More than the quintessential cow girl


The other night I watched The Words (Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Irons, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, and Zoe Saldana). I didn’t plan on watching it, but any movie about a writer struggling to “make it” begs me to watch it.

The movie bases its foundation on one question: “Just how far would you go to be the person you want to be?”

In other words, would you steal someone else’s story just to be who you wanted to become?

The film portrays an old man who says, “We all make choices; the hard thing is to live with them, and there ain’t nobody that can help you with that.”


I write. All the time. Something. Anything. Celebrity profiles. Fiction. Notes on papers I’m grading. Blogs. Texts. A few emails. Poor attempts at song lyrics.

So far everything I have written has been true. I have never stolen nothing, no not a thing—well, with the exception of the deliberate theft of that last sentence. If you know song lyrics, you’ll understand. If not, proceed. It’s no big thing.

I have a new group of creative writing students this semester, and once again, my goal for them and for me is for us to take our writing to the next level, to step out of our comfort zones.

My new class of creative writers has been very good for me. So far my students cut me no slack. If they have to write, they expect me to write. My homework for them? Create a blog with its own unique writing. Their homework for me? Write a blog about them.

But what can I say? I don’t know them well—yet. So far I have met the super intelligent Batman, a Halo freak who shares his cheerios, three musicians, an artist, a baton twirler, Lady Wit, a runaway who gets to stay, and a very shy girl who kind of reminds me of myself.

But when I get to know them, can I say more? If I tell their stories without their permission, will I invade their privacy? Will I steal their stories for my gain? But what happens if their story IS my story? I believe people’s paths cross for a reason.

Never should I define people by the characters they play in my life story, for tomorrow they will grow into somebody else. You change; I change. Not everything about us, just some things.

I, for example, will always love God, my family, and the Red Sox. I can’t imagine ever giving up writing or music. And I won’t give up the people I love. I do, however, abandon certain fads. I left the leg warmers in the eighties, and I don’t perm my hair.

I’m what they call a “seasoned teacher.” You can’t fool me. That’s just another way of saying old. No matter how you say it, I have been a supporting cast member in the stories of many students’ lives. I don’t mind. I just don’t want them to sell that chapter as my entire story.

When I first started teaching, I decorated my classroom in a black and white spotted motif. The next thing I knew I became the crazy teacher who liked black and white bovines. I like cows, but they don’t necessarily moooove me. I have, in fact, ridden a cow backwards across a barnyard. That, my friends, is another story, one better left in the barnyard.

During my “cow phase,” I acquired a lot (literally) of Holstein items, including a stool with udders, which I thought was utterly hilarious. Heck, even the baseball coach brought me a cow ink pen from a coaching clinic. The cow lady. That’s who I had become.

During another phase, I was the crazy lady who loved Julius Caesar. I still do. I received anonymous letters from students warning me to “Beware the Ides of March.” While some teachers had to be on the look out for yard rollers on Halloween, I had to keep up my guard the night of March 15. But that’s okay. My rollers and I are now great friends. But they should remember the evil that men (and women) do lives after them. Paybacks are killer.

At another point of my career, I voraciously taught my students the importance of vocabulary, and we started with the word QUINTESSENTIAL. Every student I had during this phase used the word either to impress or distress me. And even now, my co-workers smile when they use the word around me. I think it’s funny, especially when QUINTESSENTIAL shows up on my Facebook timeline.

There was a time when Michael W. Smith was my favorite singer, and, yes, in fact, I did name my younger child after him. I didn’t just like Michael W. Smith; I wanted to be like Michael W. Smith. I wanted to own a place like his Nashville-based Rocketown so that I could positively impact kids’ lives with music. I still do.

And now I’m the crazy Steven Tyler stalker. I don’t know why. I just am. I guess Steven became a symbol for me, a reminder that regardless of one’s age, a person can never be too old to act a little crazy,  to love music and to love people, the latter, I think, Steven Tyler maybe too much. But again, there’s another story, and we haven’t the time.

If I become a character in my students’ memoirs, I have no idea which persona I will portray. I hope the writers paint the truth and avoid portraying me as a one-dimensional character.

All people leave their colors on other people’s canvases, some more vividly than others. And believe me, whether or not it’s in print, we read each others’ stories daily. We should be careful to avoid over generalizing and assuming.

I have stories about my life I can’t tell, won’t tell, because my life isn’t its own. I am a vault. I could never make it as a member of the paparazzi.

I also don’t want to be painted as the crazy cow-loving cat lady who stalked Steven Tyler in the most quintessential way. I’m a whole lot more than that.

If we have met, YOU have become a character in MY story. You are paint on my canvas.  And if I do tell my story, I’ll do my best to paint you with an honest brush and to write you with an trustworthy pen.

If I told you, I’d have to….

It’s Friday night. I’m sitting at home, battling the cat for access to my laptop. Stevie Ray, for some odd reason, has taken a liking to watching the cursor move on the screen as I direct it with the mouse. He’s entertained, but it’s awfully hard to type with a fur ball pawing at the screen.

The truth is I’m having a little trouble deciding what to write. Oh, I have a thousand ideas. But I’m wondering just how much can I actually say without crossing the line?

A blog should have a purpose. I could write a blog that interviews other writers. But as a freelance writer that’s what I do. That’s how I earn my paycheck. Oh, I would write for free—don’t get me wrong. But there’s a sense of accomplishment in being recognized as worthy to be on the payroll. Plus, other bloggers are already doing a great job of incorporating interviews on their blogs. I do have a few amazing writers lined up for the future. I don’t want to miss out on a opportunity to learn from them as they tell me about their craft, but again, others are doing a great job with this approach. Why should I duplicate?

What should be the purpose of this blog?

I want to encourage others to find what it is that makes that little light within them glow. I’m not talking about their love for Christ. Only He can make that little light shine.

I’m talking about that other little light, the one that makes a person’s passion come alive. All good things come from God, so I have no doubt that God puts that passion within us. My little light, of course, is music—and writing. I gravitate toward people who have the same light because we speak the same language.

I want to encourage people to do those things that make their lights shine. Pushing an emotional button seems to help. Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em feel something.

Most of the time, I prefer makin’ em laugh. It’s good medicine. But there is a limit. One story after another fills my mind, but I can’t print them. I could be blackballed—or, even worse, arrested.

Many years ago, I took a mass communications class at MTSU. The  We all shared the same vibe, the same little light. We were all professionals in the world of mass communications, musicians, writers, journalists, etc. I was low man on the totem pole, just a lowly stringer, a freelance writer.

One of our first assignments was share with the entire class the over-the-top emotional impact that pop culture had on us. In other words, we had to come clean about stalking at least one celebrity.

Awwwww no! I hate confessionals. I didn’t want to spill my guts in front of strangers. One girl, a young journalist who worked for a popular country music magazine at the time, confessed to attending a Ted Nugent concert and jumping out of her balcony seat and swinging out onto the stage. Of course, security whisked her away. But whoa…what a story.

When it was my turn, I recounted my tame story of naming my child after a celebrity. (But my parents named me after a singer too!) I hadn’t really done anything too bizarre. It was almost as if my classmates wanted more. The lady next to me turned to me and said with a compassionate voice, “You know where he lives, don’t you?” Several other professionals sitting in my area turned around and looked at me.

Spurred on by a roomful of professional paparrazi, I thought, “Hmmm. This could be fun.” So I spoke up with hope in my voice. “No, no, I don’t.” I waited.

The lady then drew me a detailed map to his house. My other classmates told me where he usually hung out. My cartographer friend was a close relative of a well-known name in the music biz, so I figured she knew what she was talking about. I wasn’t so sure about everybody else.

But the point is, I can’t give you the details. I can’t give you the directions. I can’t even name names. If I do, I’m in trouble. What’s a story without the details?

Maybe if I can’t ignite the fire, maybe I can at least fan the adventurous flame  that burns within my visiting readers. Life can be routine and boring–if we let it. What’s wrong with tweeking a few variables to get a different outcome?

Stevie Ray has grown weary of my laptop and has found something better to occupy his time–a nap. As I watch him snoozing, I’m reminded of what they say about curiousity and the cat.

Writers thrive on an adventurous spirit, but we also need a little common sense to go with it.

André Gide once said, “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves – in finding themselves.”

So is it with writers.

I’m NOT saying you should stalk, but….

So, not to ruin your last days of summer, I just thought I’d break it to you gently. School starts in just a few weeks.  If you’re like me, you’ve got mixed emotions. I dread getting up early and going to bed early. I fear not being able to keep up with the new schedule. I tremble at the thought of having to work. Pushing aside those feelings, I know from personal experience that life is what you make it. A person can choose to be miserable—or not.  It’s all about attitude.

I care a lot about my journalism students and the way they handle their assignments. I’ve already had a few of them text me this summer about leads they have for future stories. Man, that excites me! The last thing an editor or adviser wants to hear is “I can’t think of anything to write.” I look at this way. When I’m armed with a pen and a reporter’s notepad, I have a license to slip in a new world with every assignment. And I’ve gotten to do some pretty fun things, especially when I was writing for several Christian music magazines. I’ve seen what it looks like from inside a mosh pit. I’ve attended posh *sniff, sniff* parties to celebrate celebrity achievements. I’ve eaten from the spread reserved for the media backstage at awards shows. I’ve had FUN on assignment.

If you like to write and you like adventure, then I’m sure that at least once you have experience the adrenaline rush that comes with being on assignment.

When I’m on assignment, I like going into stealth mode.  Again, there really is a certain rush that comes with it. Once I was in a HUGE crowd in downtown Nashville, and I needed to get to the stage to get photos. I’m 5”. I am not intimidating. I am also not a quitter. I HAD to get to the stage. I saw a Coca Cola man delivering his wares, and I fell right in step with him. He took me right up to the stage. Don’t ask me why a Coca Cola man would be pushing a cart in the middle of thousands. Call it serendipity. Well, you could call it a terrorist attempt. Hmmm. Back then the thought never crossed my mind.  Fortunately, I believe the man was just delivering Coke. The soda. The real thing.

On another occasion, I needed an interview with a California band. I couldn’t get through via the publicist, the manager, the A&R people. So I played private investigator. I tracked down the drummer’s MOTHER and sent her a box of Goo Goo candy bars from Tennessee. She set up the interview for me. How cool is that?

So you’re going back to school, back to all those nouns and verbs and formulas and theorems and historical facts and biological details and definitions and….Am I depressing  you? I’ll stop now. The point is I urge you to make whatever you are doing an adventure.

Before I taught high school, I taught a couple of English classes at MTSU. Yeah, I know that was a long time ago. I wanted my students to feel the spirit of adventure that comes with writing. Thus, I asked them to people watch and write a detailed descriptive paper. Wouldn’t that be fun? Wouldn’t you like to go to the mall and just sit and watch? Well, my student took the assignment a little too far, and for a week he STALKED a girl he secretly admired. I am very fortunate to say neither of us was arrested. But don’t you know he had a good time until I told him that he could go to jail! (I am not, I repeat, NOT encouraging stalking.)

I’m simply saying you can choose to be miserable—or not. Check your attitude. Everything you do is an assignment—maybe some of these mundane assignments are even divine appointments from God.

How will you handle it?

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done to complete an assignment for school, newspaper or otherwise? Tell us about it.