Stealing Song Lyrics

Do you ever notice a particular line in a song that describes you exactly? Or you’re mindlessly listening to music when a lyric slaps you across the face with its poetry?


It happens to me all the time. I know I’ve written before about songs capturing the essence of “me” perfectly, but this post is about what I’ve started to do with those lines. It started at work — meaningless doodles scattered with jotted down song lyrics. Next thing I knew, a storm had erupted across the page, snippets caught in a hurricane.

I noticed a trend on Pinterest — or maybe it just seems like a trend because I’ve been pinning more and more about it — of hand-lettering. I love the idea of turning words into visual art, especially when the words themselves already provoke a visceral, art-like-response in me.

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When I had a writing corner, I’d tack these up around me for encouragement or commiseration.

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Sometimes I’d dedicate whole projects to a story, the playlist for inspiration bleeding across a page.

img_3429-1 Spotify: Writing – Beast playlist

Now that we’ve moved and my student-husband has taken over the desk, I keep the scraps of paper tucked into my planner or a favorite book, waiting to surprise me when I open to the right page.

Writing vs. Typing

I’ve made a commitment to myself to write 200 words or more each day. For the past two weeks, I’ve kept it. Most days, I’m able to write a lot more than 200 words, which is great. But on those days where I’m busy or exhausted or not feeling it for whatever reason, 200 is a pretty small number I can reach fairly quickly, even if I end up scrapping everything in a revision. It’s a way to hit a goal no matter how great or blah I’m feeling each day.

When I say I’ve done it every day, I should clarify that some days I hand-write and other days I type, so I don’t get an accurate count on the hand-written days. My husband and I share a computer and he has school work to do, so we have to take turns and the computer isn’t always available when I’m feeling most creative.

I used to hand-write everything for a first draft. I have entire novels in smudged ink and loose-leaf pages, packed away in boxes. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or efficiency that has shifted my preference toward typing. It saves time — I’m not writing essentially the same thing twice — and makes editing, tracking progress, and fitting together story bits so much easier.

But this week, being “forced” to return to handwriting parts of my story has reminded me of the art I fell in love with. There’s something beautiful about the connection between ink and paper, the power and vulnerability of a creator.

For the sake of time, especially when I have a long scene developing in my mind, I’ll choose typing into a computer, but when I have the time to let my mind — and pen — wander, I’ll indulge in the art form of my predecessors and carry the inkstains on my fingers for days.

Salty Meatballs

It sounds inappropriate, but it’s what I just told the head of security at my office I was going to eat. Which yes, was inappropriate, but I did not mean to say it out loud. I meant to just say lunch. This is why I try not to interact with people.

Following this Pinterest recipe kick, I decided to make Salisbury Steak Meatballs last night. I went to the grocery store without my husband, which (depending on how you look at it) was a huge mistake. I got everything on my list…and then a bunch of snacks (because 2/$3 cracker snack packs was a great deal…and because I was freaking hungry, man!).

I got home and got ready to make this tasty-looking dish, only to remember I didn’t get potatoes to mash for a side. I kind of did that on purpose ’cause I wasn’t really feeling like cooking potatoes, but I still felt all “aw, man” when I realized I’d want some sort of starch. My husband was not feeling great (and has had horrendous experience with ground beef in the past) so he opted for a rice-and-Chick’n nugget-burrito instead. Therefore, I made him cook extra rice. Problem solved.

The meatballs turned out pretty spectacular. Side question: why is meatloaf pretty gross, but tiny meatballs made with condiments and spices are not? My best guess is because tiny food is always awesome (it’s adorable and you can justify eating a TON). Basically, it’s science.

Anyhoo, I turned to making the gravy only to realize I don’t have any cornstarch. I feel like that’s a lie because I really hate cornstarch, therefore I’m super aware that it’s in my cupboard. It’s weird to me that something powdery can create such friction on your fingers when rubbed together, and now I’m giving myself a minor seizure just thinking about how to describe it SO needless to say, I know about cornstarch. It sits with my baking stuff and laughs at me when I need it for cookies or whatever. I get a weird burst of triumph when I throw out a box. I think I would have remembered such an occasion.

Sadly, I couldn’t find it. I suspect my husband went on one of his raids to throw out all the expired food in our home and tossed it, which is rude because he stole my moment and also didn’t let me know I had to buy more of the stupid stuff.

I could have asked the Google for other suggestions to thicken up gravy, but I decided to just add a cup or so of water to the recipe and toss in a heaping handful of egg noodles. Because they make starchy water, right? It kind of worked, too. It was pretty thin gravy, but still a decent sauce so I’m counting it as a win.

Where I went wrong: I told my husband I didn’t need anything in the dishwasher before he ran it. I knew things like measuring cups/spoons were in there, but I was feeling superior about my eye-balling skills (especially after that fantastic soup turned out so well). Word to the wise: DO NOT TRY TO EYEBALL 1/4 TSP OF SALT. Or 1 tbs of Worcestershire Sauce. Especially if you are the type to err on the “little more than necessary” side like me. Because I way overdid it on salt and sauce and it made everything a bit salty. This is coming from a gal who loves salt. Pretty much anything “salted” is better than not. Still, I was chugging water with this dish.

Otherwise, the meatballs were tender and juicy and delicious, and the noodles were a nice (ingenious — if I do say so myself) addition. Again, the recipe I butchered can be found here. I would highly recommend trying it out — just be sure to measure that salt appropriately! 😉

 

P.S.: In case you were concerned about a minor plot point — My husband way overdid it on the rice. I was a sport and ate a bowl of straight up rice (partially to neutralize all the salt) but there was still so. much. left. I now know to be more specific when asking him to cook “extra” rice.

 

Thoughts on an Election

I don’t intend for this blog to become a political soapbox, but it is an outlet for my more rambling of thoughts, so bear with me once more as I throw yet another opinion into the world of social media.

Let’s face it, we have two of the worst options running for president this year. Hillary’s been in politics long enough to make a bunch of enemies, and long enough to inspire a bunch of support. Trump’s new to politics, which is terrifying for some and refreshing for others. They’re the two least popular candidates ever to run (but don’t tell Trump–or do, he won’t believe you anyway).

For every left-leaning news article that’s anti-Trump, you can find right-leaning ones to support him. He’s a great businessman. He’s had a lot of failed businesses. He’s well-loved by his workers. He’s been sued over non-payment many times. Back and forth, tit for tat, arguments for both sides fall on deaf ears.

I know I’m not going to convince anyone to switch sides; that’s not what I’m here about. We’re all entitled to our own opinions, and for the most part, we all feel strongly that our opinions are correct. I don’t want to write that someone else’s opinion is wrong, I want to write about why I hold the position I do.

For me, it’s not about Trump vs. Hillary, it’s whose platform is more closely aligned with what’s important to me and my vision of a great America. It’s about which candidate is least offensive for me, personally (okay…it’s a little #NeverTrump, but I did try to give him a chance).

For me, as a woman, I take offense to the degrading things he’s had to say about women, and to the idea that all should be forgiven because of his uncomfortably close relationship with one of his daughters (and it disturbs me he thinks they would be dating if she wasn’t his daughter). As someone close to and very respectful of the Jewish community, I take offense to his assurance to remain neutral on Israel, and to his “America First” mentality reminiscent of the anti-Semitic movement of the ’30s and ’40s which demanded we stay out of WWII and allow Nazism and genocide to sweep across Europe. As someone who believes that love and acceptance should be for all people, I take offense to his proposed wall, to his proposed registry of Muslim Americans, and to his proposal to ban anyone from coming to America (a country founded on principles of religious freedom) because of their religion. As a Christian, I take offense to the hatred, the bigotry, the negativity promoted by his campaign, especially when as a Christian, I am called to dwell on whatever is good, and right, and noble, and love my enemies. As a free American, I take offense to the admiration and respect he has blatantly touted for dictators. As a white person, I take offense to his reluctance to disavow support of the KKK, and to his “accidental” or “unintended” encouragement of white supremacist ideals. As a human being, black lives do matter to me. That doesn’t mean blue lives don’t; they do. It simply means black. lives. matter. They matter, and the black community needs to know that. For me, only one of the candidates can express that message clearly.

I wonder just what time we are hoping to get back to in order to consider America great “again”. Was it back when a woman’s place was in the home? Before we had the right to vote? Was it back when things were segregated? Before African Americans had the right to vote? Or maybe further, when blacks were considered property rather than people? Every decade of our history is rife with examples of triumph and tragedy. For every positive, there is at least one negative. The same is true today. It’s why America is great, and why she is hurting. We don’t need to move backwards. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and keep charging forward. We need to acknowledge that America is a beautiful melting pot of all cultures, religions, races and ethnicity, and that is what makes her great.

Only one candidate sees the same America I do: one that is already great, but has the potential to be greater.

Stoplight: A Snapshot

 

The light clicks from yellow to red.

A mud-splattered truck stops short at the line, its driver blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd. He openly scopes out the blonde in the Jetta beside him. She pretends not to notice as she taps out a mortified text to her BFF of the week. Behind her, a balding businessman strums his fingers along the dashboard of his leased Mercedes and frowns at his knock-off watch. The ’06 Subaru next to him rocks with four teen boys’ motion as they take turns playing air drums and ironically head-banging to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” while the dusty new Honda behind them houses a woman’s quiet sorrow. Tears roll over her chin as she sobs silently into the steering wheel.

The light turns green. The snapshot becomes a picture in motion.

The truck engine revs.

The Jetta driver drops her phone into the passenger seat.

The business man reaches for the shifter only to remember he now drives an automatic.

The boys burst into the intersection with shouts of laughter.

And the woman drags a hand down her cheeks, blows out a heavy breath, and swallows the rest of her pain.

Until the next stoplight.

Mockingbird

“I was like a well trained pianist who knows which note to hit, but can’t make the music his own.”
― David Benioff, City of Thieves

I’ve come to discover I’m something of a mockingbird. My art is often more mimicry than original.

My funniest moments usually entail bringing up something that has already been deemed hilarious, the memory even funnier in a new context. I have decent comedic timing and quick wit, but most of my jokes are not my own.

I’ve noticed it in my writing, too. My personality is a bit obsessive so once I get into a show or a book I can’t stop until I’ve absorbed it entirely. I start thinking in terms of the story, using similar vocabulary and diction as the characters, and when I try to write my own stories, this mimicry flows through.

I got the full series of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman for Christmas one year, and I wasn’t halfway through the box-set before my characters were using words like “ma” and finding rugged, outdoorsy ways to occupy their time. While reading Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassins trilogy, my own writing stopped using contractions and took on the elevated diction of a medieval noble.

Usually upon editing I can get back into my own character’s heads, my own story’s voice, and I can make the necessary word adjustments to return to my own style.

There are a few writers whose actual style lingers deep in my subconscious, though. Mark Zusak (The Book Thief, I am the Messenger) is probably my favorite. Every so often, I’ll write something oddly poetic, and I’ll have a burst of gratitude for Zusak and his impeccably beautiful prose.

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Mark Zusak, The Book Thief

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And like a child watching her world with awe-filled eyes, I am easily shaped by the words and experiences I’ve immersed myself in. I only hope I will continue to tug out my own, original voice from the web of adoration I gladly weave around myself with each new book, with each beloved movie.

Take My Life and Let It Be

Lately, there have been a lot of political issues that I’ve felt strongly about, but out of fear of the reaction of those around me, I’ve kept my opinions off social media. I’m non-confrontational, a people-pleaser to a fault, so the idea that I could be a source of tension or discord in a relationship is terrifying to me. I’ve stood instead on my soapbox in my empty living room, ranting to myself and my husband and my God.

I can’t anymore. This time, I’m too angry and too sad. This time, the feeling runs too deep.

I’m done with the silence, praying with the cries of my soul. Now, may the world hear my heart.

A few years ago, I started praying every time I sat in a low-lit theater, waiting for the previews to start: Please, God, don’t let there be a shooting here tonight. God, please, please don’t let me die during Zoolander 2.

I wasn’t worried about ISIS or Radical Islam. I was terrified of the one-off white guy who snapped.

Now, my prayers have changed: Please, God, take me in a shooting by an American. And God, if I get to choose, let him be anything but Muslim. Show those who love me that anyone can cause terror. Teach my family and friends that Radical Islam is not synonymous with terrorism, but simply one — albeit effective — example of it. Use my life to open even one person’s eyes to the idiocy of claiming an assault rifle is a weapon of defense, when the very name implies attack.

Take my life, Lord, that even one person’s outlook may be changed. 

And God, remind my family of your forgiveness. And if I die at the hands of a Radical Islamist, remind my father of the lesson he drilled into me since I was small: that he could be the only Jesus the Muslim community knows.

Remind my loved ones that Jesus represents love, and forgiveness, and acceptance. That as Christians, these are the traits we are called to show to the world. Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek, not turn our backs on the suffering, the sinning, the potential risks, the unworthy. 

I, too, am unworthy. I, too, have held hate in my heart.

They call these attacks on America a jihad. Holy War. Well, I declare a Holy War, too. A challenge to those who follow Christ. A war fought by loving our enemies, doing good to those who hurt us without exception or conditions, without “if” or “unless.” A war led by a Savior who cried for the children to come to him. My Jesus laid down his life when he could have fought back. My Jesus is disheartened by those who put the ease of gun ownership above common sense and the safety of our children. (Because we are all someone’s children)

So use me, Lord, that even just one person may learn that hate breeds more hate. Only love conquers all. 

And remind them, God, that Love chose to die. The victory does not go to the last man standing; it’s in the peace that follows.

My Father, the All-American

My dad has always been in great shape. As far back as I can remember – in snippets and photographs, mostly – I’d ride a rocking-horse contraption in the garage while he worked out.

After we moved to “the homestead,” his exercise routine grew, and so did the yard work. Rather than a simple vegetable garden in the back yard and a couple carefully-mulched trees, we had acres of land, and my dad filled them with rows upon rows of corn and carrots and tomatoes and beans and potatoes and…you get the picture. We have landscaping that wraps around the house — rosebushes and daffodils and barberry bushes — as well as apple trees and pear trees and cherry and plum and apricot trees, not to mention the Japanese maple that moved with us. Dad started making up his own weight-lifting techniques to strengthen his back for splitting wood and push-mowing the yard and digging out a pond for turtles and goldfish.

He’d visit my school or come to track meets or drill competitions and my friends would all make a point of telling me how hot my father was. (Nothing better captures my feelings when people do this than Gene’s comment in an episode of Bob’s Burgers when a student compliments Bob: “He’s married! And to a friend of mine!”)

He and my mom recently stopped by my work and my boss and co-worker had a high-school-girls moment after they left, gushing over how good he still looks. One of them said they’d seen Facebook pictures of him when he was younger and he’s only gotten better looking. As usual, I uncomfortably thanked them and thought well, at least I’ve got good genes, right?

He threw the javelin in school. We have a pretty sweet picture of him in all his college glory, posing with the javelin and looking boss.

Now, he throws the javelin in the Senior Olympics. And by that I mean he pretty much cleans up at every meet. He’s medaled over and over. He’s been named All-American. He recently out-threw every competitor at the meet, aged 35-70.

He’s too humble to brag and feels silly making a big deal about it, but that’s what people have kids for.

I should probably mention, he’s dealt with a lot of joint issues. Every meet, he’s got his wrist or his back or his knees or his ankles (sometimes all of the above) wrapped. He stood on crutches at one competition, waiting for his turn to throw, and he still did amazingly well.

Dad gets his strength from his Savior. He throws to bring glory to God. As long as he’s blessed with the ability, he’ll use it to showcase how good God has been to him.

With Father’s Day around the corner, I think my father deserves a little recognition, too. He’s an All-American, and a hero to his family.

 Enough Already.

When is enough enough? A man opens fire in a theater. An office party is interrupted by gunfire. A woman is murdered on air. A praying congregation is massacred. A classroom of children, slain.

A packed nightclub is riddled with bodies.

The world mourns. The world gets angry. Some call for a complete ban of weapons. Others insist arming the innocent would keep them alive.

The issue isn’t black and white. Why are we still making it so? How is there no possible way to find a compromise between all or nothing?

I grew up on a five acre farm in Virginia. I’ve fired rifles and handguns. I’m not afraid of them. My life has also been touched by gun violence. A friend of my parents–a police officer–was gunned down as she left work by a kid with two AK-47s and a grudge against the police.

She was armed; she may have fired back. A handgun is still little defense against an assault rifle. I don’t remember the details of the incident; I remember the after. I remember the phone ringing, and the sound of my mother falling to the kitchen floor, the noise ripping from her so hysterical for a moment I thought she was laughing. I remember my father repeating “no” into the phone, as if he could change the news.

I do believe in the right to keep and bear arms. I don’t think all the guns in this country should be banned. I do wonder how the hell the ban on assault rifles expired and no one has reinstated it. There’s owning guns, and then there’s arming oneself for battle.

As an American, I should have the right to not need to arm myself to feel safe. I believe my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should not be contingent on a concealed-carry permit. My safety shouldn’t have to reside in a handful of steel tucked in my purse or a bedside drawer. I don’t want to attend a class where my teacher or the students beside me have guns strapped to their waists. I want to walk into a classroom or a movie theater or a night club and not have to worry if these are the last breaths I’ll take.

I know safety isn’t guaranteed, no matter the precautions taken. I know at any moment, due to any number of reasons, the next breath I take is not promised. I’m not asking to be put in a bubble.

I am asking: what are we doing to make things a little bit safer? Because each time it happens, the “liberals” call for gun control and the “conservatives” frantically point to the Constitution.

A large group of prominent voices in this country is too quick to blame anything but the weapon. Of course, the basis of their argument is sound. The gun doesn’t aim itself or pull its own trigger. Blaming the weapon is like blaming a car for an accident or a pencil for poor spelling. I’m sure we’ve all seen the bumper stickers and t-shirts and whatever else making these sorts of comparisons.

But the argument shouldn’t end there. It shouldn’t be so simple as throwing up one’s hands and saying “it’s not the gun’s fault so you can’t take it away.”

So who is to blame? The answers to that question are cut and dry, both vague and appropriately specific enough to distract from the fact they’re just fluff: Criminals. Mentally Unstable. Radical Islamists. Domestic Terrorists.

I think we can do better than that, and we should be asking deeper questions. How do criminals get guns? Fine, you say they’re criminals and therefore obtain the guns illegally. What about the mentally unstable? Or those self-radicalizing terrorists who’ve yet to commit a crime? It is dangerously naive to insist that increasing background check requirements for gun ownership will only hurt the law-abiding citizens.

The San Bernadino shooters were law-abiding citizens, before they attacked their co-workers. The Uber driver in Michigan was a law-abiding citizen, until he went on a rampage. The Virginia Tech student didn’t have any priors, but he massacred a campus.

Maybe a more stringent background check would have picked up the ties to ISIS, the anger issues or the mental instability. Maybe, if in order to purchase a gun we had to complete an assessment on our home life, on the family members who may obtain access to our weapons, families in Newtown, Connecticut would be whole. Maybe denying guns to those on the No Fly list might have meant those hundred people would have returned home from a night of dancing, instead of ending up in a hospital in Orlando or worse.

As a law-abiding citizen, I would feel far safer if it took me weeks of assessments and checks before I was approved for a gun purchase.

Sure, criminals will still get their guns illegally. But rather than bemoaning that fact and wringing our hands, or insisting the rest of us should build up our own arsenal, doesn’t it make sense to look at the system and acknowledge it is broken? Wouldn’t it be a better use of our time and energy working to increase mental health rather than clinging to our guns without offering any solution? Wouldn’t it be something at least, just to tighten up the requirements already in place, take the worst of the weapons out of  private citizens’ hands, and make it that much harder for a currently law-abiding, as yet undiagnosed-mentally-unstable, bitter citizen to wrap their fingers around the very weapons we’ve been told will keep us safe?

The Painful Joys of Writing: Research

My current WIP (that’s work-in-progress, Mom) is a historical fiction novel set during WWII. I’ve always been fascinated by that time: the beauty and the tragedy, the resiliency of the people and the fact that those generations can laugh after the horrors they witnessed.

My other stories have been completely imaginary, so it’s been refreshing having a number of sources to go to with questions rather than having to make everything up. The Internet is an amazing thing, with just a few clicks, I get more knowledge than I ever needed.

This is also a drawback.

Sometimes, I get too hung up on stupid tiny details that are only important for making the story authentic. My characters are going dancing in D.C.? Let me just Google what clubs might have been around in the early ’40s (spoiler alert: this was not as simple as it sounds. It took me days of research to scratch out a number of dance clubs my characters might have attended).

Wikipedia is helpful but not completely trustworthy. Its hyperlinked words make it too easy for me to wander, too. For example, my characters need a summer activity to be doing (or on their way to doing) when they run into another character (at which point, said activity no longer matters). Still, I can’t just say they’re eating ice cream at the waterfront. Today’s DC waterfront is nothing like 1940s DC waterfront (was there even much of a “waterfront”?). Google tells me the area I’m thinking of (now near the AMC Loews theater) used to be the site of the Georgetown incinerator. So…people probably weren’t hanging around where they were burning trash. So maybe they went to a museum. Or just hung around one of the monuments or memorials. The Wikipedia page for the National Monument takes me through the Lincoln Memorial page to the the Reflective Pool (not built yet in their time), to the Tidal Basin, to the WWII Memorial, to the grafitti “Kilroy was here” and the next thing I know, I’m reading about rationing in Great Britain during and after the war.

Also, my interest to know whatever I can about the ’40s is a drawback during quick-research time. In this example, I figure the Tidal Basin is probably a good area my characters could end up, so I leave the page open to read in a second, but first I want to continue reading about Marian Anderson’s epic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 after she was not allowed to perform at the DAR (because she was African American). And in reading more about Anderson, I find out she was good friends with Albert Einstein. He was really big in the Civil Rights Movement (and referred to himself as a devout anti-racist). One thing leads to another and two hours later I’ve somehow ended up reading about the U.S.O. in World War II.

Now my brain is full to bursting will all this barely-necessary knowledge and I’ve completely forgotten what I originally set out to look up. Forget about the actual story I wanted to write around that little detail–it’s gone. I leave the story for the following day, only to wake up and find the blank I’ve literally drawn to remind myself I need a relevant detail, and the process starts all over.