"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for June, 2014

In Defense of Lollipops and Rainbows

Image from mistiquecandy.blogspot.com   If you like candy, check out this blog!

Image from mistiquecandy.blogspot.com
If you like candy, check out this blog!

As this is The Lighthearted Dragonfly blog, not The Depressed and Down-trodden Dragonfly, I try to keep my musings (hopefully) a little more positive. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not naive’ enough to believe that the world is full of lollipops and rainbows, but I try on my blog and in my daily life not to focus on all that’s wrong with the world.

Recently I read an article about the craft of writing Personal Essays. After I read it, I felt like I should just quit writing all together because if the author was to be believed, you have to be dark, brooding and borderline suicidal to ever be published out there. Luckily, I read this just before my weekly Writing/Therapy meeting with Kim, my writing buddy, who was able to make some valid counter arguments. I disagree with the point the article made that essays that don’t probe the depths of human despair are not worthy for submission. Yes, most people love to read about others’ struggles, including me. Whether it’s because it makes us feel better about our own problems or because we like having others to identify with, it’s just plain old interesting when someone bares their soul and allows us into their head.

But I feel like there’s also a place for humor in the midst of the mundane. A place for observation of everyday life. Even a place where gratitude is expressed for people who make our lives worth living. Do essays always have to be joyful? Definitely not. That would be so boring. But sometimes I get tired of all the negative, deep thoughts and just want a little fluff or a good laugh. The darkness in the world needs to be balanced with redemption.

I’m glad I read the article, despite the initial discouragement I felt after reading it, because it opened my eyes to the idea that the type of writing I do on this blog only appeals to a small niche of people. It also made me realize that my other writing projects (family history one aside) may need to be a little edgier with meaner characters than what I tend to write. Lesson learned. But in real life, I really do hold out hope for those lollipops and rainbows.

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B-Sides and Angry White Man Music

Joe and the Boys back in the day...

Joe and the Boys back in the day…

Last week Tyler and his friend stopped by the house for a bit around lunchtime. Before they left, he told me that they had been listening to CDs that I’d made on the computer that they’d found in Darrell’s old car that Tyler drives. Apparently his friend was surprised that the music on the CDs was mine. Tyler said, “Yeah, we call my mom’s music Angry White Man Music”. I had to laugh because he actually said it with a little bit of pride. Personally, I can be a little self-conscious about my taste in music because it doesn’t seem very cultured or Mom-like.

For example, not too long ago we were at a get together at our friend’s house and the subject turned to music and old 80s bands, which I love to talk about. I can’t even remember exactly what or who we were discussing, but it was probably along the lines of what bands some musicians had bounced around between and what they were up to now. After a while I looked around and realized that all the women were gathered in the kitchen, while I was in the living room with all the guys. I’m guessing women who are sports enthusiasts experience that kind of thing a lot, but I felt like I’d breached some kind of social etiquette even though they’re all good friends of ours and they love me anyway.

Back in my high school days, when everyone else loved Madonna and Michael Jackson, I was listening to Dokken, Triumph, Whitesnake and hair bands. It was just weird to people that a girl would prefer heavy metal—at least at my high school. (Clarification: what was called heavy metal in the 80s was not speed or death metal like it references more today. I think now it’s classified as “hard rock” and some even labeled—gasp—classic rock). I tried to like the pop stuff, and some I did listen to, but it wasn’t my go-to genre. I think a lot of girls did like the type of music I did, but a lot of them were the groupie types that just liked the bad boy images of the bands. I was not a groupie—I truly liked the music and loved learning the stories of the bands. Although I’ll admit I secretly thought someday I’d meet Joe Elliott from Def Leppard and sweep him off his feet. Good thing that didn’t happen.

Looking back, I think it had a lot to do with my attitude and personality in high school. I didn’t fit into any of the particular “groups” in high school, but I had friends in each of them. I was an Honor Roll student, but I wasn’t intellectual enough to fit in with the Brains. I certainly wasn’t in with the Jocks or Popular Crowd. I wasn’t a Rebel, but I was friends with a lot of kids who were considered a part of that group, even though they really weren’t once you knew them. (Just typing these labels makes me laugh a little—and think of The Breakfast Club.) To me, my taste in music only solidified my identity in that I didn’t really have to like everything that all the kids my age did. Oooh, what a rebel I was!

Before high school, I remember listening to entire albums and always liking the other songs, the B-sides, more than the hits. The B-side of one of my Blondie 45s back in third grade was a song called Suzy and Jeffrey, which I listened to much more than Rapture. And when we got our 8-track tape player in the living room, you were kind of forced to listen to the whole album, or at least how it got divided up into four quarters. If the song you liked was the second song on Track 2, you could push the button to cycle back to Track 2, but you most likely had to listen to the song before it if it wasn’t the first one on the track. And what a shame it was when a song got cut up into two separate tracks!

Today, I have to explain to my kids what a B-side on a 45 was. They know CDs of course, but they mostly download all their music on their phones or iPods. Consequently, I think they miss out on a lot of great tunes because they mostly only download the songs they hear on the radio, and not the entire album. If I were a recording artist that would make me a little sad, because songs that are considered commercial successes by the record companies aren’t always a musicians’ most favorite, heartfelt work. While I’m sure they cry all the way to the bank, it would be discouraging to me to know that my personal masterpiece is buried on an album where only a few people bother to listen to it.

Almost 30 years and three kids later, my favorite satellite radio station is Hair Nation. But I’ve branched out a lot since then—if you look at my iPod you’ll find everything from Alan Jackson singing church hymns to Avenged Sevenfold. Still probably a little light on the pop, but now when I hear those pop songs from the 80s that I got so sick of back then I love them, because they bring back great memories. And they’re much better than I remember.

Nowadays, I like a lot of what’s considered alternative rock bands, like Rise Against and the Offspring. I love to listen to my “Angry White Man Music” when I’m running or working out for obvious reasons. And I confess I’m the Mom who has to be careful what’s playing with the kids in the car. I don’t want one of their friends to report to their parents the lyrics of Panic at the Disco’s I Write Sins Not Tragedies after I take them to Girl Scout camp! I have found some great Christian bands like Kutless, Thousand Foot Krutch and Skillet so I can get the rock sound with more uplifting lyrics at least. Still, when the time comes for me to hit the Retirement Home, I hope they play Breaking Benjamin at the parties instead of Justin Bieber. I’m sure I’ll be in good company, right?

Silky’s In the Summer

Mmmm...

Summertime is…trying to eat your ice cream super fast before it melts and then suffering the consequences with brain freeze.

 Happy Summer!

Weekend Larks

Emily and Erin on the float...they were the only ones who didn't get tipped by the boater!

Emily and Erin on the float…they were the only ones who didn’t get tipped by the boater!

One of my favorite things our family does in the summer is go on weekend larks. We don’t actually call them that, but “road trip” makes it sound like we’re going cross-country or something. What we do is more local than that, but fun just the same.

During the school year, between sports, school activities, Girl Scouts, etc., we usually find our weekends taken up with at least one day where we’re obligated to be somewhere. I love how in the summer we have a little more flexibility on weekends. While a whole weekend getaway is preferable, sometimes we can only do a Saturday or Sunday day away—a mini lark, I guess you could call it.

So last weekend, we got to have our Weekend Lark in the form of the Third Annual Float trip/Camp Pick up weekend. We started this tradition when both Emily and Erin used to go to camp in Vienna, Missouri, near Rolla. The first year, Darrell, Tyler and I came down on Friday night and rented a cabin at Meramec State Park. We picked the girls up as usual, but instead of going home like they expected, we took them to the cabin and went on a float trip for the day. They were so surprised and the whole weekend away from the normal refreshed us as a family.

The next year, our friends’ daughter went to camp with Erin, so we made it a multi-family trip. The cabins at the State Park were all booked, so we took a chance on a hotel in St. Clair that Darrell found called Budget Lodging. Their tagline is “A Touch of Class for Less”. Turns out, both our families love this little hotel. As far as accommodations go, it’s not anything fancy or unusual—clean rooms, nice breakfast, and swimming pool. But the charm of the place is not what you find at Super 8. Maybe because it’s a little like walking back into the late 1980s, complete with the picture of the proprietor, Letha Hickenbotham, at the front desk. The first time we were there, we were amazed to see they still had one of those credit card machines where you roll the handle over the carbons. And actual room keys, not the credit card kind. Now, staying at this cozy little hotel is just part of the fun of the weekend with the main event being the float trip.

Although a float trip on the weekend with kids can be a little bit of a vocabulary lesson for younger ears, the part of the river we float is usually pretty tame compared to some other places nearby. You do get a bit of a rowdy, partying crowd here and there. Most of the time it’s just college-age kids trying to impress one another, and they’re easy to tune out. We tipped our canoe this year, in part thanks to some guy with a small motorized boat that made enough wakes to flip it into the bank, but we came out unscathed—muddy and down two beers, but with great memories.

Because memories are what the Weekend Larks are all about. When I remember summers past with our family, those fun little larks are one of the things that stand out most to me. Stopping at gas stations that boast the “World’s Largest Rocking Chair” and not feeling guilty about snacking on a Zero candy bar for lunch. Picking places to stop based on the cleanliness of the bathroom and if you can pull to the gas pump easily with the boat. Radio stations in the middle of nowhere where you can hear the stock report, the gospel and the local obituaries read in a monotone voice as you’re driving home on Sunday morning. Lark traveling moments we still laugh about together.

So while I’ll never turn my nose up at a cruise or Caribbean island vacation, these larks—well, they’re special, too. What would summer be without them?

Bloggin’–Yeah, It’s Personal

embarrassing

I’m pretty good at embarrassing myself and laughing about it. Probably because the types of things that embarrass other people I find amusing and as a person, I’m pretty much an open book. I am comfortable with who I am—I know I spend/eat/drink too much, laugh too loud at inappropriate things, and I’m not getting any younger. Most of the time these things don’t bother me, because they tend to make my life unfold in unexpected and humorous ways. Heck, I blog about them for the world to see. (Well, my wonderful 49 something followers at least!)

But this week got off to a rough start after dropping off Erin at camp. As much as I wanted to find humor in the moment, I still can’t personally. When I tell my close friends about it, I do make a point of highlighting the SNL skit-worthy parts, and glossing over the parts that aren’t so pleasant; it’s still too much of an open wound to laugh about.

I told my loyal, faithful, wonderful friend Amy, who played the role of angel-on-earth in our little drama, that hey, at least I have something to blog about. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would not be fair to my family to air dirty laundry on a blog—even if it’s just my take on things. Because while it’s one thing to laugh at my own follies, dragging my kids’ stories onto the internet for even just 49 people to see is violating the trust they have in me as their parent. And I don’t want to pay for their therapy when they’re 30.

I remember being a kid and not wanting my mom to tell friends and relatives “stuff”. And this was long before the internet was a forum to do it. We used to travel to visit relatives and take road trips. Long road trips in rural areas where there was not always a clean restroom for hours. I remember more than once having to make my dad stop so I could use the great outdoors, and I didn’t want anybody to know that I had to stop to pee in the weeds somewhere out on a country road. Of course, it was one of the first things talked about when they asked how our trip down had been. Oh, the embarrassment!

So, even though I occasionally forget that some things embarrass people more than they do me, I will never forget how being embarrassed feels. And feelings are pretty important—especially when you’re a kid.

Besides, when it comes to embarrassing stories I have a lot of my own material.   Did I ever tell you about the time….?

What’s Your Writing Process?

Story ideas are like seeds. There are plenty of them, but they take careful tending to grow into anything worthwhile.”   Sexton Burke, The Writer’s Adventure

 

I found this quote in a book my husband bought me for my birthday, and it’s been yammering in my head all week. It describes one of my biggest weaknesses in my writing. I have tons of ideas to write stories about, but I get pulled in so many directions—outside of my writing life as well as scattered writing projects—that I always am juggling them instead of focusing on one. While it’s one of the reasons I love to blog, it’s also why you can find me staring at my computer screen wondering what the heck I was thinking when I started a story idea.

My blog, The Lighthearted Dragonfly, is about my life, and I just write about what I experience and observe with my family and friends. It is a piece of my heart, really, so it’s super easy to sit down at the keyboard and churn out what’s going on. Okay, maybe not super easy, but since it’s my creative outlet I feel like I get to express myself without concern about character and plot structure, plausibility and what some unknown future editor would say about it. Although I do try to edit posts so that they’re grammatically correct, the only censoring is mine alone.

With my stories, it is completely different. I see stories everywhere and I have as far back as I can remember. Before I started really writing them down, I would replay scenes in my head that I would make up—like I was watching a movie. I daydreamed a lot, especially if I was in the car by myself with some good tunes. The thing about the daydreaming was that I didn’t have to fill in the missing information. If I liked to make up sassy dialogue or an attention-grabbing first line that was all I had to do. I didn’t try to explain all the things that led my characters to that scene. I never shared my silly daydreams with anyone (they’d think I was crazy!) so these individual ideas and scenes piled up in my head—mostly they were forgotten when I grew bored with them.

Actual writing is definitely not the same as daydreaming or having a great story idea. Writing takes work! Like the quote says, you have to nurture the idea, and, in most cases, flesh it out to the point of exhaustion, only to clip it back to keep it simple.   This is where I get in trouble. Because I have this need to know every character’s backstory I find that if I struggle with a part of it, I get frustrated, especially if the character’s personality is radically different from mine. A lot of my characters are different from me, because, as I’ve pointed out before in other posts, I live a stable and not too dramatic life that’s not exactly story/novel worthy. Frustration = Put Aside for Later = Forgotten and Left Behind (aka Giving Up).

So here’s what I’m doing about the whole dilemma of starting ideas and not tending to them properly:

1.)      I started meeting with my cousin, who also writes. This has forced me to organize my writings. I can’t ask someone to critique something that is only partially done or has big chunks missing out of the middle of the plot. Just simply having a deadline for when we meet is enough to get me to have my act together. Meeting with Kim regularly gives me purpose in my writing and I’ve been better about committing to a story I’m working on.

2.)       I jot down any and all ideas I have—every time I have them. Some are stand-alone, some mesh into another story or blog post. It doesn’t matter, I just get them down so I don’t forget them. Even if it means running from the shower to my little notepad on my nightstand!

If you’re a writer who’s been writing awhile, this probably seems pathetically basic, but it’s the baby steps that have brought me to the place in my writing where I can feel organized and purposeful. Writing down outlines and timelines does not come second nature to me. Brainstorming random thoughts does. I have scenes in my head that I string together. I need the characters to get from one situation to the next, so I fill in between the scenes I know and love with what makes the characters and plot go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 5. It sounds like kind of a sloppy process when I explain it that way, and sometimes my heart is just not into writing these “cement” chapters that glue a story together, but it’s how it works for me. It makes the characters come alive to me when I feel like in some weird way they are guiding the story.

Do other writers out there have a similar process they go through for their stories? Do you use a Bubble/Brainstorming Method? A dartboard? Do you outline the entire story first? Or do you sit down to write and see how the characters lead you? Does it depend on what genre you’re writing in? I’d love to hear suggestions and have others share what works for them, so please share!

A Time to Speak, A Time to be Silent

Mandy-Hale-Silence-Quotes

Earlier this week I was at Walgreens and I got into a line with several people in it, right behind two early twenty-something guys. One had his phone playing at full volume “music” (I shudder at using that word to describe it) that was just a bunch of angry, self-righteous talking/yelling, chock full of nothing but the f-bomb and variations upon it. The lyrics made Eminem sound like a choir boy. This wasn’t even musical—just somebody’s rant, like you were hearing one side of a heated conversation. The second guy of the pair ahead of me (who only talked loudly on his phone the whole time) had to tell the person on his phone to hang on when he got to the counter so he could grunt and point to the clerk which cigarettes he wanted. The whole episode lasted about three to four minutes, but it felt like an hour. The tension in that line was one you could feel physically crackling in the air.

It was just a really odd experience. And it lit an angry fire in me that I can honestly say I don’t experience very often.

I wanted to offer to buy the guy headphones…or a bar of soap. But instead I said nothing. I noticed he glanced at me once—almost as if he was challenging me to see if I would speak up—but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing it really, really made me mad. Besides, I didn’t know what to say to someone who was truly that inconsiderate and insensitive to his environment—we were in public at a Walgreens for goodness sake! If I’d scolded him, I would have only sounded like some goody-two-shoed old lady (I probably am) and really, would it have made him turn it down/off?

I’ll admit I absolutely hate confrontations. My body physically reacts to anger like I’m going to transform into a dragon, complete with flames coming out, so I try not to saying anything when I’m fired up. Standing there, I thought of several people I knew and wondered how each of them would have handled it had they been standing in that line. Not more than ten feet away from us was a mother with her toddler at the photo counter. As soon as those two had checked out, she and her child stepped up to the line, so I’m sure she had heard it, too, and had chosen to stay back. The guy in line ahead of them, probably in his late thirties, looked straight ahead the whole time and said nothing. The clerk, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties, checked them both through nervously, but said nothing to either of them about the music being inappropriate.

I asked Tyler and Emily what each of them thought about what to say—if anything—in that kind of situation. We had a good laugh spitting out scenarios of what would have happened had people reacted differently. Tyler asked me if I would have been so outraged if they’d been blasting gospel music. Probably not, although it was not only the filthy language that bothered me (yes, I’ve heard those words before), it was the volume level and the fact we were in a public place. After all, in the workout room in the building where I work people play music with similar curse-word laden lyrics all the time, and though that’s not my favorite music, I have never gotten angry about it. No, I believe it was the attitude of intimidation they were trying to project that ruffled my feathers the most.

Part of my anger was that I was disappointed in myself for not speaking up—not just for me, but for everyone else there. In reality, we all knew we’d just need to suffer through it those few minutes it took for them to get through the line, so I guess none of us felt it was worth the energy to enlighten some punk. And who wants to start a fight over something so seemingly trivial like offensive lyrics played loudly in public? But at what point do we as a society draw the line? At what point do we stand up for just basic decency in our corner Walgreens?

The experience was so surreal it did make me think of a weird type of social experiment that gauges people’s reactions—almost like a very lame segment on Candid Camera or Jackass. So I thought I’d ask Dragonfly readers what they thought about it. How would you have handled being in that line? If you’d spoken up, would it have been like a scene from a Clint Eastwood movie? Or a Mother Teresa teaching moment? Would you have addressed the obscenities with humor or appeal to them to be more thoughtful around little kids? Looking forward to hearing your comments either below or via Facebook.

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