Sometimes they listen

I often ask myself, “What the heck am I doing here?” I’m an incredibly sensitive, self-conscious mouse that suffers a complete meltdown in the face of rejection.

I’m a teacher. Every day I face a hundred or so human beings telling me to my face that what I value is irrelevant. Kind of a blow to the old ego.

Every day I have to put on my happy face and smile when I hear, “You teach English? I hated English.” And that’s from the adults.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m a lit freak. I like reading. I like writing. I like tearing down sentences the way some of my students like rebuilding engines. I like exploring stories that are challenging, ones with many levels of meaning. I’m kind of like an Indiana Jones of the written word.

My Motlow college students taunt me. “But Mrs. L., does everything have to have a hidden meaning? Why can’t a writer just write? Why do we have to analyze everything? Can’t we just read for fun?”

Well, yeah, kiddos, of course, you can. But don’t you get chills when you find the hidden gem in a poem? Don’t you dance to the cadence of well-written prose?

Never mind. I know the answers.

But occasionally, one or two students will approach me after class and say, “I get it. This stuff is really cool.” Of course, they wait until everyone else has left the room. It’s just not cool to like what some old dead guy wrote decades ago.

Several years ago, when I was working as a freelance music journalist, I met the Smalltown Poets, an Atlanta-based band, whose members were inspired by their creative writing class.

I guess that’s why I’ve always wanted to teach creative writing. I like being a bridge that links people to their dreams.

I did a little research and found a quote from Michael Johnston, Smalltown Poets band member, who explained how his teacher’s words inspired him.

“Our teacher said, ‘the best writing is honest writing.’ If you’re being vulnerable about who you are and let that come across in your writing, then that’s going to move people.”

Yes! That’s it. I envy Michael’s creative writing teacher. I wish I my words could move people. I wish I could make my students FEEL something when they read.

Yesterday one of my journalism students and I were discussing classic novels. He brought up 1984, Brave New World, and Animal Farm, which he has yet to read.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Animal Farm, you have to read that one.”

And then our roles reversed. My student became the teacher.

“Hey, Mrs. L, did you know Pink Floyd’s album Animals was based on Animal Farm?” An avid Pink Floyd fan, my student spouted off a brief history.

Huh? You mean Roger Walters actually paid attention to his English teacher? He “got it”? Wow.

Our conversation inspired me to do a little digging to discover other music, inspired by lessons in literature.

  • Both David Bowie and Warren Zevon were inspired by the works of Lord Byron.
  • The Beatles included an image of Edgar Allan Poe on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and John Lennon referred to Poe in “I Am the Walrus.”
  • Both Tool and Brittany Spears referred to Poe’s “dream within a dream” in their works.
  • Christian ska band Five Iron Frenzy includes several quotes from “The Raven” in “That’s How the Story Ends,” and members of the Christian heavy metal / thrash band Tourniquet wrote “Tell-Tale Heart” as a tribute to Poe.
  • Sheryl Crow’s song “All I Wanna Do” was inspired by the poem “Fun” by Wyn Cooper.
  • “All along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan (and also recorded by Jimi Hendrix) was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The song also makes references to the Book of Isaiah.
  • Guns N Roses recorded the song “Catcher in the Rye,” inspired by J. D. Salinger’s novel by the same title.
  • Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was born from Albert Camus’s The Stranger.

Wayne Kirkpatrick has penned and co-penned numerous songs for artists of many genres—Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Little Big Town, Bonnie Raitt, Garth Brooks, and many more, including Eric Clapton, who recorded a Grammy Song of the Year, “Change the World.”

I was talking to Wayne during an interview several years ago. Nay, I was gushing during the interview—I really admire him. I asked Wayne about songs from album The Maple Room, particularly “That’s Not New Age.”

Even today I’m intrigued by the song because, one, it responds to the religious critics who questioned his relationship with Christ just because of his art, and, two, it includes the following line: “This won’t be another Salem/That was inexcusible/You won’t be my Cotton Mather/And I won’t be your crucible.”

Wayne Kirkpatrick, thank you for reminding us we aren’t God and we can’t judge another because we can’t see into anyone else’s heart. Thank you for following your convictions. Thank you for listening to your English teacher. Thank you for appreciating literature.

So what’s the take away from this rant?

I can’t make my students like or even appreciate literature. But sometimes they do. It just may take them a while to digest what the writer has to say.

I’m not a famous or important anything, but I am somebody who benefitted from lovers of literature and writing.

Thank you, Charles K. Wolfe, for publishing my first work and inspiring me to write about music.

Thank you, Pat St. Clair, for inspiring my voracious appetite for grammar. Because of you, I’m confident I can write ANYTHING. My college professors told me so.

Thank you, Joyce McCullough, for Friday vocabulary tests that made me fall in love with words and for the little red journal in which I wrote all my thoughts. You wrote back to me. You were the first person to read my thoughts and to make me realize I might have something interesting to say.

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.

Plinky 11– Eleven of My Favorite Celebrity Interviews

It’s been a little while since I’ve turned to Plinky.com for ideas. The original prompt was “List Your Top Celebrity Sightings.” Instead of resorting to one of my usual stalking stories, I’ll keep it light and fun and put on my music journalist hat. Here’s a list of my Top Eleven Interviews with Celebrities. (Yes, I am basking in the glory days.)

11. Bob Halligan, Jr. is the front man for the Celtic/Irish band Ceili Rain. I met and interviewed him several years ago. Being a long-time fan of Celtic/Irish music, I knew I was in for a treat. But when we sat down for an interview, he tormented me constantly, picking, picking, picking in a good-natured way. I laughed so hard I could barely get the questions out. My tape recorder wouldn’t work, so I had to humble myself and ask him for help. But overall, it was one of the most fun interviews I ever had. Many people might not recognize Bob Halligan’s name right off, but they may recognize the songs he’s written. His work has been recorded by KISS and Judas Priest. I met him during GMA Week.

10. Toby Mac. I was working on a cover story for Release magazine about artists who formed their own indie record companies. Naturally, I had to interview Toby about Gotee Records. I’ve seen him numerous times, but we talked for just a few minutes via the phone. He caught him at the airport just before he left for London. The whole interview experience was a rush. Loved it.

9. Phil Keaggy. So how often does one get to sit down and chat with such an amazing guitar player. Wow. God sure blessed me with the opportunity. And Phil blessed me with his latest CD. (Trivia tidbit—There was rumor that Jimi Hendrix referred to Phil Keaggy as the greatest guitarist ever. But there’s no real evidence to prove that. But still…cool. Check out Snopes.com for more info.)

8. Sherri Shepherd. Sherri Shepherd is hilarious both on the screen and off. I didn’t get a chance to talk with her in person, but we talked over the phone. She was quite candid about the heartbreaks and obstacles she had encountered in her life, but she gave credit to God to overcoming them. She was also quite humble and reminded me that even during the hard times laughter is good medicine.

7. Randy Travis. I interviewed Randy over the phone. He is one of the nicest, most humble people I’ve ever had the pleasure to talk to. We talked about his wild days and his run-ins with the law—actually the outrunning the law. He was a bad boy, but God turned him around.

6. Charlie Daniels. Charlie Daniels is a man with fire and spunk. We talked via the phone, and he was not one bit afraid to voice his opinions about the politics of the day. Wow. He didn’t hold anything back. I admire a person who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and who is willing to stand for his convictions.

5. Gordon Kennedy. I was writing a story about a new project by Gordon Kennedy, Phil Maderia, Billy Sprague, and Wayne Kirkpatrick (Coming from Somewhere Else), so I had the chance to interview all four. My interview with Gordon was a phoner, but how often does a person get to talk to a person who wrote a Grammy song for Eric Clapton? Star struck I was.

4. Smokey Robinson. What a sweet, sweet person whose life has been transformed through his Christian faith. Every time I see him on TV (as I did tonight on American Idol), I think, “Wow. I talked to a legend. God is so good.”

3. Steven Curtis Chapman. I’ve interviewed Steven on multiple occasions, but my favorite experience was being invited to a private listening party for his release of Speechless. I remember white candles on black tablecloths. The first time I met him, Steven asked my son Josh who his favorite singer was. Correct answer? Steven Curtis Chapman. What did Josh say? Michael W. Smith.

2. Wayne Kirkpatrick. Nobody writes songs like Wayne Kirpatrick. The first time I talked with him was in a suite at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville during GMA. I was in awe. He has penned numerous songs for Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith and more recently Little Big Town. If you want to impress me, write a song, a song that can “change the world.” Yeah, he wrote Eric Clapton’s hit with Gordon Kennedy and Tommie Sims. I’ve seen Wayne play more times than I can count. He’s also one of the best guitarists I’ve ever heard. He sings and plays with passion. He speaks the truth, and he changes hearts. (And I hope to catch him, Gordon, and Phil during Tin Pan South if my life allows.)

1. Michael W. Smith. Yes, it could be said that I have come close to stalking Mr. Smith a few times. But he is one of my all-time favorite singers. The first time I met him a friend of mine’s mom was doing an interview with him for her TV station in Illinois. She invited me to come along. I was in awe. I had never met a celebrity before. Michael’s publicist gave me a copy of his press kit. I was blown away to find a tear sheet of MY review of his latest album. I felt like a real journalist then. I have accidently hung up on Michael during a phone interview, and I stuttered and babbled in front of him when I went to his album release party at Legends. But he appears to be a merciful, forgiving man. I have also not been jailed.

Shameless reminiscing tonight, folks. No bragging. I just needed some happy thoughts. God allows me to be the vessel to tell other peoples’ stories from time to time. He could have chosen someone else, but he chose me. I’ve had hundreds of interviews, and each one is a special gift. God delivers a special message to me with each one. These are just a few, but I’m just as thankful for one as I am the other.

FULL MOON CRAZY CONTEST RESULTS
Congratulations Herb Crowder for winning the Starbucks card. (You should receive it soon.) I’m sorry for the delay in posting. Due to the death in my family, I have not been able to work with the blog for a short while. Thanks to all of you who have prayed for my mother and my family. She is resting now. Please remember my father in your prayers.

Monday Mentor Songwriter Appreciation

For this week’s Monday Mentor post, I decided to pay homage to a few of my favorite songwriters. I didn’t mention the singers’ names or the song titles because I wanted to focus only on the craft, the writers’ abilities to tap our emotions through their carefully chosen tools of diction, imagery, juxtaposition, metaphor, simile, personification. I admire their art.

Songwriters are amazing artists. The masters of the craft can take a story and lay it out before us in three minutes. When they mix their lyrics with the right music, they make art that moves us to laugh, dream, think, sing and love.

I am always inspired by quotes and lyrics. What is your favorite song lyric? Why is it so powerful? What special meaning does it have for you?

The Indian summer both of us laughing

Hackberry trees and fireflies flashing

So many holes in the soles of our shoes

You don’t choose life, life chooses you

Floatin’ on a raft we built from scrap wood

Mosquito scratching felt so good

And I’ve never seen eyes your color of blue

You don’t choose love, love chooses you ~ Rodney Clawson

 I’d change it if I could, but I’m really not that strong

I might be understood if I knew where I belong

I might fly beyond this room

And kiss the cheek of the moon ~ Wayne Kirkpatrick

If I could reach the stars I’d pull one down for you
Shine it on my heart so you could see the truth
That this love I have inside is everything it seems
But for now I find it’s only in my dreams ~ Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Tommy Sims

 But every time you hold me

You take away some lonely

Everytime you love me

The further away I get from the edge ~ Pete Sallis

Questioning those in powerful position
Running to those who called His name
(But) Nobody knew His secret ambition
Was to give His life away ~ Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Wayne Kirkpatrick

Oh, it seemed like a holy place, protected by amazing grace
And we would sing right out loud, the things we could not say
We thought we could change this world with words like “love” and “freedom”
We were part of the lonely crowd inside the sad café ~ Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey

Would I know by sight if I met you in the street
Clandestined collision by shuffling feet
I’ve only seen your face on museum walls
But your everpresent eyes don’t miss the sparrow’s fall. ~ Justin Vigeant

In open fields of wild flowers, she breathes the air and flies away
She thanks her Jesus for the daises and the roses in no simple language
Someday she’ll understand the meaning of it all ~ Matt Bronleewe, Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Steve Mason

You’ll see mountains and the valleys

And the rivers far down below

Oh the high road might get lonely

But it’s the only way to go ~ Pete Sallis

And I don’t know how it gets better than this

You take my hand and drag me headfirst, fearless

I don’t know why but with you I’d dance

In a storm in my best dress, fearless ~ Hillery Lindsey, Liz Rose, Taylor Swift

 Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses

You been out ridin’ fences for so long now.

Oh, you’re a hard one, I know that you got your reasons

These things that are pleasin’ you can hurt you somehow ~ Don Henley, Glenn Frey

Just to know, just to know that you love me gives me hope to carry on
What can this world do to me? No, no
Just to know, just to know that you’re with me
On all these roads I traveled on
When all I have is gone, I confess my dependence on you ~ Jamie Slocum

I run from hate, I run from prejudice
I run from pessimists, but I run too late
I run my life or is it running me, run from my past
I run too fast or too slow it seems
When lies become the truth
That’s when I run to you ~ Tom Douglas, David Wesley Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott

 And now I’m singing my songs

Standing up on a big and bright stage, yeah

And I do my dance while the music plays

But when the music stops

Am I doing the walk? ~ Steven Curtis Chapman

Even when you’re gone,
Somehow you come along just like
A flower pokin’ through the sidewalk crack
And just like that
You steal away the rain, and just like that
You make me smile like the sun, fall out of bed
Sing like a bird, dizzy in my head
Spin like a record, crazy on a Sunday night ~ Jeremy Bose, Blair Daly, J. Harding, Matthew Shafer