Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Stepping Out

            Music floated across the stark landscape of a gray skyline, weathered gravestones, drifted snow, and frozen tundra.  A mahogany casket rested on a platform above the deep hole in the ground.  The only color displayed, amidst the mourners dressed in black, was that of the bright red tulips in the flower arrangement draped on the box.  As the notes to “Amazing Grace” ended, the minister’s voice spoke of my dear friend of thirty years.  I gazed across the white snow, being transported to the past. 

            We dreamed in the early days.  For Christmas, we received the music and scripts to our favorite play.  Within a few short months, we memorized all the songs and lines. 

             Kari wore denim jeans with the legs rolled up to mid-calf with a plain white button up blouse.  Her brown hair bobbed up and down in a ponytail with a red bandana holding it in place.  I scrambled down the hall after her in a matching outfit hoping not to bump into any of my classmates as I carried my guitar.  Mrs. Eckloft said our audition was right after school with no lollygagging.  At her classroom door, we deposited our books.  I pulled my instrument from the case as Kari opened the door.  Ignoring the students in the room, I strummed the first cords to “Hopelessly Devoted To You” as Kari belted out the lyrics.  After this song, I continued on to “There Are Worse Things I Can Do” while I sang solo as Rizzo. 

“Mrs. Eckloft,” Kari began her plea to produce the musical as I handed the drama teacher the scripts and music, “we have been working on all of this.  Mr. Sawyer says he can help with the music and he will give extra credit for the band kids who will play in the performance.  Mrs. Ludlow said her home economics classes can help with the costumes.”

Thirty minutes later we finished our presentation.  Mrs. Eckloft agreed to take on the project.  Our little community gave us a standing ovation at both performances.  We left high school ready to conquer the entertainment business on Broadway for Kari and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for myself. 

As we set out for college, we determined to conquer the world.  Reality struck.  Kari’s father died our freshman year causing her to run out of money.  She returned to our home town to help her mother.  First she worked as a waitress saving her tips for college only to use them when her car broke down or for a wedding dress.  Day after day she trudged through the daily tasks of working and raising children.  Her brown hair turned gray and wrinkles began to form.  We talked often.  She avoided conversations about our dreams.

I finished college with a degree in business.  I justified selling out my dream for the time being to learn how to handle the finances for a future band.  Instead of joining one, I also raised children and trudged to the office. I returned home and worked at the local bank.  Nashville remained in my thoughts but as yet I hadn’t traveled to the fabled city of country music.  The days blended together with small highlights of playing for church.  Raising my own children, I claimed no time to volunteer at the local theater or join a band. 

I watched a hawk fly overhead jolting me from my thoughts.  As the bird swooped down to land on a branch, I remembered my last conversation with Kari over coffee.

My dear friend sat across from me at our table in the back corner of the Java Hut.  She drank her tall vanilla latte as I drank a tall hazelnut latte.  Every Wednesday morning we met to talk about our kids and work.  Her dainty fingers pulled apart the cinnamon roll in front of her.  What happened to her?  In high school she wore all the latest fashions and sported trendy hairstyles.  As I gazed at her drab clothes and twenty year old hair style, I tried to see the actress within.  Instead, she matched the cloudy day.

“They actually put the bright purple sample against the portrait of their family.”  Kari worked in the craft store as a framer for all artwork that came into the store.  “It took me thirty minutes to convince the woman she needed to use a soft gray to keep the formality of the occasion.  Purple, my god, it would have been hideous.  There are days I would love to just quit and do something fun.”

“I have a great idea,” I interrupted, grabbing the opportunity.  “‘Grease’ is playing in the city next fall.  Tickets go on sale in a couple of weeks.   With all our kids out of the nest, let’s go.  It could be an awesome girl’s weekend for us.”

I watched as Kari’s shoulders stiffened.  A wall seemed to materialize between us.

“You know that I work on Sundays in the afternoon.”  She tugged on her grandma blouse.  “I don’t want to be rushed to get to work after staying up all night.”

“Listen to you.  You sound like you are eighty years old.  One tired afternoon would be worth the fun of seeing our play.  In fact, I was thinking it could springboard us into volunteering at the theater here in town.  I could run the music and you the stage.  It would be like old times.”

She laughed.  “Regretting your past lately?  I am too old for that stuff.”

“But Kari, you said you wanted to do something fun.”  Before I could continue, her cell phone rang.  The store called her in to help with something.  Or at least that was her excuse as she left without finishing her coffee. Five days later, she died in an icy car accident never stepping out to live her dream of being an actress. 

As the casket lowered, I realized that I regretted not doing more with my love of music.  I hadn’t been in a band for years.  I never tried to conquer Nashville, let alone go to visit.  Kari and I were artistic versions of Sandra Dee never stepping out on the ledge to grasp our Danny, our dream.

I hummed.  Those closest to me turned.  Softly the words spilled from my mouth.  Look at me, there has to be something more than what they see, Wholesome and pure, oh so scared and unsure, a poor man's Sandra Dee.”  I hummed the notes to continue the reprise when Sandy decides it is time to take her life to the cliff. 

A gust of wind picked up a patch of powdery snow twisting it up in the air to softly settle on the ground once more.  Taking a deep breath I belted out the last lines.  “Sandy, you must start anew, don't you know what you must do, Hold your head high, take a deep breath and sigh, Goodbye to Sandra Dee.”

I raced from the funeral to my home computer; I booked a flight to Tennessee.  A message of confirmation for the plane ticket joined the new message from a local band looking for a guitar player.  My audition was scheduled for later today.  I may not become the next Lorrie Morgan, like I dreamed in high school, but I would begin to live my dreams once again.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Love/Hate Relationship: The Book Thief on Writing

                Some time last fall I went to the movie with my daughter.  I watched the previews and goose bumps formed when I heard about the story of a young girl called the Book Thief.  I presumed she stole/saved books during the reign of Hitler and his Nazi regime.  I noted the release date to put the movie on my to do list.  Alas, the movie didn’t come to our small community.  When I learned the story started out as book, “The Book Thief” went to the top of my reading list.  After the New Year, I began reading.

                Of all the books she stole, only one was saved from a book burning.  The author went beyond that typical assumption.  The first book she stole was due to carelessness on the owner’s part.  The book thief didn’t even know how to read at the time of the theft.  The story was truly amazing and I highly recommend it.  I wanted to share a couple of quotes.

                As all people know, war causes innumerable damage to the psyche of all involved.  Really, life in general causes damage.  As a writer, I delve into the suffering of characters.  Each time, a piece of me is left behind.  The other day, while working on a scene, I cried and cried.  I felt the pain of my character.  This quote resonated.  “’Don’t punish yourself,’ she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too.  That was writing” Zusak, Markus, “The Book Thief,” page 524.  To some extent, a writer does have to punish themselves.  I know I feel that way sometimes.  I take myself back to the heart wrenching feelings I have lived through to be able to write of similar emotions for my characters.  The process hurts.  Yet, happiness can be found.  I get to cheer on my character and feel their success.  I feel very happy when a reader understands the scene.

                The past two weeks, I have been in a painful time.  I am trying to write new stories and scenes but the words fail to flow from my thoughts, through my fingertips, and onto the page.  Each word falls flat and my ideas seem to be vague or cluttered.  “Words are so heavy, she thought, but as the night wore on, she was able to complete eleven pages” Zusak, Markus, “The Book Thief,” page 526.  In this quote, the book thief reads eleven pages which under the circumstances is an amazing feat.  In fact, comparing my writing life to the book is completely inadequate due to the heaviness of the topic; yet, the quotes are so all encompassing that they fit for a writing life.  Words can be very heavy.  They can bog down a scene and leave the writer at a loss on how to continue. 

                In January, I dropped my manuscript off with an editing friend.  This novel has lived with me for over sixteen years.  For the last five years, I have actively written, rewritten, edited, and worked on all these pages.  I am far from finished for the project is at least a three book series.  I still have two more books to work on.  “I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right” Zusak, Markus, “The Book Thief,” page 528.  This is definitely how I feel about all the fiction pieces I have written.  I always hope the words are right.

                For some reason, the local theater finally brought The Book Thief to our community.  I took the opportunity last night to watch the film.  As is the case with a movie, many beautiful scenes were left out as were my favorite quotes.  I still recommend reading the book because the author “made them [the words] right.”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Great Depression

                The great depression begins when the National Football League season has ended and continues until April when I get to go play in the dirt in my gardens.  Up here in the north, I sit longingly waiting for the ground to thaw and the air to warm.  As I look out at my gardens, I anticipate the digging and planting that takes place with vitamin D soaking back into my skin.  This year will be a little harder with no plans of travel to a warmer climate during spring break.  I am stuck here in the frozen mountain land forever!

                Many people struggle during the first months of each New Year.  They may have feelings of let down after the holiday season and family members return home.  Others become depressed due to lack of sun and being stuck inside the house.  People like me struggle with the lack of football to distract me from the claustrophobia of no outside warmth.  Some of us also fight the battle of pain due to autoimmune diseases that inevitably get worse during the violent weather patterns of snow and frigid temperatures.  In the last seven days, four have been filled with aches and pains for me.  I feel like my joints are literally burning and my energy is drained.

                To battle these issues, I make plans.  This year I am redecorating a room in the house that I can use as a retreat for my writing.  I am excited for the possibilities.  The theme is literature in its many forms with “Gone with the Wind” being a staple of the décor.  I am also facilitating a new Bible study at my parish to get me out of the house a little more.  My husband helped me with a workout plan that lets me go at a slow pace on bad days and a fast pace on my good days which I do at five in the morning.  I love mornings.  I will continue to work my writing challenges.  If I find that I still struggle, I am going to study the great painters and photographers as part of my artist dates that help stimulate my creativity. 

                The great depression will not prevail in my life.  I hope all of you have fun projects to keep you busy during the dreary days ahead.  I see some people taking their aggression out on the groundhog on facebook.  Instead, use that energy for good.  Tackle a project instead.  Happy Winter!