Ode to my fairy godmother, by proxy

Have you ever contemplated jail time?

I mean just how bad does the offense have to be before they send you to the Big House?

I’m not planning anything a jewelry heist or embezzlement. I’m not even sure my dirty deed is criminal. But my motto has always been if the opportunity presents itself, then, by George, don’t sit there, man. Do something about it!

I want to meet Steven Tyler, and my opportunities are limited. I think my only option is to rush the concert stage when Aerosmith plays Atlanta.

Surely, I would get off with a plea of temporary insanity. Sane middle-aged school teachers don’t normally risk a record for a photo op with a singing sensation. But then again I’m not normal, and this is no ordinary singing sensation. We’re talking Steven Tyler.

Now let’s get this straight. I am not obsessed with Steven Tyler. I don’t hide the fact that I really, really like his hair and its charms, braids, and feathers. But I do not in any way, shape, or form endorse his beliefs or code of morality, whatever it may be. I do like his bluesy voice. I like his voice a lot. Almost as much as I like his hair.

Steven Tyler is an icon to me, not an idol. I do not worship him. I do admire his talent. I do not want to stalk him. I simply want to mark off one more “to do” on my bucket list. And that, my friend, is meeting him and getting a photo to document the occasion.

I know that it’s standard procedure for authorities to take said mug shot at the station when they haul in the perpetrator, but I was hoping, should I be arrested for rushing the stage, that said authorities might be kind enough to snap my mug shot WITH Steven Tyler before I’m taken to the precinct. Mission accomplished. That’s the plan. Bail can’t be that much. Can it?

I embarrass my children talking like this. Yet, they are just as quirky as I am. Both of them. They’ll understand someday when their opportunities for adventure grow limited, when they have to either deal with their own quirkiticity or lose any creativity they ever had.

I guess it’s a good thing I’m a teacher. I never really have to grow up. Except for a short departure to the Boro, I’ve never really graduated from Central High.

I’ve accepted the fact that my destiny is to be one of “them,” the crazy teachers the students all whisper about between classes. I hear them talking.

 “Did you hear about Mrs. L? Yeah, she’s on that Tyler kick again.”

“Aw, man. I was just getting into our discussion of the futility of the American dream in Death of a Salesman. Now all we’re going to talk about is American Idol. Again.”

But the good thing about being a teacher is that I work with adolescents who have not yet embraced the mature adult state of mind that prohibits quirkiticity and embraces stoic etiquette.

I just found out Steven Tyler is hosting a Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in LA. The thought of spending any time in a Playboy mansion disgusts me. But here we have one more very real opportunity to get a shot with the man.

And that is ALL I want. I do not lust after Steven Tyler. I do not desire his fame, his fortune. Well, maybe I DO covet his hair…and his clothing. My son Michael says we can go shopping together. He’s right.

My family members have been calling the radio station trying to help me win the contest that will send me to said fantasy camp. I’m sure they relish the idea of me just getting this notion out of my system so that I can go on to the next item on my list. Or they just want to get rid of me.

Fantasy camp is probably a no go. Oh, I clicked on the web site and filled out the online application—except the part where I had to enter my credit card number. The digits came close to $9000. I did not click enter.

So maybe the camp’s out of reach, but the concert is in the bag. Literally. I have my ticket in my school satchel. Notice I said ticket. My family won’t even go with me for fear I’ll embarrass them all, ruin their reputations. Get caught on camera by CNN.

I just don’t get it. I would never do anything lewd or immoral. I just want a picture. Is that too much to ask?

Well, and maybe one of his scarves. A scarf would be nice.

This is MY bucket list. And again, I do not endorse Steven Tyler’s beliefs, his morals, his lyrics.. My pursuit is just a manifestation of my quirkiticity. And I think he does a great job of helping the American Idol kids pursue their dreams.

I don’t want to go to jail. But a girl has to do what a girl has to do. My major concern is that this blog is evidence of premeditation.

But doesn’t premeditation just apply to murder and really bad crimes? I’m really not committing any crime. Not really.

I’m not even stalking the man. I just want a picture. (And maybe a scarf.) Is that too much to ask? I’m an aged, soft-spoken little woman. Do I look like a criminal? Surely, someone will take pity upon me.

I believe in the six degrees of separation.

Perhaps one of you bloggers out there knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows Steven Tyler. How hard would it be for one of Steven’s people to send a simple meet and greet pass to a simple school teacher who has given the majority of her life to help build America’s future?

I know how the music industry works. It’s all about who you know. And right now I don’t know Jack Squat.

If only I had a fairy godmother to grant me a wish. But, hey, I believe in serendipity. Perhaps the right person has stumbled onto this blog by accident. Maybe you could make a few calls, and bring a short little woman in a Tennessee hick town great happiness by sending her a meet and greet pass for a little concert in Atlanta,

I’ll let you know how it works out. Otherwise, look for me on CNN.

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Snapshots

I guess you just had to be there.

I’ve searched for weeks for something worthwhile to write about, but everything that comes to me is cliché. Or I’ve written about it one too many times.

Write what you know, “they” say.

What do I know? I know I’m weary. The school year has been great. My students have been awesome, but my mental faculties are zapped. My emotions are zapped. I’m depleted. So my focus isn’t what it should be. That’s okay, given the circumstances.

I’ve spent lots of time at my parents’ house. But I didn’t grow up there. The house once belonged to my aunt and uncle, and my grandfather lived there before he passed away. This is the first and only house my parents ever owned, and they were proud to call it their own. “My” childhood home was a rental house on the edge of the city limits.

I knew that old house, that tiny little, mildew-ridden house. I could stand in the hallway and see every room. The kitchen especially. I remember the green table cloth on the table. Green. My mom always decorated the kitchen in green. I don’t remember what I had done. All I know is that a switch was involved and that I was short enough to run under the table while standing up straight. Being short has its advantages.

I remember the black telephone hanging on the wall in the hall and the party line. I had some pretty cool conversations with an anonymous voice who said he was a vampire. I think his real name was Terry. All I know is if I picked up the phone and he was on there, our chance meeting turned into a mysterious conversation. Not that I believed any of it, but Dark Shadows was a popular show at the time, and my mom and I were really into it. I guess I was already writing books in my head at the time. I mean, how often does one have an interview with a vampire? I thought it was uber cool. Too bad we never met.

Before my parents bought their house and moved out of the rental, “my” house was grand central station of the neighborhood. I had a front porch with a swing and a basketball goal in the back and a beautiful redbud tree with limbs low enough for climbing.

I was a manipulative child, certainly not the demure individual I am now. But then again I was the only girl in the neighborhood, and it was every man for himself. And being the only girl on the street, there were times I had to man up for survival’s sake. Once I tied my neighbor to my beautiful redbud and refused to let him go until he paid for his crime. I don’t remember what he did to tick me off, but I’m sure he deserved the punishment. If he hadn’t convinced me he was having heart troubles, I would’ve made him stay there all night.

I am not a liar. In fact, if you ask me anything, I’ll tell you straight up to your face the truth. But back in the day, my front porch was home to some pretty profitable poker games. Again, the only girl, I learned to bluff—and held my smile when I raked in the loose change. We didn’t play for big bucks, but that’s not to say we kids weren’t privy to some secret info. I won’t say where, but it was a known fact that in my neighborhood, high-stake poker games were a pretty common occurrence. We used to ride our bikes by the place and count the cars out front, daring one another to knock on the door.

No one was stupid enough to take the chance. But dares were just part of growing up on my street.

My own kids never stepped foot in  the rental house I grew up in. They never would have understood. We couldn’t turn the wall heaters on at night for fear the water that ran off the iced windows might drip into them and short them out. Lack of insulation. We relied on quilts, plural. Piled high. We didn’t have showers; we had tubs, but we learned how to adapt with a hand-held sprayer. Nope, my kids would have never understood.

They grew up in a cozy little neighborhood, just down the road from our current home. Quaint, small, but comfortable–and safe.

Granny and Pa watched my babies like hawks. The worst thing that ever happened to Josh was a bicycle stunt gone wrong. He flipped it, literally, and did a 360 without any major injuries. Michael, my tough guy, made Pa play ball, made Pa, in his 70s, slide into home plate, again without any major injuries.

I can’t believe my parents let get me get away with the things I did as a kid on my street—namely, jumping out of tree houses just to prove I wasn’t scared. And I never broke a bone. Never sprained an ankle. Never cried. I ventured through fields, fearless of snakes, and I waded through ponds, never knowing how deep. And I never learned how to swim. And I rode my bike down country rodes and picnicked by myself in the loft of an old deserted barn just for the adventure of it. I didn’t mind being alone. I still don’t. It gives me time to think.

I learned how to be tough. I never cried when I wrecked my bike or got hit in the face with a baseball or forgot to let go of a firecracker before it when off. When it came time to choose up teams for baseball, basketball, football, whatever the sport, I waited to be picked–sometimes until the very end, depending on who was captain. The truth is I figured I was just as good as they were. Either they picked me for their team, or they didn’t.

I never whined. I never complained. If chosen, I went out there and did my best. I laughed when a new kid begged me to take my turn at bat. Ground rule. Got a sucky player? One of the better guys could take her–yeah it was usually a her–turn at bat.

I could take my own turn at bat, thank you. And if they didn’t want me, I didn’t tear up. I’d rather have someone tell me straight up how it is than to lie or pander to me. I still feel that way. Don’t like me? Don’t like my talents? I’m outta there. No hard feelings. Goodbye. Don’t expect me to beg.

When I was a kid, I roamed the neighborhood. I spent a lot of time  sitting on the porce steps of an old man’s house. Everyone called him Grandpa, but I never knew his real name. I just remember him playing a tune on his French harp, stomping his feet and stopping to sing a verse or two. “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” And my favorite—“If you want a good man, you gotta treat him right.” I probably still have Grandpa’s voice on cassette tape somewhere. I grew up and moved before he passed. Probably a good thing because if I had known, I’m sure his death would have broken me.

Grandpa gave me my first dog, Lassie. Original name, huh? She looked a lot like a collie, and she was so smart. It was as if we could communicate telepathically. I didn’t even have to say the words. Lassie and I were so close that I could subtly give a command with my eyes and she did whatever I asked—sit, catch a ball, jump through a hula hoop, whatever. My parents begged me to give her up. They promised to buy me another dog. I wasn’t sure why. I loved THIS dog, and nothing could stop me from keeping her. Good choice. I think that was the only time in my life I ever stood my ground with my parents.

The Kennel Ration Dog Competition came to town one year and held a contest in the old strip mall across from the high school. Lassie won third place. I was never so proud. I still have the trophy in my case. I sure loved that dog. She was my best friend, my confidant, my everything. I had already gone to college when she developed cancer, and the vet had to put her down. No hope. I lost my best friend.

So there you have it, a blog that’s nothing more than a hodgepodge of memories, snapshots from a spunky little girl who grew into a disillusioned adult.

My parents’ bought and paid for home, the one I inherited, holds few memories for me but dozens for my children. But, every time I’m there alone, I have to admit, I feel a little strange. I hear things. Tonight I had shut off all the lights in the house and was feeling my way from the back bedroom to the front door. That’s when I heard the screen door shut. No one was there.

And the lighthouse music box turned on by itself the first time we started moving things out.

Once, while I was alone, I ventured up into the attic—defying my fear of heights, just to see what was up there. And while I was exploring, I heard footsteps walking around down below. No one was there.

I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe there are things our minds don’t understand. I certainly don’t understand what I heard.  I actually sat down on a stool up there in the attic and had a rational conversation with myself.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes. I definitely hear footsteps.”

I waited. I listened. They continued.

I wasn’t imagining things.

I assumed it was Kenny. I waited for him to yell at me to find out where I was. But no one ever checked on me. I finally climbed down the ladder. No one was there.

Go figure. I have no answers. I just have an imagination and my memories. And sometimes that’s all a writer needs.

Snarks and sharks

I am a self-confessed control freak.

I don’t want to take charge of other people. I just want to take of situations. I am such a people pleaser that I worry, worry, worry if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

That doesn’t sound like such a bad flaw, but really it is, especially for a writer. There is simply no way to please everyone. And everyone is a critic, both in a literary and a literal sense.

The experience of teaching has been a great teacher for me. I’ve never had any type of real discipline problem in my classroom. I have a quiet voice. I stand five feet tall, yet when I was younger, older adults who had never stepped into my classroom used to say, “Oh, I bet you have trouble keeping the kids in line.”

Their words fired me up. How dare they judge me without knowing me!

The first year I taught one of my students nominated me as “My Favorite Teacher.” A Channel 4 newsman surprised me with his camera crew, visited my classroom, and presented me with my award. I was on TV. Ms. Supa-stah Teachah.

Not.

I had to go through a season of my life when I learned I was not a superstar. Everyone didn’t love me.

There’s a quote by Natsuki Takaya that says, “Even the smallest of words can be the words to hurt you, or save you.” I learned the hard way that telling a teenager “no” can be dangerous to one’s self esteem.

The last year has been a struggle. I’ll never forget the week my mother was dying. I had two separate altercations with students, both simply because I told them “no”—not out of meanness but because I was doing what had to be done.

One might think my foes would have had more compassion, but they didn’t. I had to face a firing squad. Even when I tried to tell them I still cared about them, they responded with hatred.

It’s not like it was the first time I’ve had to deal with mean people.

Snarks and sharks. That’s what I call them.

Snarks are those people who serve up backhanded compliments and snide remarks. Sharks are those people who attack when their prey is weak.

I used to do a lot of ministry work, but I’ve learned snarks and sharks are everywhere, even churches. Once I took a group of junior high girls to Nashville for an overnight Bible study. A relative loaned us his old limousine—emphasis on OLD as in ratty and falling apart, and off we went.

The girls felt as though they were princesses on their way to a ball. (I didn’t tell them about the rat we found later in the trunk.) We stayed downtown in a hotel with inside doors, a first for most of them.

When we returned, a lady from our church compared us to “the streetwalkers on Second Avenue.” And all we did was eat in a restaurant, play a game of laser tag, and have a Bible study. (I will admit one of the girls entertained the crowd at the Melting Pot restaurant by doing a monkey walk in front of the restaurant window, but she wasn’t imitating a streetwalker. She was imitating a monkey. There is a difference.)

Why would someone say something so mean?

When my oldest son was born, he almost died from a prolapsed umbilical cord. I had to have emergency surgery, and he was completely blue at birth. The doctor told us to keep him at home for a month with limited visitors. Yet, the pastor of my church chastised me for missing. “God gave you that baby,” he said. “And he can take him away.”

How could someone be so callous?

I’ve often asked God, “Why do some people hurt us at our weakest moments? Why do some people kick us when all we want to do is be kind?”

The answer He gave me is really very easy. We can’t force another person to love us, and we can’t be forced to love anyone else. That’s why God gave us free will. Even though God loves us, He won’t force us to love Him.

Love isn’t love when it’s forced.

Love has to be given and accepted unconditionally. I know that if there is anything good in my life, anything that speaks of love, it is from God. God is love.

I’ve had limited success as a writer, mostly as a freelance journalist. If I had to give any advice to a beginner, I would say, “Toughen up. Not everyone is going to love what you write. You’ve got to learn your craft. Take the advice your mentors give to you in love, and shake off the criticism from the snarks and sharks.”

To be honest, if I do get published as a novelist, I will be overjoyed, but I won’t be overly surprised. You see, everything that I’ve ever prayed about and dedicated my heart to, God has given me. He gives us the desires of our heart because He puts them there.

I may not be writing for BMI, Rolling Stone, or any of the major music publications, but I get to write. I get to interview some of the most interesting people in the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more. A bigger paycheck couldn’t buy me any more happiness.

My goal as a writer for young adults is simple. I want my readers to believe that this author loves them and understands them, unconditionally, just as they are.

Maybe they’ll find a way to reciprocate that love and pay it forward, maybe even to a snark or a shark.