Monday, January 11, 2016

Goodbye, Starman

I was poking around my older sister’s room, looking for I-Don’t-Know-What, mainly just wanting to feel close to her.  The giant, four-poster bed loomed large in the middle of the room, and I amused myself by swinging from the posts, hanging upside down and arching my back until my long, yellow hair grazed the brown shag carpet.

I often spent time in her room when she wasn’t home, combing her shelves looking for clues to the mysterious, grown-up charm of hers that I coveted. Among the pictures of horses, old Nancy Drew books, and Vogue magazines, I stumbled upon an album that caught my eye.



The stark contrast between the graphic black and white image and the bold red lettering drew me in, and it was nothing that the likes of my seven-year-old-self had ever seen.  And although I knew nothing of this artist or his music, I felt like maybe somehow, someday, I should.

*****

I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television set, eye-level with the VCR my parents had finally given in and purchased.

Rewind, Play, Repeat.

For a ten-year-old kid in 1980, pre-MTV, a VCR recording of Friday Night Videos was as good as it got.  The show came on every Friday night, and not only did I watch it live, I taped it and watched it over and over all day on Saturdays, pausing only to grab a Coke and throw a Totino’s pizza in the oven.

On this particular Saturday, I was mesmerized by the new video, Ashes to Ashes by David Bowie.



Haunting, trippy, bizarre, nonsensical, beautiful, sad.

All the things I felt as a young girl watching this video on repeat. 

My Dad, passing in and out of the room while puttering around the house on a Saturday, decided to stop and see what all the fuss was about.

“ What kind of strange music is that?”

“DAD! GO AWAY!”

“Why is that guy dressed like a clown?”

“DAD! GO!”

“ Why is he wearing makeup?”

“DAD!”

And so it went.  As my obsession with Bowie and his music grew, so did Dad’s teasing.

“So, how’s Jim BOO-ee (aka, the Texas revolutionary from the 1800s)?”

“Very funny. It’s DAVID Bowie, with a long O, Dad.”

“Really? Does he know he has a knife named after him?”

Sigh.

*****

My friend and I sat on her bed on a Friday night listening to Space Oddity, Changes, and Ziggy Stardust from ChangesOneBowie, playing each song over and over to decipher the lyrics.  She was a bit more poetic than I, and she seemed to grasp more meaning in the words than I did.

But although I'd only begun to scratch the surface of human experience and emotion in his songs, his music spoke to me with the familiarity of an old friend.

The gift that Bowie gave to me that day, throughout my adolescence, and even today, was the gift of settling.  Not settling in a bad way, as in, for something less, because that’s never what he did.  But settling, as in settling down and settling in...to my perceived weirdness, my otherness, my difference from what I saw when I looked around me.

He showed me that the world was a really big place, more than I could ever imagine, living in my one-dimensional suburban bubble.

I didn’t fit the cheerleader mold, or the athletic girl mold, the band girl mold, or even the Brainiac mold.  I didn’t really know where I fit in, and Bowie told me I didn’t have to fit in at all.

That I didn’t have to be one solitary answer on a multiple choice test, but that I could be ALL OF THE ABOVE.

He showed me that we are fluid beings, morphing and growing, built to break one's image of oneself as soon as it’s fixed. 

The thing about his death that gets me, really rips me in half, is that I was kind of counting on him to always be around to remind me of this.

Because there are days when I’m still not so sure.

One thing I am sure of is that when David Bowie entered the Pearly Gates, I bet my Dad was there to shake his hand and say, “Welcome to Heaven, Jim Boo-ee. Good work inspiring my girl down there in the trenches.”


I'm not a prophet
Or a stone aged man
Just a mortal
With potential of a superman

I'm living on.


I'm counting on it, David. Rest in peace.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This Old House Is Not Mentally Tough

I’ve always been on board with the theology that claims Your Body is a Temple, but lately my body feels more like an episode of This Old House.

Plumbing woes, electrical outages, and cracks in the once nearly-flawless exterior all remind me of a road well-traveled.  Along with charm and character come windows painted shut from coat upon coat of fresh paint applied to compensate when the latest coat begins to chip. 

But all of this reaches a breaking point.  The revelation that comes in mid-life is that whatever you’ve been trying so hard your whole life to be, probably isn’t going to come to pass if it hasn’t already.  Especially if it’s something you’ve been forcing.  

I once believed that I could be anybody I wanted to be, or thought I *should* be.
Now I know I’ll never be anybody but myself.

I had just plopped down in my squeaky office chair to tackle some paperwork, when my eye caught the spine of a book on the top shelf of the bookcase: “Mentally Tough” circa 1987.

It had been years since I’d laid eyes on this book and frankly, I couldn’t believe I’d held onto it through more than one city, apartment, and moving van.

Immediately, the image of my father sitting in his huge brown recliner, hands gripping the arm rests, filled my mind.

I’d been frustrated and disillusioned and had come to him that day expecting sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. 

What I got was a swift kick in the ass.

I’d been complaining about my new job.  I was two years out of college and working in the frantic and lawless Advertising industry.  I’d been wooed away from my first job with a highly reputable agency by another highly reputable agency that promised me the opposite of the sweat shop atmosphere I was looking to escape.

Surprise, the new agency wasn’t a lick different.  In many ways, it was worse.  When I shared my concerns with the head of the department who’d hired me under the pretense of working fewer hours, he looked at me as if I’d spoken in tongues.

As a young twenty-something, I was aghast at the injustice of it all, and I spilled this anguish on my father expecting him to dry my eyes, kiss my boo-boos, and send me on my way with an excuse note, as he’d always done.

What I got was a verbal lashing at my ungratefulness in having a job when others were not so lucky.  I got a lecture on growing up, topped off by him placing a shiny new copy of “Mentally Tough” in my hands and sending me out the door into the cruel world with nothing more than the unwelcome book and a pat on the back.

As I now comb through the pages of the book, I see that I made it about fifty pages in before giving up.  It all seems familiar, the pie charts and graphs on understanding and controlling your emotions and how mood control dictates ideal performance state.

Written from the perspective, I imagined, of a gruff P.E. teacher sporting short polyester shorts and a whistle around his neck, it didn’t speak to me at all.  I was (and still am) a quiet, introspective soul and after several decades of trying to be otherwise, I accept this as my fate.  I am not competitive and have no desire to reach “peak performance” with my body or emotions, for that matter.

Although I never finished the book, it served as a somewhat unattainable goal through most of my adult life: to be “mentally tough.”  It’s what most of the men in my life wanted from me: my bosses, my father, my husband, or so I thought.

And each year that passed in which I tried to put on the warrior face I needed to succeed in life, it was like slapping another coat of paint on the window frame.  And we all know what happens after too many coats of paint have been applied to an old window: it will no longer open.

That’s right, it will NO LONGER DO WHAT IT WAS DESIGNED TO DO.

It no longer opens to the light and the sun and lets in fresh air.  Soul-cleansing cool, fresh air, studded with birdsong and fresh jasmine to renew the mind. 

It no longer opens to let out the bad air.  The burnt toast-dusty-stifling hot stagnant air that threatens to choke us if we don’t provide an outlet for it to dissipate.

I smile wistfully at this old book as I toss it onto the donate pile I’ve started in the corner of the room.  I laugh because I am free of this book and all it implies.

Because if forty-five has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a place in this world for people who are NOT mentally tough.  The world desperately needs us, in fact.  We may not be running staff meetings, arguing tough cases, or bringing difficult people to their knees.

But we are paying attention to those who are hurting, those who can’t speak for themselves.  We are mothering friends through difficult circumstances and raising children to be empathetic creatures.

So, friends, I intend to keep up the slow and tedious process of scraping off the old layers of paint.  The lies and “if only's” I used to tell myself, the masks I applied to cover up my vulnerability. 

Coat by coat, it will come off, and eventually the window will be stripped down to the original, God-given wood it was intended to be.

And it will open. Letting in the crisp, fresh air full of promise and cleansing light, and out will go all the bad, negative junk that’s been festering.  Until eventually, that window will remain an open portal of joy, love, and grace.

My father might not agree, but that’s a whole lot better than being “mentally tough” in my opinion.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

a dream

I grasped you near, in the pages of a magazine.
With childish eyes, I longed for you, now adored, a dream.

Laughter in your eyes spoke to my girlish desires.
Finding myself, in finding you, shifting towards a dream.

Torn apart by sins of time, discovered and mended.
True love in the flesh found, laughter, tears, no more a dream.

Forgetful heart striking out, seeking truths in earnest.
To stumble on you again, my spirit soars, a dream.

Wake up! I jolt from reverie, brushing starry eyes.
Elusive, bound by nature, injustice roared, a dream.


First attempt at a ghazal for this month's poetry slam at yeah write. Read about it HERE and try your hand.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Celebrate Your Story


Writing is freedom, claiming your authentic space, being solely and completely yourself. 

Writing is unfurling, exposing raw bits that have been clawing for air. 

Unafraid.
Unashamed.
Undone.

People, experiences, and sufferings of the past that have defined us are silenced like devils with their tongues cut out.

In writing, we rule the world, if only for a blip in time. 

Backspace, delete, and white-out offer endless chances to tell our truths without interruption.

In writing, we are a slave to no one. 

We live what we create, and we create what we dream.

We have all the chances we need.

Each of us has a story to tell, whether real, made-up, or a bit of both.

Whether you choose to share your story alone, whispered in a journal, or out loud, bellowed from your laptop, you must tell it.

There is a place.
There is space.
There is time.


Inspired by the young writers featured at the WITS (Writers in the Schools) Gala on November 12, 2015, themed “A Celebration of Story.” 

It's the only gig in town where you can hear top notch poetry and win a tennis ball signed by Martina Hingis in the same night.




Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Music Review: "That Would Be Me" the new album by Harry Connick Jr

I write about the ‘80s a lot. An awful lot. And I write about the present, when I can’t seem to escape it. 

But lodged somewhere between then and now lies a neglected decade, the ‘90s.
The era of FriendsSeinfeldER, Pearl Jam, Oasis, Nirvana, No Doubt, and Smashing Pumpkins. A decade defined by the advent of expensive coffee married with flannel and angst.

But a rare and precious gem sparkled in the darkness of grunge, a sound that harkened back to a more civilized time.

Harry Connick Jr. 

I remember when I first heard “It Had to Be You” watching When Harry Met Sally at the Varsity Theater in Austin, across from The Drag, when I should have been studying.

This guy was different.

His sound and style were timeless, with more than a nod to the Golden Era of music.

His renditions of classics like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” sparked my interest in the burgeoning revival of swing/big band music.

With a voice like cream cheese icing on a Red Velvet cupcake, and a face to match, there was no stopping Harry Connick Jr.  Music, films, tv, you name it, he did it and did it well. 

Whether it was old standards, new favorites, or straight-up New Orleans heritage jazz, we loved all facets of HCJ and celebrated his multi-faceted creative approach to entertainment.



Fast forward to 2015, and HCJ has reinvented himself again, this time as the most authentic and raw version of himself yet to be exposed to his audience.

On his new album, “That Would Be Me,” the forty-seven year old married father of three blazed a new trail, handing over the reins of creative control to two heavy-hitter producers.  Connick worked with Eg White (Sam Smith, Adele, Florence and the Machine) and Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Pink, Weezer) to put a unique spin on his own musical style and deliver something completely new and unexpected.

A striking new boldness and stripped down honesty deliver a heartfelt album that mirrors the emotions and stage of life many of us are in right now. 

“(I Like It When You) Smile” is a get-up-and-dance anthem to “put a spring up in your stride” no matter how cool you’re playing it. “Tryin’ to Matter” speaks to the mid-life puzzles we’re all trying to solve and “(I Do) Like We Do” is a sweet statement on the meaningful bond of commitment, perseverance, and love.

“(I Think I) Love You a Little Bit” and “Every Time I Fall in Love” are relaxed, pensive meditations on the most complicated emotion on the planet, with which we all can identify.

There are many reasons to love Harry Connick Jr., and his new album, “That Would Be Me” is just another box to check. 

There’s nothing better than a guy who decides he doesn’t have to deliver the same goods time after time. A guy who’s not afraid to make a different sound, a different ripple in the ocean of What’s Expected.

I’m right there with you, Harry, humming along to every note.

“That Would Be Me” by Harry Connick Jr. is available now on iTunes or visit his website HERE for all the goods. Do yourself a favor and download it today.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Happy Cats

The internet is overflowing with love for dogs (and for the record, I do like dogs, as well) and disdain for cats, so in honor of #NationalCatDay, I wrote this inspired prose about my little fur babies.

First up, Rainey, the stray who showed up at our house on a rainy day, banged up, skinny, and covered in sticky, wet leaves.

Black, orange, and white are you,
Sweet and loyal, through and through.

Always there to give a snuggle,
Whenever my mood shows signs of trouble.

Soothing fears with your soft, luscious purr,
Cares fade away when stroking your fur.

You and I have a quiet understanding,
You’re always giving and never demanding.

Quiet companions through thick and thin,
I’ll treasure you always, my feline friend.

Rainey, the cat with a Heart of Gold

And then there's the other one, Mittens the Scoundrel, who loves us in the most disgruntled way possible.

Orange and white with lots of fluff,
You’re sweet as pie ‘til you’ve had enough.

Always wanting love and attention,
Baring your claws when it turns to imposition.

Ever keeping us on our toes,
With overturned water cups and other woes.

Lovable in spite of your naughty ways,
Your spark sheds light on the darkest of days.

We may not always see eye to eye,
But I’ll love you ‘til the day you die.

Wait, isn't every day National Cat Day?

Give your furry friends an extra squeeze today and every day!


Mama’s Losin’ It

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sharps and Flats

The tick-tock of the metronome droned on, a death march toward the final crescendo of a Chopin Etude I’d been butchering all afternoon.

“Jenny, slow down, dear. Find the notes with your eyes. Then move your fingers and strike. Try again.”

Even admonishment sounded lovely in a British accent.

I eyed the giant tub of Super Bubble gum in the corner of the room, and I knew I had to do my best to be rewarded with a piece at the end of the lesson.

But alas, I continued to struggle, and Mrs. M signaled for me to vacate the bench so she could demonstrate.

“Once I play it for you, the proper notes will stick in your memory.  Your head will guide your hands.”

I stood behind her and observed as her deft yet graceful fingers flew across the piano keys with utter command of their timbres.

I’d never heard anything more beautiful.

*****

I shuffled through the house from room to room looking for nothing and everything.  A clue to lead me to the next step, the next phase of what I’m meant to be doing.

Since turning forty-five, I’d been stuck in a tar pit of inertia pondering the meaning of life, in all its clich├ęd glory.

This general malaise is not conducive to being productive, especially when the phone seems to be constantly ringing and email relentlessly chiming with people wanting me.

I circled past the mahogany baby grand that swallows our living room, which I pass probably ten times a day without notice. But on this day, I paused.

“Well, hello, old friend. I’ve missed you.”

Wait, did anyone else hear that? If a tree falls in an empty forest, did it make a sound?

I eased back the antique bench with the broken brass hinge on top and gingerly lifted the lid to greet the time-worn sheet music within.

So many old favorites jumped out at me, pieces from my early years as a beginner, like Flower Fairy and Boogie Woogie Blues.  Then larger volumes of sonatas by Mozart and Haydn and two-part inventions from Bach. Reams of books of scales, chords and cadences, and arpeggios. 

Buried beneath the classics were the compilation books of popular music from the ‘70s and early ‘80s that I insisted on sneaking into my repertoire.

A little Muskrat Love, anyone? Or how about Rhinestone Cowboy? Theme from the Pink Panther, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Endless Love.

I even found the sheet music to Duran Duran’s New Moon on Monday, which pretty much signaled the end of my musical instruction.  My interest was waning. I had had enough.  I was moving on to seemingly more important things, like boys. Specifically, how to meet those boys and what to do with them after that.

My mother acquiesced and let me quit after I’d no doubt worn her down to a nub on the issue.  But getting Mother to agree to my abandonment was the easy part.

I’ll never forget the look in Mrs. M’s eyes, the disappointment and affront that almost seemed personal when I informed her, head down and mumbling, I was jumping ship.

She fought for her case, telling me I was one of her most talented students. That I might consider attending the famous London School of Music, from which she herself had three degrees.  “Or set your sights higher!” she begged. “Julliard! You are special! You can’t give up.”

I left that day with my tail between my legs, guilt-ridden by her speech but not enough to change my dense teenaged mind.

I agreed to perform at one last recital: a duet with a fellow student, a Beethoven Sonata, and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, which was one of my all-time favorites.

But after that, it would be over.

I sped away in my newly-acquired, second-hand Oldsmobile, easing my conscience by popping in an INXS tape and reminding myself I had more important places to be.

Like the mall.

*****

I wonder now how the course of my life might have been different had I kept with it. I didn’t have the dedication, perseverance, or work ethic to pull it off.  But what if I had?  Where might I be, and what might I have accomplished?

Music is in my blood. My veins might as well be speaker wire.  Music sustains me and keeps me from falling into a deep, dark place of no return.

But what I’ve been neglecting all these years is the joy of creating music, not just listening as a bystander.

Throughout the toil of raising babies, working at lackluster jobs, and meeting the endless demands on my time, I now realize I’d overlooked the importance of feeding my own soul.

I’d forgotten the therapeutic effects of banging out a Rachmaninoff concerto instead of banging my head against a wall.

This is what I have been missing.

I searched online for news of my dear old piano teacher, and not unexpectedly, found her obituary.  She passed away four years ago at the age of ninety-one.
 
I wonder if she ever thought of me again?

Full of resolve, I googled “piano tuner Houston.”

It’s time I reclaim what I’ve lost, what’s left of it.