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.

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Walk this way

Public domain photo

I’m not a world famous novelist or journalist. I’m just a simple person. I love God. I love people, especially those who feel unloved, and I want to be an encourager. I write from the heart. But the last three weeks have been so hard that I haven’t felt like writing anything at all, especially anything good or positive.

I shared my dilemma with my journalism students. We often talk about our personal writing struggles. They suggested I use my writing to work through my frustrations. I want to use my words to bless, not curse.

Then one of them suggested I write about Steven Tyler—a frequent topic in our random media discussions. He’s bad…in kind of a good sort of way.

Okay, I’ll confess. I like Steven Tyler. REALLY like. REALLY, REALLY like.

And so not to alarm my “normal” conservative family members and friends, please allow me to indulge in my infatuation from within an American Idol context. Yes, some of his Aerosmith lyrics are crudely suggestive. And yes, while I am adamant supporter of the First Amendment, I cringe when I think about how Aerosmith pushed for funding for federal funding of an explicit art exhibit in 1992. But let’s stick to this context—American Idol. Other than his occasional bleeps, Mr. Tyler is actually a pretty cool dude on the show.

There are two main reasons why Steven Tyler strikes a chord with me.

(Side note:  Despite what some of you might think, I won’t begin by talking about his hair—although I do like his long hair…and his feathers. It took me a while to believe he was actually wearing feathers, but that’s what they are, actual feathers in the form of hair extensions. Don’t believe me? Check out this salon that specializes in them.)

But I digress. Let’s get back to the point of this blog—two reasons why I like Steven Tyler on American Idol.

THE MINOR

The twinkle in Steven’s eyes suggests he’s a mixture of mischief and spontaneity, which if you know anything about me at all you know this is my kind of person. Steven makes the show more interesting. (Some days it’s all I can do to appear the calm, subdued English teacher. But what fun would life be if I didn’t talk my past a security guard into Fenway Park during the off season or if I didn’t accidentally find myself staring at a shiny badge during the middle of drug sting while searching for boxes for a move to a new apartment–just a couple of stories from previous blogs, I think.)

Steven Tyler doesn’t care what other people think. He wears what he wants to wear, he unleashes a quirky sense of humor the audience may or may not get, and he encourages whomever he pleases. In other words, he doesn’t give into the peer pressure of downing contestants just because Randy thinks they’re pitchy. And despite the gibes of his band mates, he followed the decision to do something “normal” like appear on a mainstream TV show.

THE MAJOR

Despite his outrageous rock n’ roll persona, Steven Taylor exudes compassion. He stole my heart the moment he knelt down beside the wheelchair of Chris Medina’s finance,  kissing and hugging her while reminding her how special she is. I also like the fact that, unlike Simon Cowell, Steven applauds the gospel roots of the contestants rather than showing contempt for their faith. Of course, Steven did grow up singing in a Presbyterian church choir.  He gets it. He has even voiced that he “gets it.” I wonder why he wandered away.

So in the context of American Idol, Steven Tyler is no longer the self-centered rock star with the ego-induced attitude. He appears the kindest and most humble of them all. Of course, Steven Tyler is on stage. He shows us what we want to see. We’re all on stage, aren’t we? Only God knows what’s really inside—good or bad.

I’m a public servant, a teacher. I’m on stage every day. Even when I’m sick with a fever or coping with the death of a loved one, I do my best to give my best performance. I shell out hundreds of dollars each year to equip my classroom or to buy things for a child who needs the help. I come in early and stay late and give away my time to someone else’s children. And not once have I ever raised my voice or said any child was “bad.”

My audience isn’t always so kind. Some of them take the term public servant and interpret it as “whipping boy.” They hurl hateful words at us teachers without regard for what it does to us emotionally. We’re the ones punished—or bullied—when their young princes and princesses don’t “make the grade”—literally now days.

What has all of that got to do with Steven Tyler, you ask?

Not much, really.

But on those days when my heart is too heavy to pour out anything good, on those days when the bullies make me their whipping boy, on those days  when I need a miniature vacation—an escape, I can point my remote to American Idol. I can pretend the American dream really can come true, I can listen to great music, and I can see the twinkle in Steven Tyler’s eye. It’s contagious. Before I know it, I’ve got one in my own.

And when I am heart is so heavy with grief and disappointment, I can do something goofy by writing about ceiling ninjas, pirates, or Steven Tyler. Maybe I can make someone smile—or even myself. Life is mean. We have to fight back if we’re going to help others get out of it alive.

And by alive, I do mean make it to eternity. Fighting back means using words to bless, not curse. Fighting back means trying to find the good in people, even when all they have to show is the bad.

Fighting back means not giving into peer pressure, the kind kids go through when they choose to go on a church retreat instead of a party…or the kind adults go through when they refuse to gossip during prayer meetings when their friends bring up so-called “needs.”

Fighting back means letting go of the ego and, instead, offering compassion. Fighting back means standing up to the bullies out there.

Fighting back also means letting go of the fear of being who God has called you to be. I just hope I don’t develop a taste for locusts and wild honey. But I sure do like Steven Tyler’s hair.

Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me I’m wearing feathers in mine.