life taking care of other people. I know she was proud of her siblings. She talked quite a bit about her twin brothers. Being the oldest, she probably had to keep them in line, and from what she said, they were a handful. She said she remembered them riding their tricycles in the house in the middle of the night.

She and her brothers and sisters attended a small one-room school near Shady Grove. The twins tormented the poor teacher by throwing firecrackers in the potbelly stove. Just as the teacher prepared to stoke the fire, the firecrackers exploded and just about scared her to death. They boys escaped punishment by climbing out the window.

My mom was never that mischievous although I remember her telling me stories about the Bell Witch. My maiden name is Bell, and those stores were passed down through the other side of my family. My greatest fear was that Old Kate, another name for the Bell Witch, would visit me at night and yank the covers off my bed as she had done to poor Betsy Bell. Old Kate also had a habit of knocking on the walls. My bedroom was on the other side of my parents’, and sometimes after telling me a story about the Bell Witch, my mom would knock on the wall and then giggle. I usually ended up sleeping between them that night.

When she and my dad were dating, my dad’s younger brother went along with them and sat in the backseat. It was my mom’s idea to put him out of the car at the graveyard and make him walk home by himself.

At least I know where my mischief comes from.

My mother was overly cautious and fearful to the point of making me fearful of just about everything. But that was just her way. She knew all about spider bites and worm bites and bee stings and a myriad other things. All of my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side of the family used to call her up for advice about everything. She knew everything. She really did.

Her strongest advice to me ever was, “Actions speak louder than words.” She was right. People may say one thing, but you can always tell a lot about people’s character and true motivations by what they do. Now that I’m older that advice means so much more to me.

My mom was smart. She never went to college, but she could fix anything. She could make anything work. She understood how anything worked.

And she was super neat. After I was born, she never worked outside the home, but she never let up a bit working at keeping her house in top-notch order. She hung every item in the closet perfectly straight with the hangers a uniform distance from each other. Her refrigerator was spotless, and so were her floors.

When she packed my lunches for field trips, she wrapped my sandwiches in wax paper and then wrapped them again in aluminum foil, folded to perfection. The bag was so heavy with goodies—she didn’t want me to go hungry—that it almost overflowed.

Everything she did was to perfection—and beyond.

I guess that’s why I’m a perfectionist. But I’m working on loosening up. (I still like things organized and neat and clean. I get distressed when they’re not.)

Above all, I’ve always wanted to make my mom proud. I think I did. She kept a scrapbook of all my awards and accomplishments from grade school up, my perfect attendance certificates, newspaper clippings from the math contests I attended, my softball pictures and trophies, and all the things I’ve had published, especially my Chicken Soup for the Soul story. I think she liked that one the best. She always supported my writing.

I hope I made her proud.

Happy Mother’s Day.