Better late than never

A few additions to my iTunes library

Back off, whippersnappers. You can’t call me an old fuddy duddy anymore. I have officially joined the ranks of iPod users everywhere. Yeah, I know. The iPod Touch came out about four years ago, but I would rather interface with people than machines.

I don’t keep up with the latest gadgets. I still have my hot pink iPod Shuffle, but I haven’t used it much because, frankly, it’s been hard for me to let go of CDs. There’s just something special about holding the music in my hands. It’s almost as if I can touch it the way it touches me.

Plus, I love reading liner notes.

When I was working on my master’s in journalism, I took a creative nonfiction class. We had to pick a place and convey a message about life by SHOWING the details about the place. I wrote about the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. in California. Inspired by the lyrics of Joe Walsh’s “Sad Café” and the accompanying liner notes, I did my own research and found myself metaphorically there. I wouldn’t trade that homework assignment for anything. And I got an A on my paper!

It’s not that I don’t like anything new. It’s that I deplore reading instruction manuals. It’s slow torture. Blame it on my attention deficit syndrome—my trig teacher actually called me a spaz—to my face. I’d rather somebody tell me, better yet, show me, than have to wade through written details. So I chucked the instructions to the iTouch and asked my techno wizard son to help me.

That’s when I fell in love with iTunes.

I’m not a dummy. I’ve been handing out iTunes cards to my students as prizes and gifts for years, but I have never indulged myself. My laptop and I went for a little visit for coffee and free Wi-Fi, and while I was supposed to be revising my manuscript, I clicked on the iTunes Store.

Like a kid in a candy shop I wandered through the delectable selections. I didn’t realize how easy it was just to click and buy. Click and buy. Whole albums if you want to. Yeah, I hear you. You’re saying, “She’s just now figuring this out?” You’re rolling your eyes too. Stop it. You’re embarrassing me.

My credit card statement hasn’t come in yet. I’m still clicking and buying, but I’m also transferring my old CDs to my iTunes library.As Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part.” The cool thing is I’ve re-discovered some old tunes that have been stacked up and covered with dust because I’ve been too lazy to trade out the disks in my dinosaur disc changer.

The little listening device is blues heavy right now, and I haven’t even gotten to my Stevie Ray Vaughan collection. I have so much more to load. Back in the late 90s when I wrote for several music magazines, my mailbox overflowed with free CDs sent to me via publicists. (The best perk of writing about music!) I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to transfer all my CCM. My classic rock collection is already there waiting on me, as are Dierks Bentley and Taylor Swift.

The Internet is a wonderful thing for obsessed music fans. It’s like a nice genie that grants unlimited wishes. All I have to do is Google, and I have the lyrics and chords to any song I want. Now I can own my own copy with just a click.

I remember the day I first heard “Hotel California” by the Eagles on the radio. I begged my dad to  drive me to the store so that I could buy it. Back then singles came out on 45s, so I flipped through the record bin, searching for a song with the word California in it. (BTW, Dear students, 45s are round pieces of vinyl that play songs on a record player. Never mind. Go Google it. You’ll figure it out.) Anyway, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the Eagles. Now I have pretty much their whole collection, and I’ve seen them live. And did I mention Joe Walsh called me? What? Did you really think I wouldn’t say that–again?

So what’s today’s pick?

When I was transferring music today, I found a little surprise tucked inside the sleeve of a re-discovered Sheryl Crow CD, 100 Miles to Memphis. I’m talking about her Detours album. Wow. Didn’t know I owned that one. I downloaded it to my iTunes and randomly clicked on a track, and like serendipity I discovered a song that resonates. Sheryl Crow’s “Drunk with the Thought of You.”

So guess what I’ve been doing all afternoon? Here’s a hint: I’m armed with a six string, and I’m sitting in front of a laptop, lyrics, and a tab. I’ve been playing with writing my own stuff, but I like to learn how to play the songs of artists that inspire me. Sheryl Crow is one of those. I may not agree with her politics, but I envy her voice.

So what’s the next step in my better late than never iPod journey? Playlists. But I’ll save that for the next blog. What’s new with you?

What do you get when you cross a conspiracy theorist with a psycho vigilante?

I am a visionary.

No, don’t expect me to start my own psychic hotline. On a whim, I took the Myers Briggs personality test and discovered I am an oddity—an INFJ (introverted, iNtuitive, feeling judging). Only one percent of the population possesses these characteristics. I suppose my “type” is called “visionaries” because we INFJ people are supposedly gentle, caring, and highly complex, intuitive individuals.

I feel special.

Here are a few more details pertaining to the INFJ:

  • Artistic, creative
    Dedicated listener
    Derives satisfaction from helping others
    Devoted to personal beliefs
    Lives in a world of hidden meanings
    Possesses uncanny insight into people and situations
    Protective of their inner selves, sharing only what they choose to share when they want to share it
    Perfectionist
    Dislikes conflict or stress
    Best suited for the career of English teacher, photo journalist, musician, novelist, freelance writer

Spooky, isn’t it? That’s me! (Okay, I should have written “That is I.” Silly perfectionist.)

According to MyPersonality.info, other people who fall into the INFJ category include Adam Sandler, Shirley Temple, Oprah Winfrey, Mel Gibson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Weird! I really don’t consider myself having
anything in common with any of these, except Hawthorne, maybe. Fictional characters include Luke Skywalker and the Tin Man.

I did a little Googling and found a website by Paula L. Fleming that offers some great information for writers about building characters based on personality types. Check out Writing-World.com’s section called “What ‘Type’ Is Your Character?” You’ll find some nifty hints that will help will character motivation.

Writers, you might ask your characters to take a shortened version of the test to determine if their actions match their motivations. You might also discover a little bit about yourself as you analyze your characters. What personality types intrigue you the most?

Just for fun, I “asked one of my characters” to take the shortened version of the test on the Personality Pathways website and found he is an ISTP (introverted, sensing, thinking, perceiving). His characteristics include the following:

  • Intensely analytical, a trouble-shooter
    Always busy
    Needs personal space
    Often responds to stress with angry outbursts
    Confident
    Would perform well in the computer or engineering fields
    Skillful with physical things
    Athletic
    Good listener
    Observant
    Lives one day at a time
    Easy going, fun to be around
    Stubborn or disobedient

Interesting. Some of my character’s traits overlap with mine. Some do not. If I were to write his story based on what I would do in a situation I would clearly be off track when it comes to character motivation.

Famous ISTPs include Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, Keith Richards, Tiger Woods, Mick Jagger, Burt Reynolds, and Amelia Earhart. Famous fictional ISTPs include James Bond and Wolverine.

Do these characters, real or fictional, have anything in common with my character? Maybe. I suppose if I were in doubt about how to write a scene, I could always imagine what Mick Jagger or James Bond might do.

I also checked out the Not Your Typical Personality Types parody site. Oh, this one is fun.! It inspired me to infuse a little humor into my character creation.

This site pegs the INFJ as a conspiracy theorist and the ISTP as a psycho vigilante.

Hmmm. Imagine putting those two into a book. What fun! (Insert evil laugh.) Let’s get to writing.

BTW:  One of my favorite blogs, Divine Detours, is featuring Jeannie Campbell, the “Character Therapist” today. How cool! Perfect timing. Please check it out. You could win one of her character therapy guides.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky

It’s after midnight. I’m promised myself I’d hit the gym in the morning. I need a routine. I need to follow through. I’m stuck. I can’t move forward.

The thing is I can’t sleep. I have a mess of thoughts whipping around in my head like protons in an ion collider. Yeah, I bet you haven’t heard that analogy before. Me either. Funny what you’ll think of after midnight.

I’m going to the gym because I want to get back on track—literally. My goal is to try kickboxing again. If I can conquer kickboxing, I can conquer just about anything—my writing, my fitness, my fears.

But I’m not ready. Not yet. I need to build up my strength and endurance, starting with the track and then moving to the weights. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll take my new iPod. Music is a great motivator, but you knew I’d
say that. How about a motivator you wouldn’t expect?

How about Facebook?

Not really. I personally believe Facebook is an evil monster that consumes precious time. It’s also a numbing drug that alleviates stress and boredom—to be used temporarily, mind you. It can be habit forming. But
occasionally something good pops up on Facebook’s Recent News. I’m talking about a link to one of my favorite blogs, Parkour Training Blog. The key word? Flow.

Flow is usually associated with Parkour. (If you don’t know what Parkour is, check out the Parkour Training Blog.) Flow, as the author Dan Dinu describes it, is the “harmony of moving fluently.” You see, for a traceur (a person who practices Parkour), moving through an environment from Point A to Point B can be kind of a creative expression all its own. It’s like a dance with life.

I like learning about Parkour because I frequently transfer the principles of Parkour to the principles of life. I’ve been a freelance journalist for a long time now, but the one element that is I hope is characteristic of my work is flow. When I write a story about a person, I like for the parts of the story to flow smoothly from one part to another. In terms of writing a novel, it would be like moving seamlessly from scene to scene.

I’ve had a very difficult time writing lately because I am still negotiating the stages of grief—and not so well mind you, but that’s another story. The words don’t flow. My thoughts don’t flow. My life is NOT flowing. When Dinu talks about flow, he illustrates his text with examples of tango and ballet, “precise and continuous gliding.” Yeah, that’s what I’m aiming for—in writing, in music, in life.

In order to achieve said state of flow in parkour, Dinu says “never train.” When I read this first tip, I knew immediately where he was going. He relates this point to artists like Picasso. People who create are not drained by their “practice.” They are rejuvenated, re-filled.

Let us not forget that when God gave us our talent and passion, he meant for us to enjoy it. It should be gift, not a burden. Wouldn’t it be great if we always considered every moment of life a gift, not a burden, regardless of the circumstance? Some people say just “go with the flow and be happy.” Christian call it joy.

When I pick up my guitar, I immediately know the difference between the two types of practicing. I am NOT a great guitar player. But I do know enough to say that if I have to force myself to play, I’m not playing the way I should. When I play the piece during this type of practice, the notes are stiff, mechanical. But when I “feel” the music, I I find myself on another level of playing. This is the type of practice that occurs when I’m totally focused, totally one with the music.

Dinu refers to the way guitar guru Jimi Hendrix let his feelings flow when he played. Exactly! Hendrix didn’t just play the notes; he felt them. (Good example. I can relate to Jimi’s purple haze. No, the song isn’t really about some pyschedelic drug-induced haze.)

Right now my biggest obstacle in writing (and life) is fear. Of what? I don’t know. Failure, maybe. Don’t we all? The publishing industry has a very narrow gate. Will I ever find myself moving through it? I’m not afraid to write. I’m afraid I’m not writing right. I’ll admit I pray about this problem almost without ceasing, but God doesn’t grant wishes like a genie. He has a purpose, and sometimes He lets us work our way to a solution so that we’ll grow stronger–and wiser.

Dinu says with Parkour, there is more than one way doing something. I have to remember that when I write and follow my gut instinct, I get better results. It’s kind of like playing music. Rather than playing a copy cat version of a song, the really good musicians will make it their own. After all, people are remembered only if they stand out in a crowd. For writers, this means finding their own voice and knowing the right time to break the right rules.

Dinu brings up other pointers too, like paying attention to obstacles and being yourself—knowing where you stand so not to lose your orientation and again, making the song your own, making your writing your own, making your life your own!

If I could offer readers, wannabe writers like myself, and dreamers at larger two bits of advice, I would say this—remember the flow and read, read, read anything and everything well written. You can glean something worthwhile from anything well written. Who would’ve thunk Parkour had anything to do with music or writing or especially life? But how well indeed it does.

As I read the article, my thought processes flowed freely and smoothly from one discipline to the other. I’m inspired. I want to inspire others too.

What is it that you want? Where are your feet? Did you pay attention to where they were so that you can see how you got where you are now ? And where do you need to place them so that you can get where you want to go?

My feet are going to hit the sheets. It’s after 2 a.m. I’ve got to be at the gym by 7:30.

(P.S. Happy birthday, Dan!)

Half over or half yet begun?

So exactly half the year is over. What ten things do you want to do before the calendar reads 2012? (Thanks, Plinky.com, for the prompt idea.)

Honestly, to start out, I’d just like to know where I’m going so I can try to get there. I’m an extremely driven person. I’m sitting in a parking garage right now with no place to go. I don’t like that. I want a destination and a road map.

But on a lighter note, here’s my list of The Top Ten Things I Want to Do Before 2011 is over–sans writing. I’ll leave that up to what God says. We’re still talking.

1. Read for pleasure. I want to read ten books before school starts. I never get to read when school is in session.

2. Put lights up on my patio. If I could bring a beach to my backyard, I’d add that too. Nothing says relaxation better than lights reflecting off the water with music playing in the background. Ahhhh.

3. Find a nice rich person to invest in my dream of opening a music venue on the square in Manchester. We already have a nice coffee shop and some restaurants. Now all we need is song. Hey, it’s a long shot, but I can dream. Can’t I?

4. Trade automobiles. Fat chance. But if I’m dreaming, I’ll take a Dodge Challenger, black with pin stripes. Wait a minute—I’m dreaming. Make it a 69 Camaro SS black with pin stripes. That’s better.

5. Go on an adventure with my camera. I think I’d like to shoot in black and white, preferably in Memphis, maybe in New Orleans.

6. Paint on canvas. (If only I could paint like Debra Hurd!)

7. Find the place where we’re supposed to serve.

8. Go to Memphis and eat ribs at the Rendevous.

9. Eat ribs at The Shed Barbeque and Blues Joint.

10. Write 20 songs. (Already in progress, ty teach.)

And because it’s my Plinky 11, I’ll add one more:

11. Perform at least one of them. Yeah, right.

What do YOU want to do with your last half of 2011?

Things I notice

I’m beyond tired of writing about gloom and doom, depressing thoughts, so I turned to Plinky for a little help. Plinky asked, “What are the first things you notice about people you just met?”

I’m so glad you asked, Plinky. It’s Bonnaroo week in my hometown. At least 80,000 strangers have invaded. No doubt about it. I’m going to meet someone new this week. Yeah! New people = new stories.

The first thing I notice is what people are wearing. I prefer clothes. But being Bonnaroo week and all, that’s not always the case. Point is, it’s just plain awkward for a clothed person to interact with a non-clothed person in a wardrobe-expected environment, and it’s near impossible for the clothed person not to stare. Staring is just not cool if you’re trying to be polite.

Other than nakedness, nothing really fazes me. I’m a teacher. I’ve seen just about everything—every color of hair and lack of hair and every clothing style from skirts on males sitting in my English class to chainmail on females perusing the school library. I’ve seen some of the most unusual piercings and tattoos and feathers. What really matters to me is what’s on the inside of the person.

I’m always intrigued by people who aren’t afraid to be themselves, so if a person is wearing something really unique I’m going to notice. I like unique—especially if it’s colorful and mosaic. When I see it, I drift away into my dream world and wonder WHY—why THAT outfit, why THAT color. Why, why, why. The more I learn about writing books, the more I learn about character motivation.

Of course, character motivation is something I deal with every day. Every 45 minutes or so, 25 or more characters file into my classroom. I have to be on top of my game and anticipate what they’re up to next so that I
can prevent them from carrying out random acts of stupidity—like launching a pencil across the room (past dozens of eyes) or cheating on a big test and risking immediate failure.

So, Plinky, I notice the outer human being. I just want to be careful not to judge. I am a conservative person—most of the time. But just as some people can go to the far extreme of being free (and clothingless), sometimes people can be so restrictive that they try to rope others and drag them into their tiny boxes. When the roped try to get out, the noose around their necks will tighten, and they’ll get lynched. Mercy and grace. Mercy and grace. When I see something I don’t understand—or like, I pray for mercy for my condemning attitude so that I can offer grace. (But depending on what my snarky meter says that day, I may not make it without letting a comment or two slip. I’m working on it.)

More importantly, what I notice above all is a person’s eyes—the windows to the soul. I warm up pretty quickly to kind eyes. I stay away from arrogant eyes. Mischievous eyes are like the Pied Piper. I can’t help but fall under their spell. Do the eyes show compassion? Then I’ll probably edge a little closer. Do they show ill intent? I’ll mosey on over to somewhere else, not that I want to be rude. It’s hard for people to lie with their eyes, but some
people are better at it than others. I don’t think I’d be a good poker player. My eyes give me away every time.

Of course, a person’s smile is just as important as the eyes. I definitely take notice. Is the smile plastered on? Perfunctory? Fake? I don’t like fake. Flash me a fake smile, and it’s sayonara for me.

All of these things, clothing, the eyes, the smile, are visual elements that either draw or repel two people. There are four other senses, five if you count intuition, a woman’s best friend.

What do people sound like when they talk or sing? What type of music do they listen to? Are they physically distant? Afraid to shake your hand or give you a hug? Too touchy-feeling? Do they invade your space?

Speaking of touch, what do their hands look like? Sounds like an odd question, but for a writer, it’s an important one. I once worked at a soup line at the Rescue Mission in Nashville. One thing I noticed as I was serving the food was that some of the men had hands that could almost be described as smooth—but with callouses. They were musicians, just a little down on their luck once arriving to town. If I had time to talk, I’m sure I would have discovered some real stories there, heartbreaking, I’m afraid.

As for taste or smell, that’s a little too personal, even concerning my new Bonnaroo friends.

But, concerning my new Bonnaroo friends, I think I’ll head on down to the big W on the edge of town and do a little people watching. There’s bound to be a great story or two out there.

Gimme control of something

This is Magic, the Tennessee Walking Horse I used to own. She was like a big puppy dog.

When Stephen King was writing Carrie, he became so frustrated because of rejection letters he threw the manuscript in the trash. He was ready to give up. Fortunately, his wife Tabitha pulled him through his period of hopeless. She dug the novel out of the trash and encouraged him to keep trying. Since then, King has sold more than 300 million copies of his books.

We all need someone like Tabitha. Without a Tabitha in our lives, we have to resort to Plan B. For me, Plan B involves walking away from it all and finding something else I might be able to conquer.

I think I need to ride a horse. There’s something to be said for a little woman who can control a 1500 pound animal with just a piece of metal and leather.

I tried kickboxing, but it kicked my butt. I could blame my near fainting spells on my low iron, but truthfully I know it’s because I’m so out of shape. I need to get back to the rec center.

But I can ride a horse. Not well. But sufficiently. Sometimes. Sometimes not. I’ve had my moments.

As a kid I always dreamed of owning horses. I used to draw stables in art class. I read every horse book in the library. I even saved pennies for a pony and bought one from a farmer all by myself. The pony didn’t last long. He was mean.

When I was in elementary school, I had a friend who had a ponies named Oscar and Henry. We used to ride them through Old Stone Fort and in the hills of Beechgrove. When the fair came to town, they offered to let me
ride one of their ponies in the horse show. It was their new pony, Tootsie Pop, a beautiful bay hunter jumper.

All went well at first until Tootsie Pop decided to do her own thing in the show ring. My feet slipped out of the stirrups, and Tootsie took off around the ring, passing up every other equine. It was like the Kentucky Derby. I knew I was going to die. All the other contestants were walking. Tootsie and I were in a full gallop.

My friend finally came to my rescue, and she led me and Beelzebub around the rest of the class and in front of the judges. I felt like a fool.

Then there was the time I decided to go horseback riding in the Smoky mountains. I love to ride. I even like riding fast. But I ride so rarely that I am ever bit the novice.

Finding a riding stable that allows trotting and galloping isn’t easy. Most have horses that move at a snail’s pace. Boring.

But I did find a place that offered rides for all abilities, and I ended up going to this place every time I went on vacation to the Smokies. The trail leaders were nice guys and made the ride fun by always allowing a little fast riding just to keep thing interesting.

I also owned a small spotted saddle horse and a white...horse, not sure of breed. Misty and Brandy respectively.

But the last time I went was a different story. It was just me and the trail leader. Nobody else had shown up. Mr. Nice Guy wasn’t leading the trail this time. No, the trail leader was a thin, hard-faced woman wearing a cowboy hat, a tank top, and muddy boots with her jeans tucked inside.

She eyed me up and down. “Can you ride?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Some.” She looked over her horses to match one up with me, and I made the mistake of saying, “I just don’t want a pokey one.”

Big mistake. She mistook me for one of “those” tourists, the know-it-alls who think they can ride a bronc bareback because they never fell off the carousel horse on the merry go round.

“Let’s see about that.” She matched me up with a beautiful animal that seemed to have a bit of spirit in him.

I checked my saddle and my stirrups. Not slipping. Just right. Heels down. I was ready to go.

“You ready?” She looked over her shoulder.

“Let’s do it.”

The next thing I know the woman let out a rebel yell, and we were off in a full gallop.

I prayed.

We galloped a bit, just enough so that both horses and this rider were lathered in sweat, and then we slowed down. She looked back over her shoulder. “I’m impressed. You know how to ride.”

I said nothing. I was alive. I prayed again, this time with thanksgiving.

I expected the rest of the ride to be slow and easy, but Calamity Jane had other ideas. We neared the steep trails of the mountain. Again, she looked over her shoulder and rested her hand on her horse’s hip. “Too tricky to run the horses down hill. Could trip. We’ll gallop uphill instead. You got to lean forward over your horse’s withers. We’ll go faster this time.”

Faster? Have you lost your mind, woman?

She didn’t let out a rebel yell this time, she just kicked her horse, and they took off. My animal took the cue, and off we went. Up the hill, the steep, steep hill. Faster, faster, faster. I was getting the hang of it. I was having fun. I leaned over the withers and relaxed to the rhythm of the hooves pounding the dirt trail.

Then it happened.

I won’t go into detail due to the fact that this is a G-rated blog, but somehow as I leaned over the withers, the saddle horn became lodged inside my shirt and somehow hooked itself on an inner part of my clothing.

I was trapped.

Crazy thoughts flooded my mind as I rode full force up a hill toward the bluff with my chest strapped to the saddle horn. “I’m going to die, and when people ask one another how I passed, THIS IS THE STORY THEY’LL HAVE TO TELL!” I prayed some more. “Oh, Lord, please don’t let me die this way. Spare my dignity.”

My horse did indeed make it to the top of the ridge, but it stopped short of the bluff and opted for a mouth full of grass, giving me enough time to detach myself. Calamity and I rode our steeds the rest of the way home in silence, keeping that slow steady turtle pace that wins the race.

I never did ride that trail again. Last time I went, the place was boarded up and deserted. I wonder why.

What’s the moral to this story? I’m not really sure. I just know that right now in my life I don’t feel like I’m in control of anything. I need to be in control of something. The writing is where it should be, but I am not. I’ve lost my focus. I’m weary. I want to move forward with music, but my fear is holding me back. I want to be able to control something in my life. Why not a horse? Surely if I can master a 1500 beast, I can take on fear and fatigue.

I’m open for ideas, though. Tell me? What do you do when you need a boost?

Okay, so the Spitfire convertible is not a horse. But it used to be mine until I sold it to buy the land for the horses. Fun little car. I kind of miss it.