Rhymes and Reasons

Hoorah! It is with great joy that I announce my grand entrance into the 21st century. I’ve published an e-book, and if you read this blog with any regularity, you know that the fact that I actually did it is a modern-day miracle. I’ve lost 78 pounds in the process. I’ve pulled out my hair in clumps. If I were a yard, I’d have to re-sod patches of my scalp. The remaining strands have turned white, and my left eye twitches non-stop. It’s all terribly attractive. My family has washed their hands of me, my friends are all hiding.  My husband now sleeps on the sofa at night and my dog hates my guts.

But I did it, by clickety. I wrote and studied and tutorialed. I formatted, unformatted, reformatted and cursed a lot. I considered adopting a drug and alcohol dependency, but my brain barely works as it is. Best not to mess with those few remaining cells.

My goal, besides (hopefully) generating a little income, was to learn how to do this self-publishing thing.  I have a vault full of stories and essays, but I wanted to start small and simply. I wrote a lot of poems and went about the task of compiling them into an e-book. It’s not a big book, or an important book, and it’s definitely not a great book– just a little volume of mostly-humorous, light verse.

I hear what you’re thinking . “Ugh!” your brain whispers, “I’d rather jab a fork into my eye than read poetry.”

I beseech you to lay the utensil down. Rethink your position. This is a book of poetry for people who don’t read poetry, developed especially for you by the maker of my mind.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, if Emily Dickinson were a middle-aged woman fighting on the frontline of  a hormonal battlefield. It’s like Shakespeare, if Shakespeare had low self-esteem and an issue with meter.  It conjures the dulcet, silvery tone of Lord Byron, had Byron been tone-deaf and stuck in the house all day with only a wee, neurotic Chihuahua for company.  If you normally avoid poetry like  nuns avoid online dating, you’re going to like this book. I hope. As a professionally trained compulsive worrier, I can’t be certain, but I have a hunch.

Now comes the next step– publicizing.

I’m a Facebook failure, a LinkedIn loser. I’m Twitterphobic.  People talk about branding themselves and all I can think of are those poor cows you see standing around in pastures with a big “Bar K Ranch” emblem seared onto their butts. Ouch. I have to make an attempt, though. I’ve to get out there with the big boys and let the world know about my itty-bitty book. So I’m asking a favor– please go to my new Facebook page and hit “like.” You can find it by clicking here.  There, you’ll find updates on my doings. There will be links and contests, special offers and whatnot. Lots and lots of whatnot.

Peculiar Rhymes and Intimate Observations: A Book of Light Verse is available on Amazon, in the Kindle Store. Here’s the link, along with a few sample pages. You can also purchase it on Smashwords by clicking here. It’s formatted for every device, including, I think, the toaster oven. There are versions for Nook, Kindle, iPhone, Sony Reader, Adobe Digital and the good old-fashioned computer monitor, among others.

Your feedback is welcome and enormously appreciated. Your support means the world. Please feel free to shoot me e-mails, offer suggestions, post comments, write reviews and buy books! I hope it’s as much fun for you to read as it was for me to write. Not the publishing part though. That sucked.

Special Offer: For the next ten days, those who “Like” my new Facebook page will receive 15% off of the whopping $2.99 listed price when you buy at Smashwords. What a bargain! 

 

The Debil’s in the Details

Note: This is long and rambling and boring, but I’m following up on my earlier post about the creative writing class that I taught. You may want to skip it, I just have to finish what I started. If you’re a glutton for punishment and want to start at the beginning, here’s part one.

*****

So where was I? Oh, yes, I was telling you about the class I taught to fourteen developmentally disabled adults, and the book they wrote. Oh, and how the place where I taught it never asked me back, because they accidentally confused me with a satanist or something.

I’m having a harder time writing this than I’d anticipated. The story is long, and the explanation of how they did it is longer. Tears keep welling up as I remember each of the class members. No matter how I word this, it’s going to sound condescending or patronizing. I don’t want to use words like “innocent” or “childlike” or phrases like, “full of wonder,” though these descriptions are accurate.

For the few weeks that this class lasted, I shared the company of people who were so unique, so individualistic in their thinking, and so much less “bullshitty” than many adults I’ve encountered. This isn’t to take away from us non-disabled people. It’s just that we’re wired in a more complicated way than these folks. We’ve learned more tricks, more defenses, we wear more masks- one for home, one for work, one for the rest of the world. My mentally challenged friends at this agency had none of this. It was a Bullshit Free zone, and I loved it.

I wanted everyone to start the class feeling like writers. I told them that at the back of most books, there is a short biography of the author. So they composed their own biographies. I asked them a few questions, and wrote their answers on index cards. Today, as I was rereading these, I started blubbering all over again, remember each person and what they were like. I’ll share their bios with you after the story.

The class members were a diverse mix of personalities ranging in age from eighteen to mid-fifties. Shawn had problems with anger at first, but ended up being a sweetheart. His girlfriend Sheila was quiet and polite. Mike bore a striking resemblance to Baby Huey; Paula was too shy to lift her head from the table for the first couple of classes. Mark could hardly speak or move at all, yet as he struggled through each nearly unintelligible word, no one rushed him, and no one was ever unkind or impatient. Some of them even helped translate things he said. Susie was sweet and gentle, Andrea was silly and feisty.

My favorite was a beautiful young man named José, who’d fallen to the bottom of a swimming pool at the age of two and nearly drowned. He lost much of his mental and physical capacities on that day, yet he was more eloquent than many adults I’ve known. Words were a struggle, but writing wasn’t. At the end of class, he brought me notebooks full of beautiful poems that he’d written. José most definitely was a romantic.

Next, we got down to the business of the story itself. The class had to decide what it would be about. It was fairly easy. This was during the Lord of the Rings craze, and they were all into magic and fantasy. They wanted a good old fashioned yarn about a princess, a dragon and a dwarf.

Grumpy old Shawn insisted that the princess’s name would be Sheila, after his girlfriend. In turn, Sheila insisted that the hero be named Shawn. The unique title for the story? “Sheila the Princess.”

All along the way, we discussed characters, plot, and description. Every part of the story was argued over, hashed out and the final decision voted on, from the color of the princess’s hair and the shape of the dwarf’s ears, to the manner in which the dragon would be slain. They would shout out their plentiful ideas, which I would write on a dry erase board. Sometimes they’d argue, but then they’d vote, and majority ruled. No one was ever upset if their idea ended up getting vetoed.

I had to figure out how fourteen people who could barely write their names could collaborate on an actual book. I brought a tape recorder in, and designated a seat at the head of the table as The Author’s Chair. Each person would be given approximately five minutes to tell their part of the story, with each author picking up where the last one left off. I would ask questions to clarify things, or if the class members wanted to interject or make changes, we’d stop the story telling for another vote.

At first, the tape player intimidated them, or they’d lean into it and talk loudly, as they would to a deaf grandparent. They soon got used to it though. My god, it was amazing to just watch them sit there, proud and in charge, going off on insanely wild tangents and painting their part of the story, one after another. They all helped each other, and when I say they argued, it was really more like a non-stop spirited discussion. They all treated each other with a lot of respect.

Before the last class, I transcribed the tapes. I didn’t change their words, but I edited a little for cohesion. I also added a few pictures that I found in Microsoft Word.

I took the pages to a printing place (whose name I won’t mention) to have copies made. I wanted two copies for each author– one for themselves and one for their families. I had a few made for the staff as well. The printer was so delighted about the project that not only did he not charge me, but he bound the books for free as well. They looked great.

The last night of class, I presented the authors with their books, and read the completed story to them. One of the staff members came in to hear it too. Everyone listened quietly while I read their tale of Sheila, The Dragon Master, and Pumpkin the dwarf. When I came to the words, “The End,” the class whooped and hollered, jumped from their seats and gave high fives all around. They autographed each others’ books, and basked in the pride that they felt for their achievement. It was a great moment.

We all hugged, said our goodbyes, and they left. The staff member sat in her chair as I cleaned up. I was still giddy from the whole experience. “It was such a great class,” I told her.

She looked at me through squinty little eyes and said, “Y’know what I thank? I thank the administrators ain’t gonna like this at all. You gotta remember that this is Arkansas. These people come from religious families and they don’t like all this supernatural stuff. They think it’s satanic.”

I was floored. I never considered that this would be considered evil. In fact, in my mind, it was all quite beautiful. While other volunteers were teaching check writing and floor vacuuming (granted, important skills for them to learn), we had actually created something tangible that the students could keep forever.

But you know, she was right. I was never called or thanked or invited back. That’s the way one expresses one’s dissent in Arkansas.

Here was my real thanks though. Every time I saw one of those students when I was out and about, I was greeted with a hug. They remembered my name, and they remembered our experience. They were still excited about it.

This was all about five years ago. My mother was visiting the town a few months back, and she recognized one of the students. It was Sheila (the Princess), and she was walking home from the bus stop in the rain. My mother had attended one of my classes and recognized her. She offered her a ride home. Sheila remembered the class, the story, and she told my mother that she still has her book.

I just hope she’s not casting any spells.

Next: Sheila the Princess. Really.

31 Things About Me

You may have felt that something was missing from your life today. Perhaps you were thinking, “Gosh, I really feel like I need to know 31 things about an anonymous blogger.” If that’s the case, you’re in luck. Here are 31 random things about me.

1: One of my first jobs was as a singing telegram girl.

2: The man who would become my (now ex) husband owned the singing telegram company.

3: I lived and worked on a blueberry farm for a while.

4: The most famous person I delivered a telegram to was Tim (“Rocky Horror Picture Show”) Curry.

5: I used to go to a lot of rock concerts.

6: During my marriage, I lived in a trailer with three walls for a long time. Chickens would come in through the holes in the cabinets from under the trailer, and I’d find eggs in my living room.

7: The marriage didn’t last long.

8: I used to freelance writing greeting cards and button slogans.

9: Growing up in Memphis during the 60′s and 70′s was an amazing experience.

10: The only foods I’m not fond of are eggs, potato salad and cole slaw.

11: When I was little, we were poor. We ate a LOT of eggs.

12: My parents fought a lot when when I was a kid. It made it hard to sleep. My grades sucked.

13: The first day I drove alone for the first time, I backed into a cement light post. The globe fell off the post and onto the trunk of my mother’s car, leaving a crater-sized indentation. Amazingly, no one noticed for weeks, and when they finally did, I feigned ignorance.

14: I fessed up to the dent when I was in my early thirties.

15: As a teenager, I once OD’d on Valium I found in a medicine cabinet of some people I was babysitting for. The parents could barely revive me. They took me home, and no one there seemed to notice.

16: As a young person, I was a fairly self-destructive.

17: I miss my father every day.

18: My mother is one of my best friends.

19: I once auditioned for a musical with my best friend from high school. She was a trained singer, and I’d never sung in front of anyone before the audition. I got a role, and she didn’t. She was furious.

20: The leading lady dropped out of the musical, and they asked me to replace her, but I declined because I was too shy.

21: When I was a kid, I’d barricade myself in my room for hours and sing along to my mother’s albums.

22: I used to have a piano.

23: I wish I still had a piano.

24: I can’t really play piano.

25: I once saw Allen Ginsberg perform, “Howl.”

26: I once played a lamb in a television commercial.

27: The costume made me hyperventilate.

28: I was born in Florida, near the beach.

29: I can’t swim.

30: I am very competitive when it comes to word games.

31: I once taught a writing class to developmentally disabled adults. The book they wrote is one of my treasured possessions.