The mark of friendship

When I finally see my writing dream to fruition and see my book(s) in print, I hope one thing—that my words will make a mark on at least one reader’s soul. I am a fearless fighter for the underdog, so it’s only naturally that what I am writing now is geared toward young adults. But I won’t limit myself. People of all ages hurt. People of all ages need a friend, the connection with another human being who accepts them as they are unconditionally.

Tomorrow is my last day of my first of four graduate classes I’ll be taking this summer—all in English. What can I say? I loved it. I forgot how much I like learning. It’s so much easier to sit behind the desk than to stand in front of it. I felt right at home. Everyone in class was in tune with one another, and my professor is an expert on pop culture. How cool is that?

There is a point to my rambling. My final task in this class is to write a paper about some aspect of Moby-Dick. I noticed that in the front of the book Melville dedicates the book to Hawthorne. Seems like a minor detail, but I think not. I think Hawthorne make a very deep mark on Melville’s soul, and  his response is found somewhere in the book Moby-Dick. The question is what mark did Hawthorne leave on Melville, and how did this mark shape the writing of Moby-Dick?

A true friend leaves a mark on another person’s soul, but rare is such a true friend. We all have acquaintances, but rarely do we find someone who we connect with on such a deep level that it defies definition.

I don’t talk about my parents much in my blogs because they were such private people, but it’s been a year now since their passing—almost to the day, and thoughts of them, especially my dad, have weighed heavily on my soul. Everyone I have ever met talks about them being such good people. But why?

When it came to my dad, he knew how to be a friend, especially to my mother. Again, they were so private. I don’t think I ever saw them show any public forms of affection, and for that matter, I can’t remember getting a hug or a kiss from them past my elementary school years, but I do know they loved me.

My mom was probably the most stubborn, nit-picky woman in the world. Everything in her house had to be in perfect order, labeled, organized, and neatly put in its place. When I was cleaning out their house, I found my old dolls, still in their original packaging, still in almost pristine condition. Why? Because I never really got to play with them. I had to put in a request ahead of time so that my mom could unpack them and bring them to me. I never really had the freedom to choose or the option to make a mess. It was out of the question.

My mom was a bundle of fears and superstitions, and trying to rationalize with her was impossible. I remember as a small child, if it thunderstormed while my dad was at work, we had to unplug everything and go sit on the bed until the storm passed.

When she packed a lunch for me on field-trip days, she always packed enough for two or three lunches—better to overdo it than to be left without. She wrapped my sandwich in wax paper, put it in a baggie, and then covered it in aluminum foil. By the time I unpacked everything, lunch break was over.

I say these things, not to poke fun at my mom’s eccentricities, but to point out that it takes a very special person to put up with our individual quirks—without trying to change who we are.

My dad accepted everything. I can’t remember him ever raising his voice to her or showing any signs of temper. Later, when she became very ill and very afraid, her remarks would come across as curt, or even hateful—not to me but to him. And he would explain to me that she was afraid. He never got mad at her, never tried to make her see how wrong she was. He wasn’t a weak man. He was strong. He loved her so much that he just absorbed all of these things and let them slide.

He was at her side constantly till the moment she passed away. That’s a true friend.

My dad was a true friend to everyone he met. It used to scare me. If anyone were ever broken down on the side of the road, he thought nothing of stopping and helping them. I was always afraid he would run into a thug who would pull a gun on him and take his money, but I guess God protected him. Everyone he helped truly needed his help. And he expected NOTHING in return. Now days everyone wants something for anything. I don’t want to ever become like that. I hope I can just give because I love. I don’t want to become jaded.

I think the sweetest story I ever heard was when my parent brought me home from the hospital. My aunt told me this story not too long ago. I was a tiny little thing, five pounds or so. My parents had lost their first baby. It was stillborn, the cord wrapped around the baby’s neck. I remember the weeks just before I had Josh. I had hellacious nightmares that something horrible would go wrong—and sure enough it did. We almost lost him. The doctors told Kenny they were going to try to save at least one of us. (I didn’t know this until recently.) Josh suffered from a prolapsed cord, quite similar to what happen to my mother’s first child.I wouldn’t let Kenny call my parents to tell them I was in labor. I didn’t want them to worry. I  let him call after Josh was born.

When I was an infant, I’m sure my mother, who was always extremely anxious her entire life, was afraid something would happen to me. She would not go to sleep. She had to be awake when I was sleeping, just to make sure I was okay. My father, out of love for my mother, agreed to take turns staying up with me just to make sure I made it through the night—and I was a perfectly healthy baby. Well, I WAS perfectly healthy until my dad fell asleep and dropped me on my head. You can imagine the panic that ensued and the trip to the emergency room for the doctors and nurses to reassure them I was just fine. I mean look at me. I’m a picture of total physical and mental health. Just because I stalk celebrities and write psycho blogs doesn’t mean anything is wrong with me. Right?

When I was growing up, there were two particular games kids played. The first game called for a person to fall back into another person’s arms. Either the friend would catch him or not. The other game was mean. Just as a kid prepared to sit down on a chair, another kid would pull it out from him, and everybody gathered round would get a big laugh, everybody but the kid who hit the floor.

Those two types of games and kids who played them are great metaphors for the people we meet in life. Some people are just waiting to pull the chair out from under you, and some people will always be there to catch you when you need them–without wanting anything at all in return.

So as I prepare to write my final paper for my grad class, I ponder the art of friendship.

I hope when I complete my novels I can leave a mark on my readers that will inspire them to be a friend.

There is no greater gift than friendship. I don’t mean acquaintanceship. I mean true friendship, in which a person is willing to do the catching no matter the heaviness of the burden.

That kind of friendship is born of love. And my dad set a pretty good example of that.

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Memphis poetry in prose

Douglas Miller Photography

Beale Street slows down around 4 a.m. The cops clear the streets around three, and I suppose the remainder of the patrons, in various stages of sobrietry, find their way out of the bars to their cars, cabs, hotel rooms, wherever their destination might be.

I go to Memphis because it speaks to me, speaks to me on a level that bypasses exposition and jumps directly to the dialogue. I have a story to finish.

This time I knew I couldn’t stand on the outside and look in. I had to become one of the characters and live it.

Five p.m.

I realize I left my sunglasses in my truck. I didn’t think I’d need them. I didn’t think I’d need sunscreen either, but the sun blazes and reflects off the pavement, burning my eyes and skin.

Scene one. The quintessential music emporium.

I walk in the shop, failing miserably at concealing my thoughts, and an elderly black gentleman approaches me. I’ve seen him before. He’s kind and gentle and moves in tandem with the beat of song playing the background. He’s dressed in white, and his whole being smiles.

“Baby, what is wrong with you? Why you got your head down?  Don’t you know you’re too beautiful to be looking so down?”

And I smile because that is what you do when someone gives you kindness.

“What’s got you so down?”

I just shake my head. He stands well over six feet tall and towers over me. He puts both hands on my shoulders, and I look up.

“You know if you don’t hold your head up, you gonna run into something.”

He holds his hand out. I extend mine.

“Where are you from?” he asks and shakes my hand, and I tell him.

“A 747 would get you here in no time.” And he laughs. I laugh too. He thanks me for visiting his city, and I thank him for being so kind.

Next door evil lies in wait, packaged in bottles, wrappers, oils, voodoo dolls of every size and assortment. For the right money, a person could buy whatever’s needed to remove a curse or to administer one. Guaranteed for health, finances, power, and love.

I’m surprised to see the store has undergone transformation. I venture through an opening and find another room of odd relics. To the far back, a beaded curtain separates patrons under the age of 18 from the secrets on the other side. I respect the veil and let my ears pick up more of the story near the front door.

Scene two. Two women, meeting for the first time, one black, one white, talking about men.

“Oh, no, the English, they keep their distance. They don’t like it when you get in their space. The Irish are like that too, but, now the Scottish, the Scottish like the Southern women. My man is English.”

They go on sharing the peculiarities of the male species.

The black lady throws back her head and laughs. “Honey, I can tell you are so East Coast.”

And I wonder why this East Coast woman is working a shop that sells t-shirts and voodoo paraphernalia.

“You have got to look me up if you get up there.”

And they exchange numbers. The chapter closes, and I walk out the door to Handy Park.

Scene three. A soon to be empty stage.

“The band is going to take a five-minute break. We’ll be back in 15 minutes.”

Figures. But I’ve never seen so many vendors. My first stop in Memphis was the Peabody. I had to check out Lansky’s. But $120 for a dress? Uh, no.

But in Handy Park, the same $78 blouses sell for $15 bucks, some $25. The African women and men call to me.

“Come inside. Come look at these dresses.”

I eye a lovely top, reminiscent of something a gypsy might wear. And before I know it, the woman has pulled the blouse from the hanger and is putting it over my head.

Too big. It just doesn’t look right.

But I spot a black dress with a hint of orange embellishment. It seems to fit my mood. And I had dreamed of orange the night before.

I pick it up. I put it back. It falls off the hanger.

“This dress. It wants to go home with you.” The woman laughs.

I laugh too and pick it up again. It is ever bit as pretty as the $120 dress at Lansky’s at about a sixth of the cost. I buy it, as well as a blouse. Both for a fraction of the Peabody couture.

I don’t like wearing anything around my wrists. I don’t like wearing rings, but I see a really unusual bracelet at another booth, again something I might find at Lansky’s with $20 or $30 price tag.

“Five dollar.”

I hand the woman a $20 bill, and her brow furrows when she cannot find the correct change. But then her face lights up, and she hands me $16. A one-dollar act of kindness for making me wait.

I smile and say “thank you.”

I roam a bit and then squeeze into an open spot at the foot of W.C. Handy’s statue to listen to the band.

“Happy Father’s Day.” The lead singer tells the crowd. “I know there are some good fathers out there. I have a good father. He never leaves me.”

And I know he’s talking about God.

“I see the children out there.”

He’s right. Handy Park is open to people of all ages, no cover charge.

“Let’s remember the children.” The singer continues. “You all dance and have a good time. But please don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your own children to see.”

And the band plays. The trombone player wanders the crowd with his tip bucket, and when it’s time for his solo, he stops and plays wherever he lands. I slip some cash in the bucket. I always remember to tip the band.

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.”

I’ve heard this song before. And my mind wanders to another venue, another singer, another town. And I wonder who she is and why she’s gone.

I take that as my cue, and I close the chapter.

Tomorrow will be another chapter and another song.

Angry writer

I cannot not write.

I’m still amazed that when I write a blog some reads it. If that someone is you, well, then, thank you. I know I possess no profound wisdom. Occasionally, I make a few people laugh. But is that enough?

I don’t always write for approval. But then again, neither did Emily Dickinson, who tied up her nearly 1,800 poems and kept then neatly hidden away.

I write academically. I do have an opinion.

I write journalistically. I like to tell other people’s stories. Doesn’t bother me a bit to hang out behind the scenes.

But for me to write about me? Well, on so many levels, that’s just wrong. I mean, who really cares?

But still there’s that burning feeling in the bit of my stomach, “fire in the belly,” Margret Britton Vaughn once said, that makes me voice my thoughts to the wind. And to whoever happened to flow with the surf and land on this page, well, I am obliged that you stuck around long enough to read this.

Sometimes I want to say something so badly, but I can’t find the words. e. e. cummings’ poem “since feeling is first” comes to mind.

So when I want to write and can’t find the words to say, I evoke Plinky.com for help. And then I shut down my laptop and put it to sleep when my cyber muse fails me.

But tonight after turning to Plinky, I have chosen to write about the Plinky topics I would NEVER write about. This is my one act of defiance before I set into my more disciplined writing life I have deemed shall start tomorrow.

I must finish my WIP.

Not two mention a couple of graduate papers. But I digress.

So, dear reader, now that you have landed here on my island, perhaps shipwrecked due to loneliness as to having nothing better to do because sleep won’t come, now you can read my Top Ten List of Plinky Prompts I Would Never Write About.

1.       Who makes the best pizza?

My answer? Who cares? Really. First, I try to avoid pizza. It is incredibly fattening and not healthy when it is prepared most deliciously. Who wants to eat skinny pizza? But since I choose not to be curt, my polite answer would have to be Justin, James, and Billy. You are my friends, and you discount my order, an added perk. But Ioyalty to my friends is paramount.

2.       Have you ever broken a bone?

No. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I had chicken pox. I never missed one day of school, never came in late, never checked out early, all my twelve years. What does that say about me? I’m incredibly healthy? No. I’m incredibly obsessive.

3.       What new hobby would you like to try out?

Fashion designing. No, really. Don’t laugh. True, I’m not domestic. The thought of being cooped up makes me fidget, even now. But I think I would like to design clothing that fits my free-spirited mood. I think I would like to take gently worn garments and turn them into new creations. Vintage, yet chic. I will never do this. I do not sew, nor do I have the patience to learn.

4.       At what point in your life did you start feeling like an adult?

Never. I’m still waiting.

5.       Who do you trust with your biggest secrets?

That, my dear, is a secret. I am the best secret holder in the world. Besides, if I told ya, I’d have to kill ya.

6.       Do you have a favorite park?

Colorado. Every little town in Colorado has one or more parks, emphasis on the more. And towns may be 30 miles or more apart. I like parks. I just don’t like crowded ones. Therefore, I rarely go to the one here at home, especially during ball season, which I have avoided. Sometimes I travel down the road a bit to a secluded little haven and sit under the pavilion and write. Most recently, I went to Old Stone Fort to read. But favorite? No. Not yet. I’m sure by the time summer is over I will.

7.       What qualities do you value most in friends?

Honesty. Hands down. And trustworthiness. I choose friends carefully and slowly. Once I let you in, I expect you to stay. No one wants to be discarded.

8.       List the top three things you want to do before you kick the bucket.

Love. See my published novel. Go (to Ireland).

9.       What is your favorite way to cook eggs?

See! See what I’m saying. How could I possibly write a blog about this? Plinky Dude, what are you thinking? Yes, I know you didn’t create your site for me, but you can do better. My favorite way to cook an egg is to take a slice of bread and use a glass to make a whole in the center. I crack the egg. Pour it in the center and fry it in the middle of the bread. And I like omelets

And the last thing I would never write about?

10.   Do you believe in fate?

I believe in serendipity. Things happen for a reason. We shouldn’t be so arrogant to dismiss what’s right in front of our noses.

Ask love

I’ve tried. Really. Whenever I need a little boost, a little inspiration for my blog, I check out Plinky.com. But Pinky hasn’t done it for me in the last year. But this week, I said to myself, “Self, you are writing this blog whatever the topic may be. No excuses.” That was Monday.

The topic? If you eventually break up with someone, was it ever true love?

Really?

THIS is the topic I pushed myself to write about? Yes, I fit the bill of true romantic, but expert on love? I think not. A romance writer would certainly be better fitted to write about it than I. What do I know about relationships? I write YA. I see love through the eyes of a teenager. Can you say drama?

And concerning this blog, we really don’t want to go there. Not today. Although I must admit I’m pretty excited about my current WIP. The drama is definitely cooking.

But back to break ups and true love. I refuse to speculate. I can tell you that just because one person in the relationship goes away, love does not die. I know that for a fact. My parents were married for more than a half century. There was a spiritual connection between them that transcended physical death. I believe it. My father could not live without her. And no one but me knows what he went through the days leading up to her death. That, I will not print.

Here’s what I do know about love. You cannot force another human being to love you. And the person you love today, may not be the same person tomorrow. I’m not saying you may choose a different person. I’m saying the person you have chosen may have grown into someone new. People change. Constantly.

So I suppose, yes, if you break up with someone, you could have loved the person he or she used to be. You just may not love the person he or she has become. Or you may have never loved the person from the beginning. You may may have loved love. But we’ll get to that later.

Forgive me. I have re-enrolled as a grad student taking a full load of graduate English classes this summer. I forgot how much I’ve missed the literary aspects of writing. I’ve dabbled in everything—journalism, songwriting, commercial fiction, academic journals. I love it. I love writing. But there’s something about the literary aspect of writing that awakens me. It’s nice to visit that place for a while.

Love inspires story, and the conflict of loving a dynamic character who changes sets the stage for an interesting tale. Right now I have so many book topics pulsing through my tiny little brain that I have to force myself to push that thought aside. I must finish what I’m working on now before I go onto my other three projects.

I can tell you this. As a teacher, I have certainly put in the hours as Love Counselor. I think every teacher does. Our halls are filled with broken hearts. And the school parking lot has seen its share of broken windows. A scorned Southern woman, no matter how young she is, doesn’t take rejection lightly.

One of the last Southern gals who had a spat with her beau put her foot through his truck window.  She meant business, and I bet the young man who owned the truck gave considerable thought before dumping his next girlfriend. Love hurts, if not the heart, the wallet.

What I’ve seen most with the YA crowd is that teenagers, girls and guys, create a character in their minds and fall in love with that character. They project their feelings onto the body they’ve chosen to play out that persona. The problems arise when they realize the person they want to love doesn’t exist in that body. They’ve fallen in love with the idea of love. Again, another great jump start for a novel.

As an older, wiser human being, especially an older, wiser teacher, I’ve learned a lot about dealing with human beings. When I was a rookie, I saw students as gum-smacking, trouble making, chit-chatting adolescents.

It didn’t take many years for me to realize that these adolescents don’t stay 15 forever. They grow up into adults. I try NOT to see my students as who they are. I try to see my students as who they will be. Many of my former students are my close friends and colleagues.

That’s cool.

I think because I have accepted that I am working with works in process, I can love my students unconditionally. I have come to accept that I have no control over who they are and who they will be.

And if they hate me now, so be it. Years from now we may reach an understanding.

I think my favorite love quote comes from Johann Wolfegang von Goethe. He said, “What’s it to you if I love you?”

Kind of quirky, isn’t it? I mean he’s right. Love is unstoppable. If someone wants to love you, there’s not a darn thing you can do about it. Kind of powerful, isn’t it?

Well, so much for my philosophical views on love. I’m certainly no expert.

As for the answer to the question– If you eventually break up with someone, was it ever true love?—I would say you’d have to ask love.