Normal is just a setting on the washing machine

shoes

My journalism students start their staff meetings with a staff “check up” to see how everybody is doing. The emotion meter runs the spectrum. High. Low. Explosive. You name it. Typically, one wants to punch something, another is holding back tears, somebody is always hungry. The lone freshman enters the room in shock. Her innocence has once again put through the test. One week she witnessed the first kid her age sporting a beard. Another week she saw a kid her age who’s pregnant– not the same kid, by the way. She was dismayed.

We may be an odd bunch, but we’re TRYING to work together as a team. We’re not perfect. We’re small in number and big on learning respect and tolerance–at least that’s the goal. And not one of us is “right.” (You wouldn’t believe some of the stories I’ve heard from them–and they’re heard from me.) We are so DIFFERENT!

One of my guys summed up our cozy little staff by quoting one of his mom’s favorite sayings: Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.

Ya know, wouldn’t that make a cool title for a book?

And so apropros. I’m sure if you’ve been to this blog at all you’re sick of hearing about my writing whoas, but I am on a quest for publication. I have been for years. I was sidetracked after the death of both of my parents, and I haven’t been able to get rolling again, but I will. My published writer friends tell me to be patient. I’m trying.

Maybe I’ll run into Little Richard. I have a character based on him in one of my books. Maybe he’ll read it. Maybe he’ll like it. Maybe he’ll like it a lot. Maybe he’ll introduce me to an editor who can’t wait to publish it. And my chances of that happening? Ummm hmmmm. Again, I’m not what you’d call “right.”

I’m doing a bit of “remodeling” at my home. While moving things around, I discovered a Beth Moore book I bought quite some time ago, but the timing of me finding it was perfect, serendipitous, if you will. It’s all about insecurity.

I snuggled under a blanket and read, read, read, soaking up all of her wisdom. Wow. Beth Moore feels insecure too? Maybe I’m not so different after all. (And, hey, Friend Who Sent Me a Message Last Night Confessing Your Bout with Insecurity, again the timing is right. I will let you read the book. But you aren’t so different. If fact, you’re pretty normal. We all feel like a fish out of water sometimes.)

I think a lot of us feel insecure with our appearance, our social status, our job performance, our relationships, etc. The list goes on and on.

I love, love, love people, but they terrify me. I’ve interviewed a terrorist, a child prodigy, and millionaires and celebrities. No problem. I feel 85% comfortable doing what I do. I get a tad bit nervous before we talk, but once I get caught up in the conversation, I’m relaxed. I figure it’s a gift to be able to hear another person’s story firsthand.

But when I have to interact with people I know, I come unglued, adults particularly. I’m more relaxed around my students–if I think they like me. But if I think they don’t, I walk on eggshells. Bad.

Adults are scary people. That’s why I think I’ll just stay a kid for the rest of my life.

When I’m in charge (i.e. in teacher mode). I’m a great observer. Like the Crocodile Hunter, I can read the signs of the child creatures. I know when they’re slipping into fight or flight mode. I can USUALLY tell if they like me or don’t.

Not so much with adults. Adult beasts have learned the fine art of wearing a façade. They schmooze, butter up, slap on sarcasm, tell inside jokes, manipulate, seduce, etc. Thank goodness, most of my young students have little experience with these techniques. As a result, we get along pretty well. I am not very good at those “techniques,” so in the great card game of adult human interaction, I never know what card to play with the hand I’ve been dealt.

Nevertheless, I’m still intrigued by people. I watched Midnight in Paris for the 20th time last week, and once again I made a new revelation. The lead character Gil steps back in time to mingle with his literary and art heroes–the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Picasso. Quite interestingly, the movie depicts all of these greats as having their own vulnerabilities, well protected, but present nevertheless. We ALL have them.

I wish I could sit down with a few of these famous faces and just talk–minus the facades, minus the manipulation, minus the arrogance and haughty presentation. I want to understand the real THEM.

If you could pick TEN people to TALK to, who would they be? Why?

I have my ten. Some people might criticize me for not choosing all the great theologians, but you won’t find many “religious” people on this list. I can predict standard religious answers from people who appear perfect but who  hide their flaws, and the most genuine of saints, in my opinion, people like Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, are crystal clear.

My list includes people who are like muddy water. It’s hard to see through these people. My list includes some spiritual people, some eccentrics, and a few prodigals. People like you. People like me. People with flaws. People with potential. People with epiphanies. People with pain.

People are people. Everybody has a story.

Here we go:

Zelda Fitzgerald — She was such a free spirit, but F. Scott kept her roped in (at least that’s what the biographies say). She spent her the last years of her life in an asylum. Why? What drove her to such anguish?

Edgar Allan Poe — Never has a man ever seen so much misery. I want to know about the last days leading up to his death. Did he really have a relationship with God as I’ve read, or did he abandon the faith?

C.S. Lewis — I’d like to know what he thinks about J.K. Rowling, whom so many Christians deem devil-inspired.

Marilyn Monroe — I want to know whom she really loved, if she really loved, and who was responsible for her death.

Little Richard — It seems everyone in my town has met him but me. He seems to have such a kind heart. I want to see if it’s true. I want to tell him about my book!

Steven Tyler — He is maximum drive creativity wrapped in the appearance of  new-found sober sincerity, hopefully not faux. I want to know why he does what he does and what he really believes.

Benjamin Franklin — I could spend weeks talking to him about his rock star life during the colonial period. How did he invent? And where did he get those ideas? I think I know. Did he really lead a dark life in various secret societies?

Stevie Ray Vaughan — I hope to talk to him in heaven. Otherwise, I have a dozen questions about Jimi Hendrix, his guitar heroes, his guitars, and the helicopter crash.

Elvis Presley — I want to ask him about Memphis and his mama.

Rick Bragg — I’ve heard him speak, read all of his books. Maybe he could give me some real advice.

There she is. Now it’s your turn.

WORDS OF WISDOM
It’s wonderful when you can bring sparkle into people’s lives without fading away from your own true color. Keep the hue in you. ~ Dodinsky

The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere.  ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Never apologize for showing feeling.  When you do so, you apologize for the truth.  ~ Benjamin Disraeli

MUSIC NOTES
You with the sad eyes / Don’t be discouraged / Oh I realize / Its hard to take courage / In a world full of people / You can lose sight of it all / And the darkness inside you / Can make you feel so small / But I see your true colors / Shining through / I see your true colors / And that’s why I love you / So don’t be afraid to let them show / Your true colors / True colors are beautiful, / Like a rainbow

LOOK AND SEE CYBER SERENDIPITEE
www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPn0KFlbqX8v=J7CPgxNSpwk/

FINAL THOUGHTS

seuss

Midnight in your imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really want to know.