I Dreamt I Went to Heaven

I dreamt I went to Heaven,

and God reviewed the record,

of my days upon this Earth,

and of my past, so checkered.

As I stood there waiting,

Beside the pearly gates,

The Lord said, “Wow, your blog stats,

were really pretty great.

But your posts were mediocre,

Your Facebook page, third-rate.

Your LinkedIn was a shambles,

You never did updates.

Your YouTube vids were horrible,

(Though your grandchild is adorable)

Your e-books were deplorable,

Still, you begged readers to buy.

Your Pinterest board’s disorganized,

Your keywords weren’t optimized,

Your passwords all got compromised,

– “John Doe” will never fly.

So, I’m sorry we can’t take you,

Though I hope you won’t be bitter,

but we just don’t give out wings and harps,

to those who can’t use Twitter.”

She’s Still Teaching

Remember the story of Miss Reed, my first-grade teacher? It started with this one little post I wrote about her several years ago. About a  month ago, I followed it up with this one, about how I finally learned what became of that miracle worker of a woman.  Although she died a few years ago, I was able to contact her son and tell him of the lovely things his mother did for me when I was a little girl. A few days later, he wrote back:

“I apologize for not writing sooner…but each time I sat down to read through your letter in preparation for my reply, I was overwhelmed with emotions.  With each read, I could see my mother stooping over to put herself on a child’s level as she offered her carefully chosen words of encouragement and hope…She would be so pleased to hear that you pursued writing.  It was mother’s dream to write children’s books when she retired.  She believed that if you could nurture a child early enough, that child could later withstand the harsh realities of the world…Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences, because through your words and memories I was able to see my mother once again – A priceless gift…”

I assured him that her theory about nurturing children was dead on, and told him how upset I’d been to learn she was leaving our school at the end of first grade. “Your  wonderful mother invited me to your house that summer, to make the transition easier,” I wrote. “I played with puppies in your yard.” He wrote back and said that the family had moved to California that year. Mrs. Reed never did realize her dream of writing children’s books.  Alzheimer’s took over before she got the chance. But right before the end, she returned to her beloved Memphis, and was surrounded by her loved ones when she died.  

Last week was kind of a rough one around here. For days, I’ve been miserably sick.  One of Amadeus’ best friends was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The father of my daughter’s baby daddy died in his sleep the morning of The Boston Marathon. I think you get the picture. But a couple of gray and gloomy days ago, I checked my email, and there was another message from Mrs. Reed’s son. “I thought you might enjoy these,” he wrote. He’d made a little collage, six gorgeous photos of my former teacher, whose unreliable  image I’d been carrying in my head for forty-six years. There were Polaroids of her as a young woman and an old one, as a single mother and a grandmother. A black and white showed  her sitting on a sofa with her four small children, including the one writing me (who’s now a grandparent himself). As I studied them, my heart filled with gratitude and happiness. “I hope one of these pictures shows the smile you remember,” he wrote.

Indeed, one of them did. Although the hair was a different color, there was no mistaking that expression. It was the one I looked forward to seeing throughout first grade. Wasn’t she beautiful?

Mrs. Reed

I’ve never met the person who sent this to me, and I probably never will. But there’s some sort of love that permeates the online world. I like to think of it as the same kind of love, the same genuine kindness that flows between us during times of tragedy and grief. There may always be bombings and massacres–we share the Earth with people who do unspeakable things. But we also share it with the man who took the time to send a stranger photos of his mom. 

Release Your Inner Ham

I was invited to read one of my stories at an event I’ve grown very fond of. It’s held every couple of months in the lounge of a hotel in a neighboring town, and participants are given fifteen glorious minutes to perform. They invite you once; if you’re decent, they invite you back. “You’re family now,” the organizer told me after my first go-round, which made me feel happy, as though I’d successfully carried out a hit and had been invited to join the Gambino family.

It’s different every time. The other night, there were four poets, a magician, a comedian and popular local singer. I was the sole storyteller on the bill, the only woman performing (though the emcee was female), and one of the oldest human beings on the stage. I took the responsibility seriously. Holding people’s attention for fifteen minutes can be tricky, especially when alcohol’s involved.

The first poet read a piece that had to do with salvation and redemption. The emcee introduced the second  as a Christian slam poet. Easter and the Holy Trinity were discussed for a few minutes, and silently, I thanked the little inner voice that convinced me to switch stories at the last minute. Originally, I’d planned to read one about my father, for whom English was a second language and cursing, his native tongue. If people really do go to Hell for taking the Lord’s name in vain, I’m sure that Satan’s little helpers met Dad at the entrance and awarded him some sort of engraved plaque. Still, the story I’d decided on–one about my younger brother and our twisted childhood plots of vengeance-contained a few salty sailor words, and I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received.

The emcee introduced me and I stepped up to the platform, placed my papers on the music stand that Amadeus had brought for me and took a deep breath.

“My father used to endearingly refer to my mother as ‘bitch,’ ‘whore’ and ‘slut,’” I began, “When he was at a loss for more eloquent terms, he knocked her around. He was a load of fun.”

I heard some muttering, a few gasps and an “Oh my…” Uh oh. I plowed ahead.

“We kids were held to a higher standard of behavior. Not by Dad– we could have smoked crack in kindergarten and he wouldn’t have cared. But Mom was convinced that God was watching our every nose pick, and we knew that she was too.” Things got quieter. 

There’s something magical involved in the process of sharing our stories with others. It changes the air in the room. As I continued, I began to hear the most beautiful sounds. I was trying to be cool, but it’s just so damned rewarding when a gasp turns into a “mmmm hmmm,” an “amen” or an “ain’t that the truth.” To me, they’re the sounds of people relating to a familiar feeling or situation, the recognition of a shared experience. It’s the song of us bonding as human beings.

On Saturday night, for a quarter of an hour, I was wrapped in a blanket of laughter and goodwill. Looking out into the crowd, I saw lovely faces that seemed to register expressions of interest and happiness, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t alcohol-induced (not much, anyway). I looked over and saw Amadeus, grinning like crazy, which was loveliest of all. 

I sit in front of my laptop for hours a day, doing my thing, writing stories and essays and posts on this blog. Weeks can pass in which my only face to face adult interactions are with Amadeus and the cashier at Walgreen’s. Public readings and open mic nights break the cycle of solitude. Listening to the works of others pings my brain and makes me want to cheer. I’m enthralled when wordslingers read–I love hearing the intonations that were in their heads when they created their work. Words splash the air and flow into the audience; creativity fills every inch of the room. It’s sweet and warm, like being dipped in melted chocolate.

The opportunity to share my own work and interact with an audience thrills me. It’s not only a chance to meet new people, but an exchange of understanding, a connection of hearts and minds. It also allows me to release my inner ham. I can get pretty dramatic with all of this.

The other night, after I finished the story, the audience applauded (twice!), the emcee was an enthusiastic angel, and later, a few nice folks told me how much they’d enjoyed it. The Christian slam poet got downright gushy (despite my swear words) and a sweet old lady in white stretch pants held on to my hand and thanked me over and over. It delighted me, but I also felt a bit graceless and shy. I become a wreck when people ask where they can read more of my work, when they inquire about my blog and the things I’ve published. I haven’t yet figured out how to integrate my dual personalities– the one who loves to read aloud and the one who prefers to write under a pseudonym. I should probably be using these opportunities to network or gain exposure, but instead I stammer and stutter. I freeze like a sno-cone and fight the urge to do this:

 

But reading in public is good for me, and I urge those of you who are writers to give it a try. Releasing one’s inner ham is freeing. I was floating on a fluffy cloud of creativity the other night, and I’m still hovering today. It charges my batteries. It sparks my spirit. It reminds me that somehow, what I’m doing is worthwhile.