The Angel and My First Guitar

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More than forty years ago, I rose after sunset on a Christmas Eve, my mother fretting that I would be sick on Christmas and loudly blaming her younger sister, my Aunt Ann, for my illness. We were visiting my grandmother in Florida so no snow, the chill in the air limited and only present due to my breaking fever.

I was nine years old and I wanted a guitar more than anything in the world. My aunt worked with the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the time, this being the mid-1970s. Watching Allen Collins and Gary Rossington play enthralled me to the point that everything else in the world disappeared. What I wouldn’t give to be able to make a bunch of wood and string make such music. A year or so before that Christmas, Ronnie Van Zant asked me if I was going to be a musician.

A musician? Oh, no, my mother would never allow it, but in that moment, I wanted it so much, almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. My answer came out quiet with despair.

“Girls don’t play guitar.”

I shuddered to hear myself say such a thing. At the time, girls did not play Little League either. Around the year of this question, I had become the first girl in my neck of the woods to play Little League baseball. Maybe, I could play guitar as well.

From about the age of five until after puberty, I despised being a girl because of all the things I was told girls did not do. I was violent about the whole thing, a bit insane really. The diagnosis was “severe gender dysphoria”.  Any dress bought for me, I immediately tore into unwearable shreds. Anything pink burned in the fire place. I did not talk to girls or play with them.

All my friends were boys, but I knew just as they did, I was not one of them. I must have cried when I answered Mr. Van Zant. Yes, I wanted to play the guitar. I did, and I could too.  I had long traded yard work for piano lessons from a neighbor woman, and I could already read music. I had checked out books on guitar chords and frets so had in my mind how the thing was managed.

I don’t have my own recollection of this conversation. My aunt told me the tale. Ann told me Ronnie had laughed at my answer. She could not recall what he said to me, only that it challenged my notion about girls not playing guitar. Ronnie charged Ann with my musical education and she took this seriously. It started with the departed Janis Joplin and continued with the recently emerging Patti Smith and on and on.

So that Christmas I wanted a guitar without much hope of getting one. For me a guitar was much like the Red Ryder BB Gun in A Christmas Story. Not that I would shoot my eye out, but it was not a thing for kids, and most certainly not for girls as far as my mother was concerned. However, that year, I asked for nothing else.

I had a back-up plan. The angel I spoke to every night before I went to sleep suggested it, and I filled a piggy bank with coins I earned raking leaves in the fall and pulling weeds in the spring. I was still too young to babysit which would be more lucrative in years to come, but I could work. I had peddled my bike all the way to the local music store that past summer, a good three-mile track from my house.

I had priced out guitars. The amount might as well have been a million dollars for all the good my savings would do. Even for the six-string that the long-haired salesman told me would be a good “learning” guitar for a kid.

I told my angel I needed a miracle. I did not think my parents could afford something so dear, not when it was hard for them to afford our food every week. The angel agreed about the miracle but not about the guitar. The angel is like that.

Aside from the guitar, I often prayed that I could be recreated as a boy. Then I could play football and my parents would love me more. I wouldn’t seem so weird if I was a boy, I told the angel. Boys always seemed to be allowed more accommodation and tolerance for oddity than girls. If I had been a boy, I reasoned, maybe my parents would even want me to have a guitar.

On that Christmas Eve, my mom was losing her shit because we were so late for church. It was Christmas Eve, and I was listless, pale, hair unkempt, and I probably needed a bath. There was no time for our usual grandiose fight to put a dress on me. Clean corduroys and one of those Christmas sweaters no sane person would be caught dead in on any other night than Christmas Eve were shoved onto my body.

Everyone else had already gone to the church, and it was me and my mom. She caught hold of my arm, this tiny woman of incredible strength, as she pulled me out of my grandmother’s house and into that old station wagon. Everyone else had walked to the church, but there was no time and no parking and I had no strength in my legs.

I remember being a bit frightened as my mom pulled that old clunker of a station wagon into a space that seemed too small, all the while cursing the disarray of the parking situation and that she had not finished her pecan pies or whatever she was contributing that year for Christmas Eve dinner. I said nothing. My mother carried a lot of weight on her shoulders. As strict as she was with me, she was nothing compared to how my grandmother treated her. I understood exactly how insecure and unsettled she felt before the eyes of a woman who never approved fully of anything my mother did.

My mom was not in the least bit concerned that I might be an incubator of viral plague. Her faith was pretty insane. It was Christmas. Whatever noxious illness I might have would not take out my grandmother’s church congregation even if I was cultivating some zombie apocalypse virus (a real possibility considering how I felt that night).

I remember it was hard getting out of the car because mom parked so close to the car in the next space. The next moment claimed a memory that will echo through my life until its end, one of those rare moments. The music coming up from the church in the twilight of that winter’s eve froze time about me. My angel was singing from the body of some child.

“O Holy Night” rang through the night, and all else became silent. I took my mom’s hand. For the first time, I heard the lyric. I listened to the soul of the musical composition as a whole and felt with certainty that only divinity could inspire such a thing.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices

My mother and I entered the church behind the choir as the rest of the voices joined the child who had begun the song. It was glorious and I wished it to go on and on. It did not. I fell asleep on the hard pew in the back of the church. All and all, it was the best church service I ever attended.

I kept a jumble of images of the rest of the night, the giant Santa Claus at my Great Aunt Glenn’s house, my dad wearing a Santa hat that matched the one my Uncle Gene and my Uncle Jim had worn,  watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas on a tiny television on the glass sun porch that overlooked the St. John’s River, a quilt that smelled like bourbon and tobacco smoke thrown over me by one of my relatives as I lay on a wicker couch, the sounds of my cousins playing, my little brother almost falling in the river, and his laughing at my mother’s distressed reprimand of him. My brother’s dearest wish at that age was to fall into the river, and I think he finally managed it by the next Christmas.

I slept on a Christmas Eve, maybe for the first time since I had been old enough to understand about presents and magical flying reindeer. My brother tried everything to keep me awake as I was supposed to help him listen for the bells that announced the arrival of Santa and a sleigh carried by aforementioned flying reindeer. I passed that baton onto him that Christmas.

The song “O Holy Night” filled my dreams displacing all the dancing sugar plums and commercial rot that once infested my childish mind. Something spoke to me, too deep, too big, too strong for my spoiled nine-year old mind to comprehend, but the angel assured me it would come to me in time.  It did but not in a way mortal words can express.

The guitar waited for me under my grandmother’s massive tree that Christmas morning.  I could scarce believe it. In the night, I had accepted that my parents could not afford such a present, and that I would be happy with whatever given to me. That made it all the more splendid. I doubt I bothered with my stocking or other presents. I picked up the guitar, half-hearing my aunt tell me the boys from Skynyrd had helped pick it out and tuned it for me. I began to pick out the notes for “O Holy Night”.

The angel smiled at me in his knowing way unobserved by the rest of the family. He was quite smug about it, really, and so I stuck my tongue out him, silly mortal that I am.  I do not think anyone heard the tune I picked out, but my heart filled with the song. My favorite song. Forever.

The Angel and My First Guitar

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More than forty years ago, I rose after sunset on a Christmas Eve, my mother fretting that I would be sick on Christmas and loudly blaming her younger sister, my Aunt Ann, for my illness. We were visiting my grandmother in Florida so no snow, the chill in the air limited and only present due to my breaking fever.

I was nine years old and I wanted a guitar more than anything in the world. My aunt worked with the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the time, this being the mid-1970s. Watching Allen Collins and Gary Rossington play enthralled me to the point that everything else in the world disappeared. What I wouldn’t give to be able to make a bunch of wood and string make such music. A year or so before that Christmas, Ronnie Van Zant asked me if I was going to be a musician.

A musician? Oh, no, my mother would never allow it, but in that moment, I wanted it so much, almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. My answer came out quiet with despair.

“Girls don’t play guitar.”

I shuddered to hear myself say such a thing. At the time, girls did not play Little League either. Around the year of this question, I had become the first girl in my neck of the woods to play Little League baseball. Maybe, I could play guitar as well.

From about the age of five until after puberty, I despised being a girl because of all the things I was told girls did not do. I was violent about the whole thing, a bit insane really. The diagnosis was “severe gender dysphoria”.  Any dress bought for me, I immediately tore into unwearable shreds. Anything pink burned in the fire place. I did not talk to girls or play with them.

All my friends were boys, but I knew just as they did, I was not one of them. I must have cried when I answered Mr. Van Zant. Yes, I wanted to play the guitar. I did, and I could too.  I had long traded yard work for piano lessons from a neighbor woman, and I could already read music. I had checked out books on guitar chords and frets so had in my mind how the thing was managed.

I don’t have my own recollection of this conversation. My aunt told me the tale. Ann told me Ronnie had laughed at my answer. She could not recall what he said to me, only that it challenged my notion about girls not playing guitar. Ronnie charged Ann with my musical education and she took this seriously. It started with the departed Janis Joplin and continued with the recently emerging Patti Smith and on and on.

So that Christmas I wanted a guitar without much hope of getting one. For me a guitar was much like the Red Ryder BB Gun in A Christmas Story. Not that I would shoot my eye out, but it was not a thing for kids, and most certainly not for girls as far as my mother was concerned. However, that year, I asked for nothing else.

I had a back-up plan. The angel I spoke to every night before I went to sleep suggested it, and I filled a piggy bank with coins I earned raking leaves in the fall and pulling weeds in the spring. I was still too young to babysit which would be more lucrative in years to come, but I could work. I had peddled my bike all the way to the local music store that past summer, a good three-mile track from my house.

I had priced out guitars. The amount might as well have been a million dollars for all the good my savings would do. Even for the six-string that the long-haired salesman told me would be a good “learning” guitar for a kid.

I told my angel I needed a miracle. I did not think my parents could afford something so dear, not when it was hard for them to afford our food every week. The angel agreed about the miracle but not about the guitar. The angel is like that.

Aside from the guitar, I often prayed that I could be recreated as a boy. Then I could play football and my parents would love me more. I wouldn’t seem so weird if I was a boy, I told the angel. Boys always seemed to be allowed more accommodation and tolerance for oddity than girls. If I had been a boy, I reasoned, maybe my parents would even want me to have a guitar.

On that Christmas Eve, my mom was losing her shit because we were so late for church. It was Christmas Eve, and I was listless, pale, hair unkempt, and I probably needed a bath. There was no time for our usual grandiose fight to put a dress on me. Clean corduroys and one of those Christmas sweaters no sane person would be caught dead in on any other night than Christmas Eve were shoved onto my body.

Everyone else had already gone to the church, and it was me and my mom. She caught hold of my arm, this tiny woman of incredible strength, as she pulled me out of my grandmother’s house and into that old station wagon. Everyone else had walked to the church, but there was no time and no parking and I had no strength in my legs.

I remember being a bit frightened as my mom pulled that old clunker of a station wagon into a space that seemed too small, all the while cursing the disarray of the parking situation and that she had not finished her pecan pies or whatever she was contributing that year for Christmas Eve dinner. I said nothing. My mother carried a lot of weight on her shoulders. As strict as she was with me, she was nothing compared to how my grandmother treated her. I understood exactly how insecure and unsettled she felt before the eyes of a woman who never approved fully of anything my mother did.

My mom was not in the least bit concerned that I might be an incubator of viral plague. Her faith was pretty insane. It was Christmas. Whatever noxious illness I might have would not take out my grandmother’s church congregation even if I was cultivating some zombie apocalypse virus (a real possibility considering how I felt that night).

I remember it was hard getting out of the car because mom parked so close to the car in the next space. The next moment claimed a memory that will echo through my life until its end, one of those rare moments. The music coming up from the church in the twilight of that winter’s eve froze time about me. My angel was singing from the body of some child.

“O Holy Night” rang through the night, and all else became silent. I took my mom’s hand. For the first time, I heard the lyric. I listened to the soul of the musical composition as a whole and felt with certainty that only divinity could inspire such a thing.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices

My mother and I entered the church behind the choir as the rest of the voices joined the child who had begun the song. It was glorious and I wished it to go on and on. It did not. I fell asleep on the hard pew in the back of the church. All and all, it was the best church service I ever attended.

I kept a jumble of images of the rest of the night, the giant Santa Claus at my Great Aunt Glenn’s house, my dad wearing a Santa hat that matched the one my Uncle Gene and my Uncle Jim had worn,  watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas on a tiny television on the glass sun porch that overlooked the St. John’s River, a quilt that smelled like bourbon and tobacco smoke thrown over me by one of my relatives as I lay on a wicker couch, the sounds of my cousins playing, my little brother almost falling in the river, and his laughing at my mother’s distressed reprimand of him. My brother’s dearest wish at that age was to fall into the river, and I think he finally managed it by the next Christmas.

I slept on a Christmas Eve, maybe for the first time since I had been old enough to understand about presents and magical flying reindeer. My brother tried everything to keep me awake as I was supposed to help him listen for the bells that announced the arrival of Santa and a sleigh carried by aforementioned flying reindeer. I passed that baton onto him that Christmas.

The song “O Holy Night” filled my dreams displacing all the dancing sugar plums and commercial rot that once infested my childish mind. Something spoke to me, too deep, too big, too strong for my spoiled nine-year old mind to comprehend, but the angel assured me it would come to me in time.  It did but not in a way mortal words can express.

The guitar waited for me under my grandmother’s massive tree that Christmas morning.  I could scarce believe it. In the night, I had accepted that my parents could not afford such a present, and that I would be happy with whatever given to me. That made it all the more splendid. I doubt I bothered with my stocking or other presents. I picked up the guitar, half-hearing my aunt tell me the boys from Skynyrd had helped pick it out and tuned it for me. I began to pick out the notes for “O Holy Night”.

The angel smiled at me in his knowing way unobserved by the rest of the family. He was quite smug about it, really, and so I stuck my tongue out him, silly mortal that I am.  I do not think anyone heard the tune I picked out, but my heart filled with the song. My favorite song. Forever.

Life is All a Prologue #WD17

Where does this story begin? For the second time, I decided to go to the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. The first time changed my life forever so why not give it a second go?

I am always startled by New York. It reminds me of Mos Eisley space station in Star Wars – a meeting place for all the universe. All are welcome but you must adapt quickly or the city will eat you.

People from another galaxy seem as likely as the myriad of people from the other side of the planet. I think Men in Black was serious on that account. I do think I saw a Wookie at 6th and 53rd street where my Uber dropped me off at about 3 PM.  There I stood, just another alien on Broadway attending another writer’s conference with my pocket full of dreams.

My cell phone buzzes.

My daughter, who now lives in New York and is working in the film industry, texts me to say she thinks set will wrap by 6 PM, plenty of time for us to have dinner and a visit before the conference really gets started.

That is perfect. I check into the hotel, drop my bags in my room, and register for the conference. I got a ribbon for being a repeat offender, I mean attender.

I am happily playing with my ribbon when my phone buzzes again. Another text from the kid.

It’s looking like 7 PM for a wrap and she has to go out and buy swim suits for the shoot. Fine. Fine. It’s New York. I can find something to do.

I make like I’m brave and walk out of the hotel. No direction or anything. I find an Irish Pub around the corner and decide my mission has been accomplished. Kate and I love pubs. It’s close to the hotel. Even if she’s a bit late, we can make the walk, have a couple of pints, share a couple of nibbles and laughs, and there will still be time for me to prepare for the morning.

Cell phone again. It’s going to 8 PM on the wrap. Sorry mom.

Not a problem. I am tired anyhow. It has already been a long week. Back to the hotel room. Turn on my laptop and play with my WIP. I paid for a pitch session, and although my queen tells me pitches are the tool of the devil, I’m doing it.  I find I, myself, have always been one of the devil’s favorite tools, and I think a little face time with agents and editors can only help. I can tell if they are worthy if I get a good sniff.

Why did I write such a damn weird book? What was I thinking? I mean I love it, but are there millions of other people out there willing to go full weird? I worry. I order room service.

Cell phone once more. Another text. A long barrage of random curse words from my daughter followed by, maybe 9 PM. Maybe. She’s starving, she says.

I order salad and sweet things. We can crash in the room. She has to be back on set at the crack of dawn the next morning. Paying those dues sucks and honestly, it never ends.

I continue playing with my WIP – it really is just playing at this point. Parts of it are pretty damn good. Parts still need work. I should get it to my beta readers soon. Oh, perhaps I should formalize the whole beta reader thing soon? I make a note of it. Some of you may get pleading emails from me in the next few days. I’ve been at this writing thing for a bit so feel free to reject. I’m used to it.

Maybe the structure needs a tweak or small explosion here and there. Why did I write such an odd book? I must be as insane as my reputation claims. Ah well, what can you do?

Cell phone buzzes in another text a good bit after 9, another barrage of curse words and murderous thoughts. The kid no longer has an ETA.

I caution the kid that homicide of directors is not a career building activity despite the wisdom of that movie, Swimming With Sharks.  What a fantastic film.

The last moments of Thursday are almost gone when my daughter appears at my door. She woofs down the salad, strips off her clothes, gets in the shower (after rifling through my suitcase to borrow some clothes), and then collapses on spare bed. I was marginally prepared for this so she has a clean t-shirt to sleep in.

So I am at the gift shop at dawn, 6 Am on Friday, buying clean underwear and a toothbrush so the kid can be marginally less grimy when she returns to the set. And so this story begins.

To be continued…

Clothing Optional

Say you live to be 80 years old. That is a good, long life. A bit better than average. That’s 28,160 days dancing on this earth.

That is a fine number but a decidedly finite one. How does the song go?

It’s only forever, not long at all…

Most days for most of us are unremarkable. We are such creatures of routine. So days, minutes, hours are meaningless in and of itself. Time spinning through an hour glass we are hopeless to stopper.

Life really comes down to those moments that distinguish themselves from the others in ecstasy or agony.

So here I sit sipping a Manhattan with my daughter and her customary glass of wine with this view at sunset. My daughter and I traveled to Asheville, NC to visit the Grove Park Inn and Spa. It is a mother and daughter retreat we had planned for sometime. When we planned it, Kate’s plan to move to New York had been tentative. Now, in less than two weeks time, she will be gone. How often life changes on a moment.

I will remember these two days with a mixture of awe and pain. I had never been to a spa, would tell you I am not a spa person. But I am a mother, and a spa seemed a grown up mother and daughter trip, a way for two women to share some time on equal ground. There was not time or resources for longer travel so we drove here to take a single day away from the chaos. Kate has so much to do before she drives up to her new apartment in Brooklyn, New York. And then who knows?

My brother and parents, and most everyone in my life, says she will come home one day, not to worry. No one really leaves the South. Yes, that seems true for most that I have known. However, I feel deep in my gut, a painful recognition, that this will not be the case with Kate.

My daughter may visit as she can, but she is never coming home again. In her heart, she has always been a New Yorker. Her father was from New York, and while I divorced him very early in Kate’s life, his family adored Kate and she spent many vacations in New York City. Every time she would come home, she would tell me someday she would live there, even when she was a tiny girl. So my emotions split between joy and loss during the two days in Asheville.

My daughter and I are as different as fire and rain and as alike as ice and water. The spa was enchanting place, far exceeding my expectations and far less awkward than I feared. We spent the day in pools, swimming laps, enjoying hot tubs, sitting in a steaming pool, sipping wine, and ending with long stone massages. We chatted quietly, but as usual as of late,  Kate’s attention was elsewhere most of the time.

When my daughter was little and new, she clung to me so fiercely, wanted to share everything with me, wanted to be included in everything. My mother used to fuss at me because Kate was so attached to me. I was told I would spoil the child into uselessness. My mother can rest easy now. Kate no longer clings to me at all.

At the beginning of our spa day, we were given a tour of the spa. We came to the woman’s whirlpool and sauna. The tour guide told us this area was clothing optional. I cringed with my own modesty. My daughter chose the optional bit.

I could not imagine being so bold. Kate has a confidence and courage I wish I could claim for myself. She is also young, brash, fiercely opinionated, and impulsive. That can and probably will get her in trouble or at least introduce her to some humility now and again. It is the way of things. She’s an adult, and she will have to learn like the rest of us do. My part is over now.

Time to let go. When clothing is optional, I have no say in what choice Kate makes. Life is now hers for the taking and the living.

Week 5 2016 -Frankie’s Bookshelf

FrankieBookshelfIt’s not been what you would call an organized week. Or life. It’s mostly been like Frankie’s bookshelf. This is the shelf next to the back door with the basket with all of Frankie’s junk; her leash, her collar, her treats, spare toys, and what have you. It’s also one of several bookshelves in the house.

Aside from Frankie’s basket which has earned its place due to convenience, nothing else on my bookshelves are guaranteed their spots. I have never organized books or knick knacks, not by genre, author, or anything else. Not even by series. Books wander about the house freely so they are able to explore various positions on shelves, in the pile next to the bed, in boxes, in bags, in closets, and other dimensions that transect with my living quarters. I really should get more bookshelves.

IMG_0398 I like the chaos. It suits me. Except when I am looking for that one special book and have no idea where it is. That about describes my life. I have all the stuff I need, but it’s never in a place I can find it when I want it. I am pretty sure this is what happened to the pet Scotsman I have always wanted. He ended up on some shelf and I have no idea which one.

I get the feeling my pug knows where any book (or Scotsman) is at any given time, but she’s not going to tell me. In fact, I suspect she takes books out in the night and moves them. She is a very well-read pug. And she definitely does not want to be usurped by a Scotsman so I fear the poor fellow has been sentenced to some parallel universe where we will never meet.

That’s about the story of my week and my life. I seldom get what I want, but I almost always get what I need. Isn’t that the way the song goes?

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”  – The Rolling Stones

 

Godspeed, Uncle Irving

IMG_0108After an extended stay in Carkoon and the glittering cone of silence, I received a single rejection in the last two weeks. The agent sent a kind letter which basically said, great story but the manuscript is too long. I discussed this problem with other writers and such out in the blogosphere, and it seems that as a debut author, I must once more cut down the word count in my manuscript. I am trying to do that before any more full requests come in (hope springs eternal). That is where I have been and where I will remain until the task is accomplished. I so want to work on my new book, The Pirate Queen, but that will have to wait. I must sell the current book for the new book to have a place to belong.

The apocalypse is proceeding slowly. The white horse is no longer lost. Its rider is dividing us as he claims to be uniting us. Hint, when an antichrist unites, he simply slaughters (and I mean that literally) all that oppose him. His supporters, sickeningly, cheer the slaughter or blindly never know about it. Their ignorance, blissful and willful, prevents them from even realizing there is anything to oppose. And so this master manipulator of men, hidden in shadow, seldom seen in the light, rides his white horse.  He’s there. He’s riding. The blood red horse is bridled and chomping at the bit, and there’s not a damn thing I can do to stop it. So, I’m just going to keep writing.

My great uncle Irving passed away this past week. I am certain that was the rapture at work. He was a truly good man, and Heaven awaits him. If Heaven did not exist neither would men like Irving Massey. He was in his late nineties when he took his last breath, escaping mortality’s grasp after an extraordinary life. He fought in World War II, came home, was stricken by polio, married the sweetest woman you can imagine, produced four children, and enriched the lives of all who knew him.

I always forgot about the wheelchair. No matter how often I saw my uncle Irving, I always forgot that he could not walk. He shined with love and kindness, and that was all you saw, not the wheel chair, or the human frailty. Such was the magnitude of his spirit, that despite all the horrors he witnessed and the challenges that he endured, he remained among us for almost a century.

It is the ending of an era. May he rest in peace. There are too few men like him in this dirty world. If only the rest of us could live our lives in such kindness, love, courage, generosity, and gratitude, the rider of the white horse would be rendered impotent. Godspeed, Uncle Irving.