My voice


I really should be in bed, but I assigned my students to comment on my blog.

It would be great if I had WRITTEN the blog.

I’m supposed to write about voice. All serious writers strive to develop their own unique voice that speaks from the page. It’s hard to do. Julia Cameron says you have to write from the gut. Tennessee poet laureate Maggie Vaughn says, “You have to have fire in the belly”—like those old pot-bellied stoves.

It’s true. To write with passion, your inner being has to burn with passion. You can’t NOT write whatever it is you have to wite. Passion produces voice. Voice stems from emotion.

My motto is, “Laughter good. Tears bad.”  And there are those days when the motto isn’t worth diddly squat.

I steer clear from the tears. I’d much rather make people laugh, but today has been an off day. And I don’t have anything silly to say.

My day is a by-product of my procrastination. I have been putting off going through stacks and stacks and stacks of paper and mementos I have saved. But today was deep house cleaning day. I couldn’t put it off.

So with much ado, I finally got around to sifting and sorting. I found a HUGE stack of sympathy cards my dad had bundled together after my mother died. She always took care of the storing of cards. When I was moving things out of their house, I found a portable filing system. She must have saved every birthday card, every Christmas card, every Valentine’s Day card, the boys and I ever gave them.

But what do I do with the sympathy cards? I don’t know these people who sent them. I have no use for them, but to throw them away seems thoughtless. Neither of the boys will know what to do with them. I have made scrapbooks for them so that they and their children can look back to their elementary school years and reminisce about what it was like back then.

But maybe they don’t want to. I guess they’ll be like me, wondering what to do with all the “stuff.”

I also found a stack of Christmas cards, addressed to me, unopened. My heart dropped because I was going through such a sad time that I didn’t even realize I had Christmas cards. So what do I do with them now? It’s kind of late to show them off on the stair railing as I’ve done in the past, and I can’t send a Christmas card in return. I never even got the chance to say thank you. Too late.

I hate those words. If ever I wrote with a fire in the belly it’s now. I can click on Facebook and find at least a dozen or more nifty pictures to repost that say, “It’s never too late to ___.” You can fill in the blank. But the truth is, yeah, there is a time when it’s too late.

Sifting through all those papers made me remember the worst day in my life, the day I was supposed to call my dad.

I didn’t remember until it was late. When I didn’t get an answer, my worst fear came true. It was too late. We confirmed my fears by driving up to the house. It was a terrible night. And then there was the police, the ambulance, the trip to the hospital, the night, and the next morning.

I threw away the Van Halen shirt I had been wearing. I didn’t want any reminders.

But I’m reminded all the time. I have sifted and sorted my dad’s papers, and I put them back in the boxes I found them. Birth certificates, a marriage license, deeds, warranties, military papers, etc. What do I do with all that? Where will it end up?

I think I should want to travel lightly. Two guitars. A baseball. Scrapbooks for the boys. Everything else can go. No need to ask. No need to wonder. No need to hang on to anything material.

The important things can’t be saved for later. They should be taken care of now, said now, done now, for tomorrow may be too late.

So, dear ones, if you should wonder what my voice is. This is it, a desperate plea for you to pay attention to what matters most in life, the people you love.

Yes, I do love to laugh. I love to make others laugh, but nothing is more important to letting others know how much you love.

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”

Work in progress

I am a work in progress, a WIP.

I don’t know what God is going to do with me, but I’m sure He has a plan. Walking by faith is kind of like taking a step into a dark room, don’t you think?

If you’re like me, you’re kind of afraid you’ll bump into something, so you reach out for something to hold on to. You just aren’t sure what you’ll grab. Uncertainty is a scary place.

Right now I’m walking by faith. I have no idea where I’m going. I’ve written a complete manuscript. I’ve followed all the rules. I’ve poured my heart into it. I’m invested in conferences and workshops. I’ve made myself vulnerable. Now what?

Several years ago I found myself in a similar place—but I reached a dead end. Well, maybe not a dead end, but my journey didn’t take me where I expected to go.

Back then I sent out clips of my work to several Christian magazines, and I didn’t have to wait long before I received responses. Lots of them! Before I knew it, it seemed I was freelancing every spare moment. I lived on the adrenaline rush.

I still thank God He gave me so many wonderful opportunities. I met famous people, went to fun places and even saw my stories on the covers of these magazines. But I wonder if I lost focus of why I was supposed to write. The story wasn’t about me. Did I make it about me?

I think I was most excited the day I received a letter from a premiere music magazine welcoming me as a freelancer. I had dreamed of writing for this magazine for quite some time, and I was THRILLED my dream had finally come true. But it didn’t. For some reason, the magazine never again responded.

Did I get lost in the shuffle? Did I make a social blunder? Did I make God mad? I often wonder if God allowed me this disappointment to temper me, to keep me humble. I’ll never know. 

During this same time I also interviewed for the editor position for a new magazine located in Nashville. The interview lasted three hours! I thought I had a pretty good chance, but the magazine never launched. So close, yet unreachable.

And while we’re on the subject of disappointments, I can also add to the list the trip to New York City I won—but never received. Every week the Tennessean sponsored a contest in its Weekender section, so I entered and won the weekly contest—a free tee shirt and something else I’ve long forgotten. I was so excited.  My win made me eligible for the grand prize, a trip to NYC to see a Broadway play!

When I received my confirmation letter that I had won the grand prize, I was thrilled! But I never received it. The publication changed editors, and my information was lost. No one had any record of my win.

So here I am again, walking the bumpy road of publication. Back then I never dreamed of having the passion I possess today for writing for young adults. (I’ve never left high school. I’m still teaching in the same school I graduated from. I guess it’s only fitting.) Is God giving me a second chance?

This time around I want to do things right. I want to keep my focus on God. I want His will to be done, not mine. But I still find myself yearning to see my name in print on the cover of a novel. I want my dream to be validated.

Solomon prayed for wisdom. I’m praying for contentment and humility. I know what I want. I know how badly I want it. I pray, however, that God will change my heart so that what I want is what He wants for me.

I am a work in progress.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  ~  Philippians 2:3-4