Monday, June 24, 2013

My Life in MP3s: edition A

My iPod suffers from the same problem a lot of my life does: clutter. I have this awful habit of adding things and never taking anything out.

Since I was in my car an unusual amount of time this week, I decided to listen to everything on my iPod and decide whether or not to keep it.  So I started at "A" as in "A" by Barenaked Ladies.  I'm still on the letter A a week later (I'm on "Automatic Schmuck" by The Hives). This might take a while.

I realized today that my iPod is a biography of me in songs. 

Little kid me is there in "Adjectives" from the Schoolhouse Rock collection.

There's high school me in "Ask Me Why" by the Beatles and "Almost Paradise" by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson (Footloose!).

There's college me in "Alms! Alms!" from the Sweeney Todd Soundtrack.  The love of musicals continues to more recently in "All I Care About" from the Chicago Soundtrack.   There she is again in "Acony Bell" by Gillian Welch, with that lovely Appalachian sound I came to love attending college in far eastern Kentucky.

There's my early teaching career in Nome, Alaska represented by "Alpha Beta Parking Lot" by Cake, "Americans" by Corky and the Juice Pigs,  "All Cheerleaders Die" by the Switchblade Kittens, "Ayagnera Marualrianek" by Pamyua, and "AM Radio" by Everclear,  songs that came to me from students.  One student wrote a poetry project on the lyrics to "Songs From an American Movie" by Everclear. That remains a favorite album for me to this day.

Here's some of my exploration of my Jewish background in "Araber Tants" by the Klezmatics. Here's me driving back and forth from Kansas to Kentucky over and over as I worked through my divorce with the Bloodhound Gang's "Asleep at the Wheel." There's "Alpha Shift" by Megumi Hayashibara from the anime series that saw me through my botched gall bladder surgery and recovery (Full Metal Alchemist and Cowboy Bebop are the ones that linger). Here's me working on my Spanish and finding how clever and funny Spanish language music can be in "Agüela" by Molotov.

Lots of this music came to me through people I love.

For example, "ABCD Medley" by Laurie Berkner Band is on my iPod for my youngest daughter. Laurie Berkner annoys me far less than most kid-oriented music.  "I Know a Chicken" and "The Cat Came Back" are songs I might even listen to without her in the car. "Ain't Got Rhythm" from a Phineas and Ferb soundtrack album is probably the one album we can all four listen to together and all really enjoy fully.

My older daughter is all over my iPod as well.  She's there in "Anyway" by Laura Love. I picked up the CD at a summer music festival during grad school because my then-toddler danced her tiny feet off when she heard her play live. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross is a song her first grade teacher used to sing to her class. When M first sang it to me and I joined in, she was astonished to find out that I knew the song.  "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" by Cage the Elephant and "Amsterdam" Imagine Dragons are more recent finds we enjoy together. 

My mother is there in "Alberta" by Eric Clapton, which we sang repeatedly on our cross-Canadian adventure (driving the Alcan), punchy and laughing near-hysterically. She's also there as a young mother in "Already Gone" by The Eagles. I remember sitting on the floor looking through her 45s in the brightly colored plastic containers that looked like tall cakes.  She'd play them and we'd sing along together while my dad was at work.

My sister is there in "Alone" by Heart and  "All the Small Things" by Blink 182, among the songs we sing to make each other laugh when we play Rock Band.

My husband is there in songs of our courtship like "As Time Goes By" by Dooley Wilson and "All of Me" by Billie Holiday. And in songs we showed each other to find out if the other liked them, too like "After the Fall" by Elvis Costello, "All Alone" by the Gorillaz, "All Wrong" by Morphine and "All I Ask" by Crowded House.  Most recently, there he is in "Anything Goes," the musical he took me, too, because I'm still a band and choir geek in my heart.

Maybe I'm not going to clean out this clutter after all.  There's a lot of me in there.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Flash! Savior of the Universe!

Okay, so you gotta sing this to the tune of Flash Gordon, you know the pulp movie from the 80s, with soundtrack by Queen? Here we go:  Flash! Fiction!  Breaker of the Writer's Block! Flash! Inspiration When You Need it! Flash!

Okay, that's as far as I can remember the song without going to find my red spandex outfit, or maybe a gold lamé bikini. And if I don either my teenage daughter will certainly run away from home.

As you've probably guessed by now, I'm participating in another flash fiction project this month. +Becket Morgan put it together for the +Flash Fiction Project. Here are the images we're using this time (see below the pictures for the piece by me):

It had been that kind of day. Chloë was already running late for school when she found that she had a flat tire. She got the car jacked up, then remembered that the tire she had just removed was the spare tire.  By then, she was all hot and sweaty. Her nice new top that she'd worn hoping to catch Alan's eye was now sticking to her back. Definitely not sexy.

She would've skipped class, but if she missed one more time she wasn't going to get credit and she couldn't afford to take the course again. She decided to leave the car jacked up. At least it was unlikely to get broken into if it already looked worthless. She slung her bag over her shoulder and trudged to the bus stop.  

The bus, of course, took longer to get to campus than it would've taken to drive, but at least it wasn't crowded and she could look out the windows at the changing leaves as she road. When she got to her stop, she hit the ground running. She burst through the door of her class right as the professor was turning on the projector. She smiled at the professor and waved as she worked her way to one of the last available seats. He didn't return her smile, but she felt good nonetheless. She had made it.  

Class was a whirlwind. At least she'd done the reading.  The prof seemed to be out to get her today, but she was fielding all his questions. She gave herself a mental pat on the back. He was one of those professors who seemed to delight in finding the student in the room who was under-prepared and grilling them. Today, that wasn't her. 

As the students filed out of the room, Chloë heard someone call her name. She turned, not recognizing the voice.  It was Alan, the teacher's aide she'd been eyeing.  "Hey, Chloë. A bunch of us are getting together at Spanky's. Wanna go?" 

Chloë considered.  She had never been invited before.  She had all of seven dollars in her wallet, but that would buy a drink.  The bus ran until 11:00.  She smiled.  "That sounds good. Why not? The change will do me good."

On Fatherhood

Becoming a father, in the biological sense, is a relatively simple process. A little fun, and if biology is kind, voilà! It happens to men all the time who weren't ready, who hadn't thought it through, or who didn't even want it.

It's a horse of an entirely different color, tough, becoming a dad. That takes love, patience, hours and hours and hours of investment of time and energy.  If it were a paying gig, it would come with lots of overtime. Of course, it doesn't pay in dollars. In fact, it will cost you many.

But a dad gives gladly. He listens. He learns when to "fix it" and when just to listen.  He demonstrates, he remonstrates. He shows up with his A game.  He's there when he's there, and even when he's not because he's part of who you are.

Each man has to find this path for himself.  Whether you had an excellent example to model yourself after, like my husband did, or a poor model to contrast yourself to, like my father did, in the end, you choose what kind of father to be. And your choices, good or bad, shape the perceptions of the little people in your lives, even after they become grown.

It's a lot of power, gentlemen. Use it wisely.

photo by: Miryam Bryant

Friday, June 14, 2013

I did it! Now, let's see if someone will pay me for this :-)

I finished my first novel today. If you're paying attention, you'll know that I said that about a year ago. But this time, it's really finished.

About five years ago, I joined a critique group for novelists. I was not, at that time, a novelist. I had written poetry, stories and essays, but never undertaken something like a novel.  But, I was in a time of new in my life: new husband, new child, new home, new job. It seemed like the perfect time to try new writing as well.

The members of the group have changed over the years, but what hasn't changed is the awesomeness.  I learn so much from working with other novelists.  Some of the group members are on their first novels, like I was. Some have written three or four novels.  Others have published novels.

Last summer, I finished the first draft of His Other Mother. I took it to my critique group and they found all its problems. (Sigh). They were right. It had some serious problems.  So, I shelved it for a while, and began working on a new project, another novel called Going Through the Change. Then, come Spring Break, when I had the time for some serious, intensive writing time, I took on the rewrite.

I finished the rewrite by the end of April.  Then I started the re-rewrite.  I was feeling pretty confident in the novel's ability to hold together, so I just started reading it aloud to myself. Good thing I did, because, besides all the skipped words and awkward repetitions, I found continuity errors. 

So, that's what I finished this morning.  I also finished my first query letter and this afternoon I'm sending my baby out there into publishing land to see if I can get paid for all this work.  Of course, I'm hoping to sell it.  But, you know, even if I don't, I have written something I am very proud of.  I learned so much from writing it, and writing my second novel is a faster, cleaner process for all the lessons I learned. Now I can say that I am a novelist.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Change What You See: Flash Fiction

I'm participating in another flash fiction project this month. +Becket Morgan put it together for the +Flash Fiction Project. This time, we have three images to incorporate into our pieces.  If you've never tried these sorts of prompts, I highly recommend it.  It helps push your mind in new directions, which can be wonderful for your life as well as your writing. Here are the images we're using this time (see below the pictures for the piece by me):

Anderson sat in the coffee shop, picking at the dry coffee cake with the questionably clean fork and letting his gaze wander the room in search of anything or anyone worth contemplating.  He wondered if the coffee cake would be any better if he picked it up and dunked it fully into the mug. The coffee was hot and tasted like coffee. At least they did something right here. 

Giving up on finding anything interesting in the room, he turned his head to look out the window. The sky was grey with non-specifically threatening clouds. It might rain, or it might just stay grey and boring all day.  Anderson sighed. Nothing interesting ever happened around here.

The table bumped and Anderson turned to see that another man was seating himself across from him in the small booth. He opened his mouth to protest, but the man cut him off before he could speak.  "Hi, Anderson. Mind if I join you?"

Did he know this man? He didn't think so.  Though the man definitely seemed to know him. Knew his name at least.  He eyed the intruder cautiously over his coffee mug.  A dark haired man of indeterminate age. Anderson's best guess was that he was somewhere between thirty and fifty. He had nothing in front of him. No newspaper. No phone. No coffee mug. He just sat with his hands lying flat on the table top, his head turned to look out at the grey landscape.

"Beautiful day, huh?" Anderson quipped sarcastically.

The man turned and met Anderson's gaze, sharp blue eyes looking at him searchingly.  "It could be," he said, slowly. "If you change what you see."

"What do you mean? Change what I see? I see what there is." Anderson gestured broadly at the long, dirty street and cloud-entombed sky. Then at the dull, uninteresting people in the diner.

"Do you?" The man reached across the table and snapped his fingers in front of Anderson's eyes.

Anderson blinked. The man was gone. No one was across the table from him.  Had he fallen asleep? He looked around the room. It all seemed normal, people having their breakfast. There was that guy with the old fashioned hat. The one who dressed like it was 1950 still.  He was smiling at the waitress with the scar across her cheek.  She gestured with her shoulder at the fry cook, who was so tall he had to stoop so as not to bump his head on the racks of cooking implements hanging from the ceiling.

Anderson found himself wondering who these people were, what their stories might be.  When his waitress came back around, he smiled at her and held out his cup for a refill. The coffee smelled fabulous.  "How's the coffee cake?" she asked. He noticed the way her bracelet sparkled in the light streaming through the window.

"Wonderful," he answered.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Change is Good

I'm participating in another flash fiction project this month. +Becket Morgan put it together for the +Flash Fiction Project. This time, we have three images to incorporate into our pieces.  If you've never tried these sorts of prompts, I highly recommend it.  It helps push your mind in new directions, which can be wonderful for your life as well as your writing. Here are the images we're using this time (see below the pictures for the piece by me):

Charlie's mother always said, "Children will change your life."  He understood that, he supposed, in the general sort of way you understand anything you haven't experienced for yourself. It made sense. Adding new people to your life changes things. Even just a new friend, or a new boss. And a child, that was someone who couldn't take care of him or herself without you.

So Charlie told her that he liked his life, so he guessed he just wouldn't have any.  She'd shaken her head at him wordlessly and handed him his hockey bag and he'd run into the Sportsplex to get his gear on. That was the last time he ever saw her. Her minivan was hit by a wide turning truck and suddenly, Charlie was an orphan, just two months after high school graduation.

His mother had planned well, and Charlie still went to college as they had planned, still played for the team, as they had planned. He looked for her in the stands every game, and it broke his heart over again every time that she wasn't there. But he went on, as people do. He graduated. He got a job.

He wasn't good enough to make a career of hockey.  He was a good, solid player, but just didn't have that extra something.  He knew that, had planned for it.  But, still he loved it.  He played in the adult league at the Sportsplex he grown up playing at.

From time to time, he'd think about that last conversation with his mother and wonder.  But he had not married. He hadn't met anyone that felt right. Children didn't seem likely. Even though he'd always said he didn't want them, that made him sad somehow.

Maybe that was why he decided to take the job when he was asked to coach the Rink Rats, preschoolers.  He was looking for that change his mother had promised him.

Change came in the form of Ryan Whitaker.  He was the littlest guy on a team of little guys.  He had a wide face that became even wider when he smiled.  He worked hard for his age.  When Charlie came in to skate or practice, Ryan was always there, a look of fierce concentration on his face that Charlie recognized because he'd worn it himself. 

One day, Ryan brought his mother to one of Charlie's games so she could meet his hero.  The game had been a good one, and Charlie was drenched in sweat when he pulled off his helmet and stumped over to the stands dripping wet slush from his skates and uniform to let Ryan introduce them.  "Charlie! Charlie! This is my mom, Annie."  Charlie took her hand, apologizing for his post-game stink. She smiled. She smiled and his heart fluttered in a strange way.  He asked if they would wait. He wanted to take them out for ice cream.

She said yes.  Some months later, she said yes again, in front of their family and friends.  Charlie swore he saw his mother in the pews, just for a second, clasping her hands under her chin like she used to in the stands. She was proud of him.