Friday, May 19, 2017

Will Elsa Ever Stop Singing?

Elsa has been singing in my head lately. We all know what she's singing. She's singing that song the world went crazy over a few years ago but was absolutely sick of six months later. Well, I never got sick of that song. It became an anthem of sorts for me, and even a year later, after the rest of the world moved on, or wished they could move on, I was still happily listening to Elsa sing. But just the same, there are moments when I wish she would shut up, because when she gets going on letting it go, it's a signal that my mind is going in some painful directions. So I spend my life in constant pursuit of ways to keep her from opening her big frozen mouth.

My Life's Soundtrack

I've always used songs to express feelings I couldn't quite work through on my own. This began when I was a child and continues to this day. Elsa is just the latest manifestation of the little voice that speaks to me during troubling times and helps me find my way.

My First Midlife Crisis

I spent my teen years wondering if I would die at twenty because I had a midlife crisis when I was ten. Okay, I didn't seriously think I was dying, but I did think ten was awfully young for a midlife crisis. What I know now is that most kids go through something similar to what I experienced. We can all look back on that moment when we realized that the world is not as stable as we thought it was and things are not as permanent as we thought they were. It happened for me when I was ten. The trigger was my parents' decision to remodel our house.

This rocked my whole little world. All my life, the kitchen had been one color. There had always been the same carpet on my bedroom floor. The same wallpaper in the living room. Those things formed the foundation upon which my life was built. It never occurred to me that they might one day change. Then all of a sudden my parents are looking at paint colors and talking about restoring the hardwood floor which lurked under the dirty brown carpet. It was my first realization that with the passage of time comes change and that we can neither stop change nor stop time. It was my first realization that there was no way I could stop myself from getting old and dying. And there was a song that played in my mind on a constant loop whenever I pondered these possibilities. Fly Like an Eagle by The Steve Miller Band. The line that I couldn't get out of my head, no matter how hard I tried, was "Time keeps on slippin' into the future." Creeped me out like you wouldn't believe.

My First Broken Heart

At fourteen I liked a boy who did not reciprocate my feelings. In fact, he went through a phase where he pretended I didn't even exist. This time it was John Mellencamp who sang to me. "Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone."

The Defining Moment of My Life

We all have that experience that changes the course of our lives and changes us at the same time. That moment we can look back on and point to and say, "There. That's when everything changed." Sometimes it's a good experience, but I think a lot of times it's something bad. Something we have to fight our way back from. For me, it was the loss of a job. I've blogged about it a couple of times in the past. If you're interested, you can read about it here and here. A lot of songs reverberated in my head after that happened.

In the immediate aftermath of my shameful dismissal from my dream job, I desperately needed a new creative outlet, so I fled into community theatre. I immediately got a small part in a local production of the musical Blood Brothers. There were two parts of this musical that seemed to speak directly to my situation. Because I found out in October that I was losing my job, I couldn't stop repeating the lines from Blood Brothers that say, "It was one day in October when the sun began to fade, and winter broke the promise that summer had just made. It was one day in October when the rain came falling down, and someone said the bogey man was seen around the town."

I was also dealing the fact that I was the mother of two small children. My job had been part-time, which I considered the perfect arrangement. I could be a stay-at-home mom and have an identity outside of the home at the same time. When the job was gone, so was my sense of who I was. So another segment of Blood Brothers refused to let me go. "There's a girl inside the woman who's trying to get free. She's washed a million dishes. She's always making tea. They think she's just a mother with nothing left inside, who swapped her dreams for drudgery the day she was a bride. But the dreams were not forgotten, just wrapped and packed away, with the hope that she would take them out and dust them off one day." I cried a good many tears over that one, I can tell you.

Enter Elsa

It's taken a long time to get past losing that job. It's been ten years and I'm still not completely over it. I teared up just now writing about it, and I'm still trying to figure out who I am in its absence. So I've tried a little of this and  little of that in an effort to reclaim my lost identity. I was at a particularly low point when I saw Frozen for the first time, and when she sang Let It Go I almost lost it. Right there in front of my husband and kids. And I never lose it in front of my husband and kids. So I kept it together for the remainder of the movie, then went to the back of the house where I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for fifteen minutes or so.

I sang Let It Go nearly every day for a year. And I probably ugly cried every single time I sang it. Any time I found myself alone in the house I would look up the karaoke video on YouTube so I could sing it to actual music. I learned to play it on piano. I was obsessed. But the obsession was not healthy. The song affected me the way it did because it spoke to a deep longing inside of me. A longing to be noticed in the world. To be respected. To be someone. When I'm feeling fulfilled in my life, Elsa stops singing. I don't need her any more. She's been relatively quiet lately, but just the other day I got to thinking about all the things I wish I could do with my life if only I had the time and the money and the connections. And she started up again. The singing is relatively quiet right now. Really, more like humming in the background. But if I don't find an outlet for this energy she'll start belting it out and, much as I love the song, I don't want to take my heart to the place where it goes when Elsa tells me to let it go. It's not a pleasant place for my heart to be.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Annual Birthday Buzzkill

We all have birthdays. There's no avoiding them. When we're kids we look forward to them, not only for the party and the presents, but for the added prestige of being a year older. After all, when we're kids, being older is cool. And it brings with it certain exciting milestones. Starting school. Entering the double digits. Becoming a teenager. Going to high school. Getting a driver's license. Becoming a legal adult. Purchasing adult beverages without putting the seller in danger of being shut down for selling alcohol to an underage person.

Once we hit our twenties, some of the excitement begins to diminish. We do look forward to the day people will take us seriously in our careers, and that doesn't often happen until we get closer to thirty, but for the most part the age-dependent milestones are over. Yes, we can get married and have kids, but we can do that pretty much any time, so our birthdays have no affect on it.

Then we hit thirty, and instead of bringing us prestige and respect, our birthdays just bring us one step closer to being middle-aged. Then we hit our mid thirties and the big four-oh looms on the horizon. Then all of a sudden and with no apparent warning, we go from our mid thirties to our late thirties. That happened to me yesterday. I turned thirty-eight.

As if that is not enough of a buzzkill, once we become adults, our birthdays bring with them certain responsibilities. Car tags expire every year on our birthdays. So every year we rush down to the tag office and pay a fee to avoid getting slapped with a big fat "Happy Belated Birthday" traffic ticket. I'm depressed already.

But...speaking of cars...did you know that our driver's licenses expire every five years or so? On our birthdays? So we've just paid our tag fee, and now we have to go pay another fee so we can legally drive the car we've just gotten updated papers on. And this fee buys us a not-so-glamorous photo shoot. Seriously, what do they do to driver's license photos to make them look so darn crappy? And to add insult to injury, most of us gain weight as we age, so we have to be reminded of that as we're filling out the physical description section of the renewal form.

So we reach the end of our big day feeling exhausted, fat, and old. But then our husbands let us binge-watch the TV series of our choice and things begin to look up. Just as long as they don't bring us a birthday cake. Because we're feeling fat and cake won't help us.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: May 2017

Limiting Myself

A case of literary snobbery almost made me pass on this book. Though I blog all the time about how it's sometimes okay to ignore the rules and write the story you want to write, still when I evaluate other people's work, I tend to evaluate according to those very same rules. And I almost missed out on reading this book because of it.

In my attempts to perfect my own craft, one of the things I've been studying rigorously is Deep POV. I've read countless books and articles on the topic, and have spent my writing time asking myself, "Am I telling the audience things the POV character wouldn't know?" Or, "Am I far enough into my character's head to make the reader feel the emotions the same way the character does?" I've ruthlessly edited my own work in a desperate attempt to deepen the POV.

The book I chose for this month's feature employs a rather shallow POV. Even an omniscient POV in some places. When I first read the free sample on Amazon, I interpreted this shallow POV as one of those dreaded "newbie errors" we all hear so much about. And, as I said before, I almost passed on the book. But then my deadline for announcing my selection loomed on the horizon, and I decided to give this book one more chance. And I'm glad I did.

The Book:


The Seer of Possibilities by Thomas O. Once I really started reading it, what had at first come across as a newbie mistake suddenly appeared instead to be a deliberate choice. After all, is there anything fundamentally wrong with using an omniscient POV? Just because it's not in style at the moment doesn't make it bad. In fact, it lends a sort of old-timey feel to the writing, because shallow and omniscient points of view were once very common. Many of what we call the classics were written in this way, so how can we condemn it? And really, once I really started to get interested in the stories, the writing style seemed to add to the creepy atmosphere.

This book is a collection of short stories. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed each one. Reading this book took me right back to my childhood when I used to go to the library in search of ghost story anthologies. The stories in this book aren't ghost stories, but they have the same feel to them as those stories I read as a kid. And, in reading them, I felt all the same emotions I felt when I was a child peaking around the corner into the realm of the spooky.

Each story in this collection begins with some mundane occurrence. Then little hints are dropped here and there that something sinister might be happening, but the reader doesn't know what, exactly, is happening until the end. And each story culminates in a creepy, Flannery O'Connor-style twist.

A twist ending is not an easy thing to pull off. Those kinds of stories have their own set of rules. The twist can't be too predictable. If the reader can see it coming from a mile away, he's going to walk away disappointed. But just the same, the twist has to follow logically on what has come before so that when you look back over the story you think to yourself, "Of course!" If the author throws some new twist in right at the end without at least a little foreshadowing, the reader is left thinking, "Um...what was that supposed to be?" Thomas O. pulls off a twist ending not once but six times in this book. And each one was surprising yet believable. In fact, getting to the final twist in the first story is what made me want to continue on and finish the book. I kept reading with the hope that all the stories would have equally satisfying endings. I was not disappointed.

If you like creepy stories, please do yourself a favor and buy this book. You will be glad you did. The book can be found on Amazon.