Seedlings

germinating_seedlingI had a blogger reach out to me yesterday to ask the age-old question, “where do you find inspiration?”  She went on to explain to me that she loves blogging and writing for her local paper, but feels that itch to do more.  She hopes to write a novel, but has no idea where to begin.  Sound familiar?

I preface what’s to follow with this:  There is no correct answer.  Everyone has a unique process, and it’s usually the thing that comes most natural.  It’s often from some medium that makes you feel alive and creative.  However, if you’re having trouble recognizing what that is in your life, I have a few things I hope will help.  I promise that if you truly desire to write, it’s in there already.  Sometimes we just have to go fishing for it.

Because I am a human being, that’s where I start first.  For me, the voice shows up before anything else.  I have no plot, no setting, no secondary characters.  I usually start with one small notion I find fascinating and start exploring it.  Accents, locations, smells, intentions….everything else is born in time from this tiny little seed.  It might start as small as picturing the first person that pops into my head, and just writing a list of adjectives about him or her.  I’ll often see a character’s face the first time while listening to a great song.  I’ll purposefully put on music that makes me emotional, and just start going stream-of-consciousness on the keyboard.  It doesn’t need a point….that grows later too.  The one thing I make sure of is that a being is speaking.  I might later realize that voice died years ago, or is inside a cat….but I start with something that had consciousness.  Life.

If you’re just more setting driven, and need a picture to get yourself going, there’s a simple fix there too.  You don’t have to buy season tickets to The Met, or hop a plane to Paris.  Just google “pretty landscapes,” and start scrolling through the pictures.  Write down which emotions the depictions evoke…then start writing about the person who’d be feeling that way, or the person who’d fit in a picture you like…or who wouldn’t fit.  One of these seedlings will eventually take root.  Once you hear a character’s voice, it’s going to keep talking.  It’s going to tell you where to take it.  Don’t be afraid to step into it’s shoes, give it the ol’ first-person try.  Be it.

Do you plan every word you’re going to say to every person all day long?  No.  You run into people, or circumstances, and you respond.  Your character is no different.  Make a live thing that interests you, and just write.  Eventually that character will stumble into some drama…but it has to actually get to it.  It has to move.  It cannot stay still, or it does nothing.  And the only way it moves is if you do.  Make your fingers dance….start scribbling.  For God sake’s don’t over think  it…first thing with a pulse that comes to mind.  There’s a reason it came first.  Write about it, even if it sucks.  You will stumble onto something that won’t.  In the beginning, there are only small sparks.  Nourish them for a fire.

Here’s a prompt for you today to help you get started:

Every night before you go to bed you see her standing there by the mailbox.  It never fails.  At 10pm, there she’ll be, barely visible through the dim moonlight.

And go! (Use all five senses)

Good luck!

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The Day We Were Americans

Six days before one of the most infamous elections in US history, in a time when there had never been a wider trench between Democrats and Republicans, when an unspoken cold war breathed its icy breath down each of our red, white, and blue spines…the curse of the billy-goat was broken.  And without our realizing it, a nation came together, if only for a fleeting moment that tasted like cracker jacks, and smelled like cotton candy.

Let’s roll back the clock to 1945.  Come with me…Sinatra on the radio, Pin-ups on the walls, and Wrigley Stadium pregnant with the roars of the fans.  William Sianis rolls into the stadium on the north side of Chicago with his smelly pet goat.  After many complaints about the odorous beast, he is asked to leave.  At which time he declares, “Them cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”  And they didn’t.  Not a World Series.

Flash forward 71 years.  Rihanna on the radio and the walls, Wrigley Stadium still pregnant with the roars of the fans…it’s 2016.  A new war, one that has nothing to do with Nazis or surprise attacks, fills our lives.  Bitter diatribes are at every turn.  Our smart phones in hand, we peruse Facebook, Twitter, Instagram….any platform we can, to find a supporting argument for our passion or our venom.  We all worry about the future of our nation with different moral compasses, different lifestyles, and different core beliefs.  How will any of us ever feel patriotic again in these unsettling times where we all, regardless of our affiliations, seem to know this year will define a new future?  We all sit under the curse of the elephant and the donkey.

However, Wrigley Field is unchanged.  Criticized for not updating, that emblematic red marquee still ushers the fans inside.  The ivy-covered walls stand proudly as elders of the National League.  The hand-turned score board reminds us of a time when technology wasn’t king, though few of us have enough candles on the birthday cake to remember such a time. I certainly don’t.  I’ve experienced it only as folklore.  However, the outdated field reminds us of the great AMERICAN pastime.  It is one of the last remaining simple things we have…and man, don’t we need a little simplicity?

On November 2, 2016 all men and women, of all races, religions, and political parties held their breaths collectively.  Could the Cubs, still under the billy-goat’s spell, get that last out in the 10th inning?  Could they win the game, so long and painstaking, that it had now carried over into November 3rd?  Could the billy-goat be wrestled to the ground in the wee hours of that Fall night?

Indeed he could, and with one swift throw, and a man out at first, it happened.  The players stormed the field, pairing laughter with tears.  They were boys again, jumping up and down, for the love of the game.  The crowd thundered with praise and all men stood together, singing the song of the full-grown bear.

I don’t know the outcome of the election yet.  I don’t know what our country will look like just months from now.  However, I have the tiniest hope that we are all still Americans.  I hope that when we take off our baseball caps and put on our suits, or uniforms, or badges, that we remember who we were.  It took the Cubs 71 years to tackle that goat, but they broke the curse.  I now have but a shard of faith that as a nation we can wrangle a donkey and an elephant.  I’ve seen it now, in my own lifetime, with my own weary eyes.  There was a night at Wrigley field, where we were all Americans…and it was sweet.

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Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

 

 

Mason Jar

I know how to end up in a bathtub, in the dark, drinking whiskey out of a mason jar on a sunny Friday afternoon.  I know exactly what it takes to decide that instead of going to a Reggae festival with all your friends, you will instead, put on dirty pajamas and listen to only the most sorrowful 90s music.  I feel guilty even as I write this because I know that people have gone through far worse than what I have, but it doesn’t temper the sting.  I take slight joy in that I’m typing this with a possibly broken finger.  Maybe that makes it a little more legit?

I got my hardest rejection yet today.  A literary agent that I stalked at a book signing had been going back and forth with me for about a good 8 weeks.  I mean, he was it.  I felt like a sophomore in high school who just went to third base with the quarterback.  I thought we were going places, but then it didn’t work out.  He told me how incredible my writing was, and how impressed he was with the revision he’d specified for me.  He told me my persistence was immeasurable, and that my passion would carry me.  Then he told me he couldn’t go on my journey with me.  I’ve heard it before, but not like this.  We were so close.  I mean, there had been some serious discussion.  Didn’t that count for something?  I knew this was it.  And the worst part is how grateful I am to him for all of it.

So tonight I’m having a pity party, where I’m the guest of honor.  I get to ask why them and not me.  I get to think of all the hours…the blood, the sweat, the tears.  I get to fantasize about what might have been, and wonder why I wasn’t chosen. I get to relish in that awful, but magnetic feeling of self-destructing for a minute.

I might let my dogs sit with me as long as they’re melancholy enough.  I don’t want to see any tails wagging.  I don’t want people to build me up, or tell me it’s meant to be.  I don’t want anyone to nonchalantly write off my latest failure.  I want them to let me have it, let me bathe in it, and let me listen to 20-year-old R.E.M. (though I may switch to Collective Soul in a few).

Tomorrow will be different, because I know there’s a sick part in me that likes the pain.  Tomorrow I will find more events to attend, more agents to query, and more people to connect to.  But for tonight, it’s whiskey out of a mason jar. Why a mason jar?  Probably just for the poetry.  Probably so I feel a little closer to the romance of feeling like a loser.  You fellow writers know what I mean…

I’ll go back to rose` from long-stemmed glasses tomorrow.  But tonight…tonight is for pity.  My mother always told me, “Take a day.  Cry, scream, piss, and moan.  Feel sorry for yourself.  Just make sure it’s only one, though. You get a day.”  I think I’ll cash in.  Tonight is for me..me, my pity, and my mason jar…

 

 

….and maybe Johnny Cash just to make it worse

Cleveland Tears

Writing is a hard, hard, thing to be in love with.  To actually sign a great agent, have a book sold at auction, get a great editor, or see any materialization from the labor is far-fetched.  Writers have to believe in long shots going in, nothing but net, in the ninth hour.  We have to believe in exceptions to every rule, records being broken, and pots of gold at the ends of rainbows.  We have no choice but to believe in leprechauns and unicorns, centaurs and demigods.  If we don’t, then what do we have?  A mental condition, maybe?

Last night when my heart was pounding out of my chest while I watched game 7 of the NBA finals, I saw a centaur leading a supportive cast of unicorns.  I saw beings that were supposed to be men, find the animal, the regality, the x factor inside, and defy statistics, odds, and wrathful warriors to become champions.  I saw a man of 6’8, 250, morph into a beast of immeasurable proportions.  I saw his teammates grow wings, and fly. I saw a labor of love and passion begin to spin, snowball, and catch on fire.  I saw a city who hadn’t seen a victory in over 50 years  finally get to celebrate the fruitions of faith.  I saw a team become the first in history to ever deliver that victory from such a deficit.  I saw a group of players become more fierce when 99% of people out there wouldn’t have seen the point of stepping up, and would be ready just to try again next time.  They were down 3 games to 1, with 4 needed to win.  They were in an arm wrestling match with their knuckles almost touching the table.

As a writer, I feel like it’s part of my job title to inspire people, to give them a reason to hope, to make their next breath worth while.  We’re the dreamers, the innovators.  What I realized last night though, is that we need fodder.  We have matches, but have to have some sort of flint to touch that fire to, and start a blaze.  I was given that spark last night by these individuals who didn’t just talk the talk.  They proved it.  They did the impossible, and gave me hope that I can too.  They stepped up and showed me irrefutably that rejection, criticism, and low low odds DO NOT MATTER.  They wrote a memoir that I will forever reference when I need to remember how to fight.  With every jump shot, free throw, impossible block, and wood-burnt elbow sliding across the floor, these men wrote a story that I’ve been moved to put words with.  It is them, running, sweating, and dribbling all over my keyboard right now.

What I’m saying to the Cavaliers is not only congratulations, but THANK YOU.  Oh, thank you from the depths of my weathered writer’s soul.  Cleveland wasn’t the only one dreaming, hoping, needing a sign.  I needed it.  My trench mates needed it. Because of your performance last night, a young writer in South Carolina, no more than 5 feet tall, with manuscripts begging for the shelf time, has hope.  More than hope.  Defiance.  Courage.  Refusal of quitting.  I will play game 7, and I will fight until the buzzer sounds because YOU did.   What you’ve done doesn’t end on the court.  Your tears of joy have filled the building, swollen it to capacity, and now seep out.  Your dauntlessness has spilled onto the nation, and it’s a tidal wave.  Hold hands and take your bow, enjoy your title…the rest of us have some work to tend.  I hope when mine is done I will cry Cleveland tears, the ones that still stain the Golden State arena today.  I hope I will cry the tears that only come when daring to be great, the tears that only come when achieving the impossible dream, the tears that come from pure uninhabited need for greatness.

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Picture courtesy of NBA

Writer in Waiting

I don’t want to say that the waiting is the hardest part.  I think that would be awfully naive of me.  However, it isn’t one of the easy parts.  I’m anxious all the time, with some combination of dread and excitement churning beneath my feet like rudders on the boats I watch everyday in the Charleston harbor.  It makes me move in all kinds of directions, none I feel like I have any say over.  I check my email every half hour, and patrol my social media platforms like a peace-keeping soldier.  I look everywhere I can for updates hoping for that whisper I’ve dreamt about.  I hope for some sign of success, just of a hint of it from somewhere.  Silence.

I went to a writer’s conference in Alabama about a month ago.  It was one where Chuck Sambuchino (editor of Writer’s Digest) stands up and tells you all the reasons you can do it, but also how hard it will be, then gives you all kinds of ideas for self-promotion.  The Alabama Writer’s Workshop was a good conference.  I took a lot away from it, but the two most important things were only about 3 X 2 inches in size.

I got to pitch two amazing literary agents at the very end of the day.  I was scared to death.  I knew nothing of one of them except that she was the most sought after at the conference, and that I’d have a lot of competition.  The other referred to herself as a “dream crusher” during one part of the conference, at which point I narrowly escaped wetting my pants.  However, despite my fear…God, guts, and a “go get ’em” from my husband gave me the gumption to walk in there and pitch as hard as I could.  I walked away with full manuscript requests from both.  I smiled when I took the cards from their hands, adoring the thin slip of paper like Gollum does his precious.  What they didn’t witness was when I walked into the hallway, burst into tears, called my husband, and told him I’d hit a homer.  It wasn’t as though I was signed on the spot, or my novel is being published tomorrow, but for me… after a 6 hour drive, and the blood, sweat, and tears…that baby soared out of the park.

Now I’ve sent everything to them.  It’s been a month, which I know is normal.  And it’s killing me.  I stand in the stadium alone, the cheers fading, watching my ball sail over the fence.  It’s out of sight.  That run is over.  Now it is time to wait for my next at bat, and God-willing , hit one more.  Every night I dream of the second my phone rings, or my inbox has that message I’ve longed for.  I channel that moment, meditate on it, and pray for it.  I write.  I pace.  I wait.  I walk into to Barnes & Noble and sniff the insides of the pages of the ones I can tell are fresh.  I am married to this dream, and I cannot breathe an easy breath until one of the gatekeepers of the world I’m in love with comes knocking at my door.

I know this isn’t the hardest part, but it’s my hardest part today.  I know I’m going to see my baby covered in red editor’s ink, and be told to make a million changes.  I know I will swallow my pride 973 more times, and kiss the pinky rings of more elders than I can count.  I know I will cry.  I know I will worry.  But bring it on.  Bring that to my doorstep, because today I wait.  I’m cold in the large shadow of the body I want to join.  I’m a gladiator unafraid to take the arena, but scared to death of being on deck forever.

I don’t know how to put this to bed, to have my cheerful happy ending where I realize it’s ok to wait, and that it will never be more exciting than it is now.  I have those days, but not today.  Today I’m awake, and I’m warmed up.  I’m wearing the home team whites, and I am ready.  I am at the plate waiting for someone to hurl that curve ball and let me swing like hell one more time.  This time, maybe, just maybe if the wind catches the ball just right, I’ll land on the shelf, where I know there is an empty spot drawing me like a moth to light.

But for tonight, no matter the heat in my bat…tonight, I wait.  Tonight I will fall asleep on home plate.  I am a writer in waiting.

 

home

 

Around the Punch Bowl

My writer bug started fluttering over the weekend.  I threw my best friend a baby shower, and just experiencing the interactions of small-town southern women at the event was enough to do it.  My friend, like myself is an Asheville, NC native.  She now lives about an hour and a half down the road in the metropolis that is Lincolnton, North Carolina.  Outside of the Tar Heel State I’m sure no one has heard of it, (though I do recommend seeing the charming little colonial courthouse there).

Lincolnton is a tight knit town full of old money, and old families.  Everyone’s Daddy knew everyone else’s Daddy, and what town he was responsible for building.  I believe I was dining on the Lincolnton shower staple, pickle rolls, amongst the elders of Cherryville as well, but I wouldn’t swear it.  They are all very delightful though, and I look forward to my trips there.  But, just like women in Asheville; natives are natives.  I know I’m from outside, even if it’s only a couple counties.

The shower started at 2:30, and I began seeing short women with tall hair and Mary Kay rouge start to roll in at about 2:35.  Nobody would dare arrive on the dot, nor be considered late.  I was nervous about the blue punch I’d made.  I’d found the recipe on Pinterest, which is normally a guaranteed show stopper, but I was in the company of women with Southern Living Subscriptions.  I know how they are.  I blushingly admit, I am by nature, a bit of one of them myself.

They swept in and glanced at the food table, delighted to see the blue and white argyle cake we had not scrimped on, reigning over the pickle rolls and pimento cheese sandwiches.  They remarked on the gorgeous invitations that were sent out, and the beautiful eyelet white dress the Mother-to-be was sporting (after I dragged her kicking and screaming out of the black dress she’d chosen).

I held my breath when they got to the punch bowl.   I’m younger than most of these women; maybe Mama’s punch recipe didn’t include blue Kool-Aid.

“Well isn’t that different…how cute,”  one woman said.

“It’s a bit frothy…”  said another.

I thought back to putting in one extra scoop of ice cream.

The mother-in-law put me to ease, “Look at those cute rubber duckies…looks like they’re swimmin’,” she accepts a glass from me, tastes it, and shows delight.  Since she is respected in the small community, I am soon out of glasses.  I can breathe a moment.

I see my friends come through the front door.  I notice one friend had a plethora of gifts in her hand, and I question if I did enough in my mind.  I am jealous of my other friend’s cowboy boots.  I hope no one thinks I look fat in my dress, and that my Spanx aren’t showing. I fidget with my new blue dress a minute, and arrange my bubble necklace. Strangely, I’m relieved in spite of all the anxiety.

My pregnant friend whom the party was thrown for makes her way to the punch bowl with my other two friends.  We stand there unknowingly segregating ourselves like we had since middle school, which gets closer and closer to being twenty years ago.  We make our observations about everyone: whose dress looks nice, who made that gorgeous basket, who still has their summer tan, and who is a potential cause of stress.  I notice one of my friends gets her own punch, drinks it, and refills her glass.  She enjoys the punch, not knowing it’s a source of stress for me.  She’s insecure about other things.  Will my child tear into the gifts, or disrobe in front of everyone as she has been known to do once or twice?  My pregnant friend hopes her house is clean enough and no one sees the dog toy lying in the floor.  My cowboy boots and sundress friend still wonders how she is looking after having her baby last year.  We’re all worrying, but not about anything anyone else thinks we are.  We are all worrying about our own insecurities, no one elses.  Yet, the fun isn’t fake,  In spite of the naggings, we’re legitimately having a good time.  We come up with enough sassy comments to put anything to rest.

 

When Words Marry a Melody

When words are married to a melody equally as powerful as they are, things happen. Lyrics change, and where there was once no understanding, sometimes the notes are the answer. They awaken deaf ears, or passions we’ve turned our backs on.

I haven’t been writing as much lately. The rejection got to me. I continually preach how I’ll never stop trying, I’ll always love writing before all else, and I won’t give up my dream of sharing it. However, I did…a little bit. I was angry at my writing. It became like a little gremlin that wouldn’t shut up no matter how tightly I closed my ears. I found myself screaming into pillows and imagining pulling the writer out of my chest to lock it in a box. However, much like the tale-tell heart, it beat so loudly. I let it drive me mad, and busied myself with anything I could to avoid it. I never thought I would see the day…

Then it happened. I heard one of those songs that only come out every couple decades. I heard a new sound that jolted me to life. I heard the melody before the words. It was sultry and grinding. It was folksy and bluesy. It was modern with antiquated traits. It was some place where the ghost of Janis Joplin mingled with Lady Antebellum if such can be imagined. It may only get to be heard…

I closed my eyes and breathed in saw dust from a mill dirty men were working at nearby. I saw a barefoot woman in a second-hand, dirt-washed, floral dress pacing in a barren front yard in front of her shack. I saw a newspaper thrown down beside her declaring World War 2 was over, but was more concerned with the blood stain on her right shoulder. I hadn’t yet decided where it had come from, nor if she is insane or just drunk. I do however know she is thirsty. She’s thirsty to be touched, loved, or just noticed. I think she was probably born cursed and is more earnest than people know. If she is at the point of madness she’s been driven to it. She’s strong, but probably won’t be forever. The daisy in a Dixie cup she picked for herself gives her away. Oh my…Where did this character come to me from? It happened in a flash. I think I can make something of her…was it simply a few bars of a song?

Then I snapped out of it and heard the words,

“Billie Jean is not my lover. She’s just a girl who claims that I am the one. But the kid, is not my son.”

It was drawn out, pushed, like the singer was forcing himself out of a heat stroke on a southern August day in the Carolina sand hills. They had covered a MICHAEL JACKSON song in such a way they showed me Billie Jean herself. I saw her before I heard her name, and now she’s inspired me.

The band, The Civil Wars told me the story of girl with a deep sadness about her who just tries to be a good time. They told me the story of someone who was once beautiful but used and denied to the point she lost herself. They told me something Michael did not. They told me her side.

Now I have to write the rest of the story. I now see the next level, the rawness, the pain. I see the man who did this to her, and I see a gun in another lovers hand. I see a washed up war-time pin-up, and I see bastard child with a curse hanging on her head as plainly as her Mama’s. I hear old southern accents, like the kind my grandparents use bustling about, and I smell moonshine on all their breaths. I think…I think I just might have a novel in spite of my rebellion against it. I think one form of art reached out and stroked another, and I think I am grateful.

Summer Soundtracks

Country music is better in the summer. Nine months of the year I can take or leave most of it, but those country singers…they get southern summers.  My latest poison:  Springsteen by Eric Church.  It’s not new, but it tickles just the right spot every time.  I’ve always connected music to situations, and when he says, “it’s funny how a melody sounds like a memory,” he has me. He has me bbecause it is so true.  When certain songs come on, they’ll just rip my guts out, sometimes the good way and sometimes not so much.

I write about memories a lot…a whole lot.  It’s not that I’m stuck in the past.  I love my life right now.  I have a great husband, unbelievable friends, and have just started a new business, but I bet I’ll understand the excitement about it all even more when I’m staring at it from a long way off one day.  Maybe that’s just the writer in me that makes me go back…that and the music. 

I think its ok though, going back.  Someone is probably rolling their eyes right now thinking, “yeah she wouldn’t go back if she’d had my past.”  I don’t really know if I would or not, but I do know mine hasn’t always been full of gummy bears and rainbows.  But, I believe in the past.  I believe in remembering it, looking at it from time to time, and letting it reveal you to yourself.  I believe in the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.  The problem comes when we forget to use the bad and ugly parts for good.  Instead we torture ourselves trying to forget them, lie to others by saying they are forgotten, and spend way too many grueling hours trying to lie to ourselves.  And that’s my soapbox on that…

However, this one isn’t about the bad memories, but about the yummy summertime kind…the kind country music understands best.  This is about the kind of memory you’re embarrassed to admit you’re still in love with and laugh out loud about halfway embarrassed when your obnoxious friend brings it up at a dinner party.  Go ahead and smile about it.  Think back to that boy from out of town you skinny-dipped with three hours before you were supposed to show up for Sunday school.  Let your mind go to those shorts you wore until they fell apart the Fall of your senior year…you know, those that would still be your favorite.  Find that place where you got up the nerve to kiss a stranger for the first time.  Go home tonight and cook dinner for your family, and make out the weekly bills, and thank God for the job you have tomorrow, but please, before your head hits the pillow, let a country song take you to some Neverland that never ages past the last few days of seventeen.  Let it take you there and let yourself feel it until you squirm because it has you  hooked like a worm right through the gut.  And remember…Saturday is coming and it’s June-thirty.  Don’t let it slip by today so the writer in you will love it all over again tomorrow whenever you hear some song you didn’t even know was playing at the time.  It’s a great little surprise the song has for you, and you’re laying that soundtrack right now by pure accident.  Even if you don’t think it’s country, and you live in the heart of Manhattan, it is country still.  It’s always tears of happiness or sadness, with even the good things being a heartache if they’re real.  The country songs just admit it all for us because raw is all they know, and know it more in summer.   I love this time of year, and music it leaves behind that even the most bitter cold, furthest distance, or longest years cannot drown out…the summer soundtracks that perfume our lives with oohs, ahhs, laas, and nananas.

The Roaring Lost

I want to feel the tingle when the era romances me. I don’t want to find it in a book, but I want to fall into it one day, find some kind of secret door that takes me there, like a wardrobe takes children to Narnia. I want to be blinded by the rose-colored buildings on the French Riviera. I want to fight my hips a little before giving into the swing music. I want the melody to be nearly hushed by Hemingway’s cursing that the booze only makes louder. I want to look to see what annoys him so and find Zelda Fitzgerald doing something half mental, half charming from inside her drop-waisted dress. I can’t wait to hear what she spouts back at the gifted lush with her muttled southern accent that perfumes the room in both Alabama and Carolina drawls. I want to see F. Scott in the corner shaking his head at himself more than her. For he is the one who chose her, because he is addicted to her more than anything else.

When back to the homeland I want to buy liquor fresh off a smuggler’s wagon. I want the driver of the wagon to have an accent like Al Capone, and vanish like an apparition as soon as the whiskey bottle touches my lace-gloved hand. I’ll throw some back with the brown paper bag still wrapped around the bottle, and wink at the police officer across the way after I do it. I think I’ll like prohibition actually, because it will give me a reason to be scandolous.

I will only want to stay for a second, though, in this era that draws me like a fly to honey. I have to know how fleeting it was myself to get the full effect…that lost generation. It just teetered on the edge of things it couldn’t get enough of…maybe because enough was too much, and killed everyone off who wanted it. Maybe that’s why the generation of poets, artists, musicians, and novelists were know as the lost ones…I never fully will understand that though. Their influences haunt me so.

I like to believe because I am from Asheville, North Carolina, that somewhere in the 20s, maybe when the Fitzgeralds were stumbling out of a fancy restaurant a little too drunk for a classy joint, Zelda brushed the arm of my great-grandmother, who was walking home with an armful of groceries. Maybe something, some particle of the magic fell onto my ancestor, that was carried through the wombs of the women before me until it embedded in my skin. Now it is soaked in, and I can’t get it out. I understand something about it, and breathe it a little bit. That lost generation is somewhere, and I’m thinking maybe, it’s somewhere inside me. The lost, they are still roaring indeed.

The Turn

I used to have a certain cockiness about me, that I knew I had, wouldn’t admit to having, yet couldn’t wait for others to notice. It’s strange, because in one sense I’ve spent a life being insecure. I was terribly preoccupied with my looks, worried constantly how my body might look as I slink away from a crowd. I was terrified of not being fussed over. I don’t know exactly where it comes from. I’ve blamed it on different things over the years: having beautiful friends, hearing my father talk about how blonde women are unattractive, always being in front of people cheering or dancing, my formative years, adolescence. The truth is, I’m 27 years old now, and it doesn’t matter where it came from anymore. This isn’t really about overcoming that either. This is about the other flaw I developed to over compensate for my fragile ego. I decided to never screw up and to use my wit to flaunt it. I didn’t know what a monster I was about to raise from little monsterhood deep inside of me.

I became good at not screwing up. I had to be the best at whatever I did, if for nothing else to remain in the limelight. It was warm in that light, and I liked it there. In that light, for a moment, inadequacy doesn’t matter. When I was a young cheerleader I demanded the spotlight, always dancing right up front, focused on none other than stealing the show. I had to make the best grades, just to hear my grandparents praise me in front of the whole family. I discovered I was witty, and had to use it to charm anyone I could. I hadn’t found anyone who could rival me either. My secret cockiness was born. The monster was here, and I thought he would slay my short-comings. I would simply refuse to have short-comings. I found solace in this cocoon I’d made.

I must admit though, I did have pure dumb luck on top of the things I’d conjured myself. I could be in a room of a thousand people and win a drawing. I’d play my husband and his buddies in poker, throwing a flush down every time. I’d flash a sultry wink at them, and sweep their chips into my corner with a devilish grin. I’d then say something innocent, and bring up the fact I’m short to temper the sting, while still stirring the charm. I’d have the button on my phone cued to start playing a Bob Seger song I swear he’d written about me in prophesy, forcing everyone to quietly absorb the lyrics, “you always won every time you placed a bet. Still damn good, no one’s gotten to you yet.” I’d giggle, watching the others contemplate whether to smack me or love me. Things like this was how I coped with the world. It felt good at times, but bad more often.

After a random bout of panic attacks knocked me rather cruelly off that horse I’d been riding so pridefully, I needed a change. I needed a goal to feel good again, and I needed a real one. I realized that a man who only does what he is good at by nature, only beats others by default. I wanted to do something hard, that would take guts, and maybe give me some real confidence for once.

I decided to go back to my dancer roots, but do something crazy with it. I would audition to be an NFL cheerleader. This level of competition and intensity would be foreign to me, and I would treat it like a doomed bull at a Texas rodeo. Part of me was scared, but part of me, that cocky part,thought somehow it wouldn’t be possible for me to screw it up. I wasn’t a screw-up.

I trained for months, getting in the best shape of my life. I spent my days dancing, running, spray-tanning, bleaching my teeth, and eating things that look like they should be growing under pontoon boats. My audition dance was perfected, and I’d spent hours working on dance technique. Having come from a cheerleading and hip/hop background, my turns (pirouettes and such) needed work. I overcame my frustration with this, and nailed them in warm-ups. Now I just had to prance out in front of the judges, in an outfit I would normally only sport at the beach, and shine, shine, shine.

I had no idea what I had gotten into. I looked around at a room packed full of incredible dancers, with bodies that would make Megan Fox question herself. Judges were famous choreographers, fresh from Hollywood. The audition platform was featured on huge screens everywhere, and they were herding us in like cattle on Speed. That insecure little girl that I thought that monster had conquered was still alive. I felt like I’d found a ghost that had been living in me for years. I was terrified.

When I got to the audition area I knew I had to bring it…but, for the first time in my life I couldn’t. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t get my registration paperwork unfolded. When I took my mark, and the music started I could feel my convulsing body limiting my motions. I knew I wasn’t executing the moves like I should have. Then it was time for the pirouette I’d been dreading. I knew I had to focus on this because it was my weak point. I went for it, and came out of my turn early, with a bit of a stumble. I’d blown it.

After getting cut, I knew what it was like to not make a team. In an instant I knew what it was like to work towards something for months, then crack under pressure. I knew what it was like to fail after giving all I had. The strange part, was I was still proud. I used to looked at people who were proud of themselves “just for trying” like they were morons. However, I was wrong. I learned so much about guts, blood, sweat, and tears, while training for that. I learned about having to fight, and not necessarily winning that fight. Sometimes we have to give all we have for disappointment. The bull threw me off his back, but I truly wouldn’t have missed that right for anything. The greatest lesson, was probably the humility. I accepted it of myself. I realized that the whole time, this process was so personal, and more about facing parts of me I’ve muted…and realizing she isn’t half bad. Blowing that turn in my routine was a gift I never thought I wanted. It ended up being my turn…for the better.