Has anyone ever written anything for you?

EBAY 6 003

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.

Chapter Two

I received my first official rejection letter today. But I can’t complain. It’s been a productive year, at least for writing.

As a music journalist I’ve interviewed some of the best artists out there.. I’ve met some top-rate musicians, including Ashley Cleveland and two original members of Double Trouble. I had a chance to say hello again to Grammy-winner Wayne Kirkpatrick, and three amazing songwriters visited my classroom. I also had a story published in a book sold in both Walmart and Barnes and Noble.

To top things off, I scored a personal telephone call from Joe Walsh.

Not too shabby.

As a “novelist in training,” I have works in progress, works in revision, and lots of ideas flowing. I’ve entered two writing contests. I was a semi-finalist in one and received an honorable mention in the other.

The honorable mention awarded me the invitation to submit to the publishing house that sent me the nice form letter with a personal note on it. I can’t say I’m surprised. This particular writing house targets the general market, and its most recent titles conflict with the values of the CBA and my Christian world view. I’m disappointed, but trends change. Maybe another time. I’m just thankful the editor took time to respond.

I’m not a bonafide newbie anymore. (Thank you MTCW and C-YAW groups for helping me learn the craft.) I’m far from an expert, but I know enough now to decide whether this is a dream I want to pursue. Do I have what it takes to follow this dream? Am I ready to turn the page to Chapter Two?

I finally asked myself why I’m doing this. Why am I pouring so much into dream that may never launch?

Life’s been especially tough since my mom passed away a month ago yesterday. I’ve been in a haze. I haven’t felt like doing much of anything, especially if it has had to with words. I haven’t felt like talking to anyone or being around anyone. But thanks to the words, patience, talents, and kindness of a few special people–I don’t even think you realize who you are, I’ve been able to find mine again.

And I know I can’t not write, and I know why I must write. I write for a lot of the same reasons why I teach.

I’ve worked with kids who abuse, kids who have been abused, kids who love no one, kids who worship Satan, kids who worship their boyfriends/girlfriends, kids who are homeless, kids who are parents, kids who have attempted suicide, kids who have completed suicide, kids who go on to murder, kids who become victims of murder, kids who have overdosed, kids who have died in accidents, kids who have become famous, kids who remain nameless during their four years of high school, etc.

I don’t teach kids so they can learn about nouns and verbs.  I teach kids so that they know someone loves them—for real.

Once I tutored a kid after school. He wasn’t a favorite among his other teachers or his peers, but we got along.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked me one afternoon. “Why are you helping me?”

“Because I have someone who loves me, and I can’t help but show that love,” I said.

“You mean you’re a Christian?”

I smiled.

“You can’t be a Christian,” he replied with a look of amazement. “You’re wearing pants.”

Hmmmmm.

I grew up during a time when what I call the “moral church-going majority” set the rules for the norms in our society. In order to fit in, to be loved by “the church,” I thought a person had to wear certain clothes, listen to certain types of music, keep certain hair styles—even have certain colors of skin. I broke a lot of their norms, and so did my friends, but I knew in my heart of hearts that those outward things didn’t matter. God saw what was on the inside. I wanted to share that message with other people like me who could see through the hypocrisy. I wanted to tell others that God really did love them no matter what.

When I became a teacher, I became somewhat of a “bridge.” I became a “safe place” for the rebel kids to land. I offered kindness when others offered disdain.

Quite a few of these kids became curious about what “I had,” and they followed me to church. Some of them found what they were searching for.

Several years later when I started writing for magazines, I wrote about contemporary Christian music. I met lots of artists, and my experiences working with the industry allowed me to build a “bridge” to the music kids I worked with. Kids who wouldn’t step foot in a church went with me to concerts because the CCM music sounded a lot like their music though the message was different. They listened to the words, and some of them believed what they heard.

Today I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music–not because I don’t like the message. I just don’t prefer the current trend of music style.

I listen to country, blues, and classic rock. Why? I don’t have a hidden agenda. I just like it. To my surprise, God has used that interest too. Now instead of interviewing CCM artists, I’m interviewing country artists and classic rock artists who play mainstream music but devote their lives to God. God is using them as a “bridge” between Himself and their audiences. Pretty cool. (There’s a possibility that I’ll get to meet and say hello to one of the headliner artists at Bonnaroo in June! I am sooo excited!)

Even though my creativity has taken a hit and I don’t feel like writing, I know I can’t stop writing. The stories are still running through my mind. It may take some time for me to get my footing again. I am so far from perfect. I wonder how I can encourage others when I’m so imperfect myself. When people look at me they don’t see a beauty queen, a millionaire, a turbo-charged brainiac, or Mother Teresa. I hope they see someone who loves tenaciously despite her personal imperfections. And I hope that’s the part of me God can use despite my flaws.

Today there is no “moral church-going majority.” Anyone can be “accepted” by some group or another. Almost everything is tolerated. I wonder. Can God still use me as a bridge? I don’t have grandiose dreams of becoming the next Stephanie Meyer or James Patterson. I just want to write the story I’m carrying in my heart.  Maybe my story can be a bridge.

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”

9-11 and Reckless Abandon

I was bouncing on and off Twitter when I saw a tweet from Ellen Hopkins that challenged writers to blog about our freedoms. Actually, I had been thinking about doing so already, but I was a bit hesitant because I have a strong conviction that I should use my words to bless, not to curse. Not that I would ever use my blog to curse, but we all know how easily words can be misconstrued. How ironic I should say that considering this blog is about transparency.

Transparency? The word is probably not what you would consider when you think of 9-11 and freedom, but I am thankful that I have the God-given right—and I do mean God-given—to be transparent –to be me, to not worry about whether I measure up to somebody else’s perception of  who I should be. I am who I am. God gave me free will. However, I willingly gave up the right to make decisions for myself because I wanted an omnipotent God of infinite love to tell me what is best for my life. Not everyone has made that decision.

If I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing, that is keeping a close, daily dialogue with my creator, then I shouldn’t worry that I will compromise my integrity. Am I tempted? Of course. Do I mess up? Sadly, yes. We all do. It’s easy to turn a deaf ear to the still small voice when there’s something we want that doesn’t fit in with God’s current plan. But if we return to our daily, never ceasing dialogue, then we will do what it takes to make our relationship right again.

When I grew up, I thought that for people to become Christians, they had to dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, talk a certain way, listen to certain types of music. This perception became quite confusing to me after several people professing to be Christian contradicted one other with their rules. Who was right, I often wondered. Then I went straight to the source—the Bible—and found the answer. God is right. God doesn’t place an emphasis on the outward appearance. He goes straight to the heart.

What matters most to God is love.

So my blog about transparency could just as easily be a blog about love. The freedom I am most thankful for is my freedom to love with reckless abandon. And I do.

I am a people person. I don’t think I can survive, or at least thrive, unless I’m around people. If I don’t have the freedom to be myself around people, I wither. A part of me dies. I think what I have loved most about being a teacher is that I can love my kids with reckless abandon, my God-given right.

I’m glad that God wove a creative spirit in my soul. I’m glad He made me quirky, unique. I’m glad He allows me the freedom to appreciate the music that Joe Walsh, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Black Crows and Sheryl Crow create. I’m glad that God allowed me to follow His team, the Red Sox with Dustin Pedroia, Tek, Youk and all my other favorites. I don’t know if these people (or their fans) have made the decision to trade their free will for God’s guidance, but if they happen to make bad decisions that don’t honor God, I can’t condemn them. That’s not my place. They have free will. I can love them with reckless abandon, not caring what those who will judge will say.

And loving them doesn’t mean that I have to condone their actions or hang out with them if they are in a place where I could be led astray. I can appreciate the gifts God has given them. God is the giver of all good things. And I can open wide my heart to them and love them with reckless abandon.

I think most of us are well aware of the controversial burning issue that was once proposed for 9-11. I just have one question: Where was the love in that plan?

People have free will to choose which house they will serve. It is not the human being’s job to force other people into believing what the Bible says. The Bible doesn’t instruct Christians to hate their enemies. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time, a season, to draw the line, to establish a boundary. If people use their free will to decide to cross the boundary, then they should expect consequences.

To love means to respect people for whom they are and to respect the choices that God allowed them to make—even if we don’t like them. To love means to grant people the freedom to be transparent, to be who they really are without inappropriate censure or disrespect.

I am thankful for my freedom of transparency. I’m glad that God has reassured me that I can wear my tee shirts, jeans and flip flops, I can play my guitar—loud if want, amplified on some occasions, I can write my Young Adult fiction, I can respect and learn from all people, even those who do not share my Christian beliefs. I can do all these things with reckless abandon—without worrying about other people’s perceptions—their perceptions don’t matter, not really.

God knows what’s in my heart, He knows my motivations and God is in control.

Memphis mojo

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”   Samuel Johnson

Maybe it was three years ago when I took my newspaper staff on a writing adventure, a change of scenery. We took our notepads and writing utensils to an outdoor spot where no other students, staff and faculty were around, and we sat. And we listened. And we wrote.

My goal was for my students to listen to nature and to listen to their own imaginations so that they could find the story that lay dormant within their minds. I never imagined that I would be the one to benefit most from the excursion. Sitting there in the quiet of the outdoors on the bleachers in front of a ball field, I came up with an idea for a story that refused to go away.

As I sat on the bleachers in the silence, I watched my students drift away on their on journeys, and then my own thoughts flooded my mind. What if a couple of teens snuck out to the ball field behind their school to find a quiet place to write? What if they saw a couple of teachers sneaking out too? What if the students caught the teachers doing something that was clearly against school rules? What if what they were doing was so bad that it was a crime?

I didn’t actually write that story, but I did write a story about a couple of student journalists who witnessed their peers and their teachers take part in activities leading up to the deaths of three of their classmates. Actually, when I first made up my mind to seriously pursue my heart’s desire, I had two other stories in mind as well. I even started one of them, but the YA story wouldn’t go away. It latched onto my heart.

When I knew that I could not NOT write my YA story, I decided to learn as much as I could about my characters. The main character, TJ, grew up in Memphis, probably my favorite place to escape, so I went to Memphis and followed TJ’s tracks wherever they led. I’ve been to Memphis quite a few times, but I wanted to see Memphis with fresh eyes, my character’s eyes.

I started with Beale Street and headed straight for the soul food, Blues City Café and then Miss Polly’s. I go to both on a regular basis, but I’ll never forget my first visit to Miss Polly’s. I have sweet memories of greens, catfish and Joe Walsh. No, he wasn’t there.

If he were, I probably would have written a totally different story—from within my cell. I’m sure I would have stalked him the rest of the trip. Joe was playing on some West Coast stage, and I watched him on a little TV as I sat at my table that paid homage to one of the blues greats. But my laid-back experience allowed my mind to wander so that my story could develop.

During my journey I met an old man at Memphis Music, who had the warmest smile I’ve ever seen. I could have talked to him for hours. Then I stepped outside and put a few dollars in the tip bucket after watching the Beale Street Flippers do their thing.

The sun had set, and the moon had risen. I ventured into Tater Red’s, probably the scariest store in all of downtown. I don’t think I would ever buy anything there because I believe you can take the “bad” with you, but I saw what I needed to see.

Picture mojo and voodoo and then mix it with the crossroads and Robert Johnson. You see where I’m going. There’s a lot of other gimmicky, crass items in there as well, but I can’t help but wonder if evil truly lurks behind the voodoo shrine in the back of the store. I may never know, but should I write a sequel, perhaps TJ will return to his roots and tell us all.

I couldn’t miss hanging out at the Pepsi Pavilion to check out the band, and the later it got, the louder the women sang. Not the band, mind you. I’m talking about the older “girls” who had partaken in their own spirits—and I’m not talking about the ones at Tater Red’s. I wouldn’t have minded staying there until the band members packed up their equipment, but it was getting late.

I had to get back to my hotel, but before I left I took a carriage ride with a driver from Austria. He didn’t have a dog. Most of the other drivers do, but he had a cool accent and shared lots of cool stories about his life and about the history of Memphis. I could have ridden in one of the lighted carriages shaped like pumpkins, but I chose to save it for another trip. (Yes, I did go back and try out the pumpkin. How could a romantic like me give up the chance to play Cinderella?)

I haven’t taken my current students on a writing journey this year. But maybe I should do that as soon as possible. I can’t help but think of a quote by St. Augustine:

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

It’s time for me and my students to set out on another adventure. Even if we only go a few steps beyond our classroom, there is no limit where our imaginations will take us.