Tales From the South!

Update: I was so excited when writing this post that I screwed up some of the links and instructions. Corrections have been made. 

 

The podcast from the radio show is available! There are several ways you can listen–here are a few:

♦ NPR: http://www.npr.org/rss/podcast/podcast_detail.php?siteId=106926336  

(This isn’t the easiest way to listen–in fact, you may not be able to find it there by the time you read this. I just like typing “NPR!”)

♦ Stitcher Radio: Go to www.stitcher.com or download the free app. Enter TFTS-157

♦ iTunes: Go to the iTunes store and click on “podcasts.” In the search bar, enter TFTS-157

My story’s called “About Face.”  It’s at around the 39 minute mark, but I hope you’ll listen to the entire show. It’s wonderful. I also hope you understand Southernese. The accents are as thick as kudzu.

Happy listening! 

*Amadeus came up with the title, which I love. 

Storm Clouds in Lalaland

I’ve been residing in Lalaland for many years now. It’s fabulous here–the weather’s warm, but not too warm, there’s glitter in the tree bark and no one ever has intestinal problems. The fishing is excellent. People are kind. Here, IRS stands for “I’m Reading Salinger.” Bills are the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. In Lalaland, I sit at my desk and write stories (that are sure to be best-sellers), while the laundry magically washes itself.  I sort of look like Gisele Bundchen.

But I have to admit, despite living in this zip code (which, by the way is !!!!!), I sometimes get discouraged. Writing isn’t just an occupation, it’s a lifestyle choice, one that sometimes involves isolation, frustration and a smattering of poverty. It’s okay-we’re good with it. Amadeus believes in me and I work hard to earn the honor. But sometimes it rains, even in Lalaland.

A week and a half ago, clouds began to form. I sat upstairs writing, a pursuit which I live in hope will someday increase our income. Optimism is a huge part of the Lalaland experience.

Six weeks earlier, I’d sent a story to Salon.com, and never received a confirmation or a reply. I wrote back to the editor–you know, just a “Hello how are you did you read my story do you like it will you publish it” thing. I never heard a word back, which to me, is more of a rejection than a rejection letter. Note to editors: It takes less than thirteen seconds to type “It sucks” into the body of an email.

A bit of self-loathing starting glomming onto me. What the hell am I doing? I asked myself. Why am I wasting my time? I’m a hack. I’m not making any money at this. And why is my hair so frizzy? It was the end of the month, a tough time for us financially. Thunder began to rumble in Laland. Physically, I was feeling like a baked potato–sort of lumpy, untalented and unattractive. In an unfortunate cost-cutting move, I went into the bathroom and hacked off a bunch of my hair.  It looked awful, but it took my mind off of writing for a while. After a few more hours of aimless typing, combined with three rounds of Candy Crush Saga and some moping, I went to bed.

The thing about storm clouds in Lalaland is that they move quickly. Sun rays start peeking out. I woke up the next morning, and boy, howdy, were there rays. I went downstairs, chugged some coffee and started a glorious new week. Here’s how things progressed:

Sunday: Checked my e-mail and found that one of my stories had been accepted for a regional NPR radio program! A special live, one-hour broadcast–the first in the show’s eight-year history. The producer wrote that it would be streamed around the world via satellite radio and would be podcast too. I almost tinkled from joy. Oh my gosh, you should have seen Amadeus. He was so proud.

Monday: Got a t-shirt in the mail from a musician friend of Amadeus’, along with two of his CDs. This was, I think, because I told him I love Jack Handey. That night, I had a lovely phone conversation with a blog friend in Portland, our first. It was so nice to hear her voice after so many years of typing to each other.

Tuesday: Freaked out half the day about the radio show. What would I wear? What about my hair? How could I lose ten pounds in five days? Was a face lift possible? The show was in front of a live audience, and was to be videotaped. I told Amadeus, “It’ll be fine. Surely I’ll find something in the closet that will work.” Between you and me, I was a little sad, but what could I do? As I’ve said, I chose this lifestyle, and it’s just not a hair salon, new dress type of deal.

Wednesday: Opened e-mail. Received notice of a PayPal donation from a friend/reader in New Zealand, the largest in the history of this blog. He wasn’t aware of any of the above–it was just a huge, serendipitous act of generosity. It still overwhelms me to talk about it, but you can read about it here.

Thursday: Bill paying! Shopping! Later, a friend came over with a miraculous hair straightening tool. I modeled my beautiful new copper-colored dress, and she and Amadeus oohed and aahed. Later, I went to hear my hubby make music with some other seriously talented musicians, and a drunk lady gave me her bracelet. I’ve since returned it, but it was such a nice gesture. Plus, it went with the dress.

Friday-Saturday: Insane non-stop fidgeting, worrying, stressing, but in an upbeat way. I asked Amadeus to take a pic of me in the new dress, so I could see what it’d look like on stage. I discovered I bore a striking resemblance to a Tootsie Roll. I rummaged around and finally found something I felt comfy in.*

Sunday: The Radio Show!** And another t-shirt! Followed by lovely people who told me how much they enjoyed my story! Followed by a margarita! Followed by a nap!

Monday: I was in the newspaper! Because of the above thing! I can’t stop typing exclamation points!

Tuesday: Another sweetheart of a blog friend, this one in New Hampshire, e-mailed to say that, in honor of the NPR show, he was sending me a gift–an entire mess of garlic from his garden and a new CD. It arrived today. Seeing that box of thoughtfulness sitting on the doorstep made my heart all melty. By the way, “a mess” equals fifteen bulbs.

There was so much goodness woven into the week, so many great moments. Songwriting with my hubby. The company of friends. Words of encouragement. Laughter. Little miracles here and there that let us know things are going to be okay.

The weather continues to improve. Life gets rough. Things gets tough. Then the world becomes beautiful once again. Rinse and repeat. That’s the way things work in Lalaland. I’m so fortunate, and so grateful. 

 

*It’s something I later discovered looked like a festive mumu on film, but living in Lalaland allows me to stay in denial about it until I see the video.

**I’ll post links to the podcast as soon as they become available.

 

 

 

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.