Where I write

Where I write

April 15, 2015

Fear of Flying..

     My mother tap danced when she was a little girl. No my mother wasn't Shirley Temple, but I always pictured her looking like Shirley Temple. Patent leather shoes, frilly dress, impish smile. Growing up, I watched Shirley dancing in old black and white movies,  and hearing those  sharp and bright clicks and clacks made me want to do the same. Life looked happier tap dancing.

    I might be wrong, but when I was growing up my town lacked a dance studio. In any case, I never took dance lessons as a kid. My mother's casual comments about her childhood tap dancing stayed with me. I wanted to be like her and Shirley. I wanted to don twirly dresses and make joyful sounds with my feet. I wanted to be a tap dancer.

    Alas it wasn't to be until about ten years ago when a tap class was offered at the local community college. The school even provided shoes. Granted the tap shoes were child-like, patent leather with bows, but I jumped, or shall I say, tapped at the chance. Hilary, the dance teacher was kind and patient. The class moved slow, and my brain and feet moved faster then.  I had just bought my own pair of tap dance shoes when the college canceled the tap classes for lack of interest and never offered them again. I tossed my tap dance shoes in the closet.

   There the shoes remained in the dark silence, until about a year or so ago. By chance I saw  an advertisement for a dance studio that offered tap. Remembering my college experience as pleasant and though not that easy, something I could do fairly well, I attended my first tap class at the local dance studio.

      I felt as if I landed in rehearsals for Dancing with the Stars. The women at the dance studio were serious. They were all practicing a routine as if they were about to be on Broadway. Surely, I thought, these women were all taught to dance as children because this couldn't be the first time they slipped on tap shoes. I felt slow and plodding, and the weak link in the class. I would have been the first to be tossed off the dance island.

     The studio billed the class as fun and welcoming to all. Everyone was nice, but they were serious. As time passed, I recognized what a blow it was to my ego to realize how lacking I was in advanced tap dance skills. Oh yes I can tap, but compared to these women in the class...I wanted to quit. Why should I put myself through this humiliation when clearly... I sucked?

. Because it was good for me.  I wasn't being shamed. Well, not by anyone but myself. I was learning. I had fun when I stopped comparing myself to everyone else. I remembered how I felt in my initial writing class. My journalism teacher put so much red ink on my first assignment it looked as if the paper bled. I didn't give up. I understood there is a learning curve. But time has passed. These days, I like to feel in control and in charge. I like to feel like I'm smart. Dare I say, at times, a know it all. However, life keeps showing me time and again I have a lot to learn.  There's a lot of mistakes to be made still in my life. Thank goodness I have the chance.

.  So I continued with tap dancing, and when my ego felt wounded I told myself that there are people who struggle just to have clean water and food each day. My problem with not learning the steps fast enough to a Michael Jackson song seemed far less important. And then surprise surprise with practice I got better. I did well. Recently, the dance studio closed for good, but I'm going to keep tap dancing. Somewhere.

     I found this book at the thrift store recently and enjoyed the quotes. Here's one which sums up what I hope to adapt as not just my dancing motto, but life in general.  It was said by, of all people, Sam Walton. So if some of you can put aside your dislike of Walmart, the evil empire, here it is.

      Celebrate your success and find humor in your failures. Don't take yourself so seriously. Loosen up and everyone around you will loosen up. Have fun and always show enthusiasm. When all else fails put on a costume and sing a silly song.

     Unsure if Sam followed this advice. He's dead now, but I appreciate the words. As I do this photo of Shirley. She's flying! Whatever makes our feet lift off the ground, we need to do more of and not worry a bit about how it may or may not look. Never be afraid to fly.  With or without tap shoes.

 

April 2, 2015

Sugar and Spice and everything is not so nice....


      Here I am, a sweet little girl dressed in pure white standing between my dear cousins who came to celebrate my first communion. Ah but all is not as it seems. Behind that innocent smile was less sugar and everything was not nice.

     Oh yes I behaved like a good girl. I was polite to adults and listened to my teachers. I didn't sit on my little brother and try to squish him. Not that often. I ate all my vegetables and behaved. I loved my parents.  I did as I was told. I never was sent to the principal's office or fought with my friends.
     Until I took out my Barbie doll and became. Well...nasty.
      My best friend Gloria said to me once as we played with our dolls in my bedroom, "you get so mean when we play Barbies." I remember thinking she was right. I did. But her comment didn't stop me. I secretly liked being bad. My Barbie was sassy and bossy and didn't want anyone to tell her what to do.  She didn't say yes. She said no. A lot. She argued. Not just with the other Barbies, or Midge or Skipper, but also with her boyfriend, Ken. He could do no right.
    My Barbie and Ken wore these same outfits to the beach.   Ken sure was a snazzy dresser. His sandals even matched his red bathing suit. And what about the peppermint stripped cover up he is wearing? Maybe I felt threatened and upset with Ken because he turned the heads of not just the women, but some of the men, at the beach, too.

   One Christmas Santa brought me the Barbie dream house and the sport's car. I was thrilled. I wouldn't let my friends drive the car. When they visited my house, I made sure they did not mess up my cardboard chair and matching ottoman or play with the stereo without my permission. It was my dream house. When I played with my Barbie, I was the one in charge. In real life, I let my friends romp all over my bedroom but when it came to my Barbie Dream House...the boundaries were drawn tight.
   At my Barbie dream house no one could tell me when to go to bed or what dress I had to wear to school. I could wear my high heels and earrings all day long and never clean my room if I didn't want to clean. I didn't have to share a thing with my pesky little brother. I could spend entire days at the beach with Ken, assuring him red was his color. Then call Midge on the phone and tell her off. And I didn't even drink wine then so I couldn't use the excuse it was the liquor talking.




  When I put my  Barbie away in her plastic case, I became my  good little girl self again. Certainly, a therapist could  analyze this and use phrases like repressed anger, and perhaps the experts would be correct. Or maybe I was just exercising an emotional muscle that I never had a chance to practice in my real good girl life. Eventually, I put away Barbie permanently and also learned to people please less and assert myself more. Took time but I thought I found the right balance.

   Until recently. I seem to have lost my filter. I worry I've become like my former neighbor Francis. She was in her 80s by the time I met her. A few months before she died the two of us were sitting and chatting near our townhomes. Another neighbor passed by, a young woman, and Francis blurted, "she's fat." I'm sure the woman heard. I felt terrible. But Francis didn't. Then Francis told me that my dog at the time, Buddy, was gay. "He likes other boy dogs," she said Which was true. But still.



    I once had a Midge doll. I cut her hair and used a mascara wand to dye it black. I think I must have been angry at someone to do this to poor Midge. I'm thinking in order to retain my friendships I might need to get dolls. Each time I want to say something that I should keep to myself such as, "why are you dating that loser?" Or, "are you really going to waste money again on that?" This is not a good way to keep friendships. Instead,  I will let the doll say all my mean thoughts just as I did when I was 10 year's old.

   But then sitting home surrounded by dolls and talking to them may not be the best idea. I'm thinking instead to pour all my opinions and biases and petty jealousies into the characters I write. Pretend when I write that I'm playing Barbies again and just let it all loose, to the fictional world rather than the real world. I'll embrace my inner nasty Barbie. As a result, I might be able to maintain a few more friendships so I'm not completely alone when my time comes.

    For those of you who don't like to write I would lend you my Midge doll but I threw her in the trash one day. Then I smiled and looked oh so sweet again.
 

March 12, 2015

Secrets that We Keep

    Journals make people nervous. Let me be more specific. Having someone who knows us find and read our journal can produce as much anxiety as walking naked on a public street. Unless you live in nudist camp, but I bet even people who wander in the buff keep their journals private if not his or her privates private. Above are my two journals that are at least 15 year's old. I'm not a journal writer, but at one time I tried. I got bored with my own thoughts. But that's just me.

 One journal is full and the other half full, both contain a lot of angst, and fear and a whole lot of whining. I wouldn't want the world to read either. But then journal writing is not intended for an audience. 

     Journals are suppose to be a safe place to express one's feelings knowing that no one else will ever read what is written.  In a perfect world that is.  I knew a woman who  burned her journals for fear what she wrote would be read. (My imagination sprang to life when she told me that. Had she robbed a bank? Been married 10 times?)  Some people store journals in secret locations. Other people freak out when they lose their journal. I've met people who  refuse to even write in a journal for fear it might someday be read.
    Recently, the writer Anne Lamott said in an interview that she was thrilled when her deceased father's journal was given to her by a woman who had lived with her father. It probably felt as if he had come back to life, if only on the page. Anne said she loved her dad, a writer, a lot and they were close. He died some years ago. She had some happy expectations when she opened his journal.  Much to her surprise her dad wrote some nasty things about her and her lifestyle at the time. She was angry and deeply hurt. How does one yell at a dead person? Eventually, she was able to put it in perspective and forgive him. Still, it stung, as of course it would. Spoken words can be forgotten but when it is in black white. Harder to forget and forgive.

     Then there are the old fashioned letters. Remember them? How quaint the concept now seems, paper, envelopes and stamps.
   In this book that literary critics panned, but the public loved, a farm woman in Iowa dies and her children find her old love letters. The steamy letters were written by the loyal wife and mother to a handsome photographer of historic bridges who had passed through town. The letters are hot enough to warm up a cold Iowa night.  The farm woman and the photographer enjoyed more together than old wood buildings over water. Though the book was fiction, the premise was believable enough for it to be a best seller. Probably because we all have known or heard of someone who stumbles across an old letter(s)of a deceased relative. And we think we know people, right?

    Then there is email. We hit delete and it feels as if our words are gone forever. We are safe. Maybe not. 
Hillary is a prime example. Her emails will be made public. Whatever your politics, the thought that someone would publish all my emails makes me cringe. My mundane  emails about whether I should cut my hair, what I had for dinner, and discussions of how Enrique Iglesias is more handsome without the mole, would make people know how truly shallow I really am. 

Hillary said she mentions her yoga classes in her email. I don't blame her. Yoga is tough. 
    Maybe as I sometimes do, Hillary complained  about yoga teachers who expect us to be like circus performers. Maybe she said, "How can the teacher expect me to put my feet over my head without wrenching my back? I'm not 25 anymore." 

   Finally, I don't know what keeps me holding on to my two journals. Maybe I just like to read them now and then and feel smug at how much wiser, secure and happier I am now. Or maybe I read them and think I haven't changed all that much. Or maybe I just don't like to throw away anything I've written. 

      I'll end with a  quote from Anne Lamott. I promise not to write a mean thing about any of my family or friends. Until you are all dead. Then all bets are off. If I die first, go ahead and say what you like about me. Just don't read my journal.

February 24, 2015

Tea Leaf Reading 101

      In my novel I have a character named LaDonna who is a tea-leaf reading gypsy. Oh sure I know my LaDonna sounds stereotypical, but tea leaf reading interests me. Writers get to be selfish. Sitting all by my lonesome and writing  has to come with some benefit. When I worked for a newspaper, I was required to report upon school board and chamber of commerce meetings. For me, tedious and often downright sleep inducing, but I got a pay check which was nice. Now I get to write whatever I want to write. For free, but at least it's for me. That's even better, perhaps not for the checkbook, but for my soul.
     Of course, I want to entertain readers, too. All fiction writers want their readers to join them in the world he or she has imagined and written about in the pages of an engaging book. In my novel, I want you to come with me on a play date that includes a gypsy who will tell you your future in a tea cup. The dishes, the dog that needs walked and the taxes that must get done, can wait. I promise no one says on his or her death bed they wished they had kept a  cleaner house or had a nicer front lawn. 

One can't sit in a room alone day after day and just write. Alright I admit some writers do, but I get antsy.  Many writers travel, or take classes, do all sorts of fun stuff so they can write with authority on subjects. Leaving the keyboard and joining the real world can be beneficial.  So when the opportunity to take a tea leaf reading class, right in my own neighborhood, of course I had to attend. Here we are pondering our tea cups. There were about 20 women in the class, and there were tasty sweets, too! I never turn down sugar. My dentist thanks me for that. Keeps him busy.
I'm still learning, and have since  even bought a tea leaf reading book to understand the symbols. I don't intend to become LaDonna, trade writing for reading tea leaves. One basic thing to know, though, is you must use a cup with a wide bottom. No mugs. Preferably white.  Loose leaf tea is another requirement, and some understanding of what the symbols can mean. Intuition is as important as the tea. And there are other rituals, but I can't give away all my secrets.
What do you see? The woman teaching the class said she saw a man on the left walking and on the right, a figure, perhaps God, or other protective spirit, slightly above watching over the man. Or maybe you see something else. I liked the teacher's interpretation. 
I saw a fish tail in this clump of tea. Do you see the tail on the upper right? Maybe you just see a clump. The teacher said it looked like a bush which can mean new friends. A fish symbolizes good fortune and success. I like both takes.
I learned you don't have to dress up like this gal to be a tea leaf reader to be credible. Though I have to admit that is one cool hat she has on. Right? Writers usually have an idea of what  characters look like and then search for words to describe that image. I'm still struggling with describing my La Donna but getting closer. I like to think of her like the woman pictured below. Or maybe not. I guess I'm waiting for her to come to me. Writers get to say odd things like that.  I can't wait forever, though, so for now I'll just write.
I've always thought it would be great to have red hair. I'll never look this glamorous, or have such lovely skin, but it's fun to create a character who might. Another perk of writing. We get to inhabit the bodies and minds of people we will never get to be in real life. That's okay. 
I've got a cute cabbage tea pot (thanks Linda!), and when I'm needing a break from writing, I'm ready to practice tea leaf reading. Once I finish this novel, maybe I will make a character a scuba diver. I'd like to see that fish jump out of my tea cup and meet it eye to eye deep in the ocean blue.