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Discovering Family Table Stories

25 Apr

It was a booklovers epic weekend, and I was lucky enough to catch some good stories.

Walking from tent to tent and under the realization that IT was possible was inspiring. All kinds of authors with stories to share, and I was among them. Poetry slams, murals, art demonstrations, book signings, and guest lectures yielded creative nooks and crannies for everyone to absorb.

All this positive energy continued to hold its grasp on me all weekend long. I didn’t get a chance to catch a couple of the journalist or novelists as the kids wanted to explore their own lively storytellers. But I did enjoy the humor and honesty of Mike Epps’s journey. My favorite however, were the stories I discovered on the cooking stage.

The Smollett Family featured some of the recipes from their book The Family Table. The intertwining of food, stories, and family made me want to join in at their table. I had never heard of them before, but was glad to have experienced their story. It was a fun peek into the lives of these siblings and the importance of  how food played a role in keeping the bonds of family stronger.

Stories were the backdrop to every dish, like the oyster po’boys and how that dish reminded them of New Oreleans and their family roots. How every dish they learned to cook originated from the times spent with their mama in the kitchen, and the love she gave them.

It wasn’t happiness I was seeing, but joy. I had forgotten what joy looked like in the kitchen because it’s been a madhouse rush for me for a long time during meal times. But seeing this helped me remember to find time to slow down, maybe not every day, but definitely on weekends.

I enjoyed seeing the stories, laughter, and love come through their recipes. I thought … I hope my kids think of me like that. I hope they remember their favorite dishes, aromas, tastes and the stories that came with them. I hope they feel that way — that stories and food go hand in hand, that stories bind you at the Family table.

I was hoping …

One day at a time … one day at time.

I’ll find out in 20 years.

 

Buen Camino my friends.

 

 

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Finding My Storyteller Again.

4 Apr

I’d been inspired to be a better person. I’d been inspired to be a better parent. I’d been inspired to make a difference. Books, movies, documentaries, and shows have all had the power to affect this kind of change. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been inspired to be a better storyteller.

See the last time I felt this way, was when I finished Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. That amazing book inspired me to be a better person and  better dreamer. It uncovered the importance of being a good storyteller and passing on those life lessons and anecdotes to the people who mattered most. And of course, it came at the right time … You know, just when I needed it. The universe helping me out, trying to get me on the right track.

That was a long time ago … And then Mitch Albom resurfaced.

You see, I hadn’t felt like a better storyteller in a long time, but this book … this book turned up the gears and found its way onto my path. And it found me just in time.

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The first time I read Mitch Albom, his book Tuesdays with Morrie, changed my trajectory. It helped me look for the lessons and wisdom that were passing me by, helped me listen to the stories and advice that my Dad, my mentor, and other good friends were trying to pass onto me. It helped me appreciate.

The next book I discovered, helped me to chase my own stories, make-believe and true. I was caught up in Frankie Presto’s story and his amazing life. I hadn’t heard of The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, but I was so glad I went looking for “something,” to read. I found it. Now that I’ve read it, I feel sad that I might not have come across it. It’s one of those amazing things you’re so glad happened that you get a little sad, because it could have almost never happened.

But it did. And I’m glad.

As a storyteller, I can appreciate how it is so beautifully crafted, woven with hints and clues and then everything connecting with the big reveal. I loved the mixing of jazz legends, musicians, and artists that came into Frankie’s life and how Frankie changed their lives. I enjoyed the different points of view and voices. I thought it interesting that Music, itself, was a character, the narrator.

Frankie’s journey across the globe, his musical and love adventure, drew me in right away. I loved this character, his passion, his humble kindness, his quest, his life lessons, his love for his guitar, the magic behind the six strings, and his love for Aurora. I rooted for him. I wished for things to happen for him. I wished for him to find his story, to know about his father, his teacher, his past, and his future. I rooted for his redemption and for his love of Aurora.

Throughout his journey I was inspired to find any lost stories of my own, stories of my father, of his childhood, stories that I never knew that could tell me something more. I was inspired to write something new. I also felt like writing my own stories, so that my kids would know my own adventure, so they could fill in the gaps when I was gone. I wanted to leave them something.

Frankie Presto reminded me how important stories are, and the importance of passing them onto the people that matter. Frankie Presto helped me find my storyteller again. When a book can do that, it’s pretty awesome. I hope he does something magical for you too.

Buen Camino my friends.

 

 

 

Writer Wednesday on a Monday: Bad Memories and Gratitude

13 Nov

I had completely forgotten about it … but then I got the text message, and I couldn’t believe it had almost been a year.

A friend of mine had asked about our yearly tailgating college football reunion adventure, and as with everything else in life, the details were posted on almighty Facebook. I don’t go on there much, don’t really like to, but I needed the information and just as I was clicking over to her site the “memories-flash-from-the past” post of 1-year-ago-today was on the screen.

A bad taste from a sour ending was still there. I had forgotten about it. Life had gone on, but this brought it back and I remembered it all over again.

It was the announcement from my play, the one I was extremely proud of, the one I entrusted to my friend to help me produce and the one I had to pull from the showcase because well … sometimes friends surprise you … in bad ways. Creative differences was the nice way I described it.

And there it was on Facebook, letting me know that a year ago the posters went up and rehearsals were in full swing, only to have no one see it or hear it. No one to witness that story and considering the climate we’re in today, it would have been an extremely powerful and funny story. It would have been my uncle’s Erick’s story and how my Dad had a hand in it.

So, a year later and what’s happened?

I didn’t participate in the showcase this year, I knew there would be another one, but because of the way things ended I felt that it would be best not to put my creative energies in an untrustworthy situation. So I didn’t bother submitting, and the funny thing was that my old friend, whom I haven’t spoke with since it happened, hadn’t mentioned it either.

So while my friend has continued to act within the theater troupe and remain close that director, I have not. He’s done well and continues to work on his craft, even wrote a piece himself, which will apparently be featured in the showcase this year, something that I found out through the world wide web. But I can’t say it surprised me. It was an interesting turn of events.

But instead of getting upset I remembered what I had done during that time.

I didn’t write a new piece this year, but I’ve spent the time editing, painstakingly editing one I’ve been trying to finish for a long time now. This news has sort of given me that inspiration, that extra push to finish this. Nothing like remembering something bad to help you do something good.

But it also helped me remember something that never made it onto Instagram or Facebook or the world wide web. Something that only a few handful of people knew about, and it might not have happened on stage with actors, and I might not have taken a bow with crowds clapping and smiling at me. But it did happen, and I was thankful for that accomplishment. I was grateful that the grant I wrote for my kids school, the one I recently submitted was selected for a large chunk of change. The money would be used to help fund a new year-round arts-in-residence program featuring drama, music, and craftsmanship artistry for the entire school.

There was a ceremony downtown, the kind with pictures and one of those big cardboard Price-is-Right’s checks, but I didn’t go.

I was happy with the text message I received from the coordinator, telling me she had just received a congratulatory email. We got it, she said. We got it!

And I smiled.

It wasn’t a stage play or a book reading. It wasn’t the creative endeavor I had hoped on accomplishing this year. But it was the year I brought creative experiences to a lot kids and with just that small piece of good news I felt like the year wasn’t wasted.

I didn’t help myself, but I helped someone and that felt good.

Buen Camino my friends.

 

 

Writer Wednesdays … Literary High-Five

6 Sep

Sometimes you’re just in a funk, and you can’t find the right words for your characters or feel like that missing piece is never going to fall in place.  You have no idea where the writer inside disappeared to, then all of sudden you write a letter, an email, or do a different type of writing  and you get the groove back.

I’m getting my groove back.

 

Recently, I had a blogging buddy of mine Jacqueline Cangro edit one of my manuscripts and let me tell you, having someone read something like that gave me the butterflies. I mean I know that eventually it’s going to be out there for everyone to see, and some close friends of mine have seen parts, if not all of it. But Jackie was going to edit it … really edit it. So I was nervous. I was like … dude what if she hates it? Will she ever return to my blog? Or how will she let me down easy. I was creating all kinds of scenarios in my head, but none of them panned out.

Jackie was really nice about it and spoke with me about my concerns. Sh did an amazing detailed job with content analysis, story and characterization. I was so glad to have met Jackie. Her advice was on point and I could feel the missing pieces coming together.

But I’ll be honest with you, rewriting and rewriting after edits and edits became a daunting task, even with the awesomeness that is Jackie. I got a little nervous. I didn’t want to veer too far off course, I didn’t want to get lost in all the editing that I couldn’t find my way back. And then the universe sent me a sign.

A friend of mine asked me to write a grant proposal for arts programs at my son’s school. Now normally I don’t get involved with the Mommy Mafia or the PTA clicks, which she is a part of,  but seeing how this was a close buddy and it was for a great cause I thought it would be a great service for the community and a good opportunity for a pause in novel re-writing plan.

So I took a step back from my 100th rewrite and did something good for someone else. During that process I learned that tapping a different avenue of my talents, helped stir up the writing mojo in all areas of my life. Writing about advocacy and arts engagement helped boost my own focus. Being able to write a cohesive statement that had nothing to do with my crazy character and her journey, helped glue ideas together in the recesses of my mind, and make things click. I was making connections and feeling confident about the fine-tuning that was going on.

And this is where I find myself.

I find myself looking back on how I turned the corner and I never would have guessed that grant writing or executive summaries would have the power of a high-five, because that’s what it was … a literary high-five. After I finished writing it … I thought damn! That was me … I put these words together. I conveyed how critical arts were for inventiveness and out-of-the box thinking. I put together a piece that speaks to the heart of this school and the need for arts education despite financial cutbacks. I convinced someone, I persuaded them to give money … and just with words. They hadn’t even met me yet. All they knew were my words.

And that seemed to be pretty powerful stuff. That seemed to be the make-up of a writer. That seemed to put be back on the yellow-brick road pathway.

So while, I’m still working on the grant, which will be due in a couple of days, I feel that time away from my story, spent working on a different discipline, has helped bring the story back full circle. I don’t know if any other writers experienced something like that, because I figured people get inspired or back into the story, by being away from it for a moment, taking a trip somewhere and then coming back from that sabbatical refreshed ans zoned in, but it was my first way down that road. And I’ve got to say, it was interesting.

 

Buen Camino

 

 

Writer Wednesdays on a Monday: Turning Things Around

8 May

It’s like hearing that song on the radio and you just stop because you feeeeeeeeeel the lyric.  You feel George Harrison. You feel Mavis Staples. You feel Springsteen. You feel Hall and Oates. You feel Phil Collins. You feel Chris Stapleton. You feel Juan Gabriel. You feel Ana Gabriel. You feel Katrina and The Waves.

It is in you. You feel like it was written just for you, and you sit there in your car at the stop light listening.

Them words.

You think to yourself, maaaaaaaan. They got this one right. The lyric, combined with the music. They got this one.

Then you go back to your keyboard, inspired, hoping that you can put something like that on the page. You want to make someone laugh, smile, feel your heart through your characters. And sometimes it happens … other times … you fail miserably because you just can’t get it. It’s not there. You thought you had it with all that inspiration jazzing you up, but then you lost it because of a phone call, bad memory, or wasted time. Lack of discipline attacks you on Wednesday after you had the umph to get you through Monday and Tuesday.

Burn.

I hate it when that happens.

So how is it that I try to turn things around? Especially on a Monday?

I try to remember that waking up wasn’t an accident. It was on purpose, for something bigger than just fixing lunches, dropping off kids, and racing through traffic. There has to be more that I leave my kids than memories.

Pieces of me in my writing out there for them to read and get. Whether on my laptop, in my notebooks, posts, or published writings. Something of me is out there for them to see, to get, that I’m on the star map chasing the Milky Way and hoping I land.

So when I feel like dropping it because I’ve dropped the ball as a writer and haven’t found the nooks and crannies of time to write every day, I remember not everybody is on the same ride. I’ve got all kinds of detours and stops on mine. It may take a little longer, but I’ll get there. As long as I don’t give up.

So I don’t.

I get the Andre Agassi in me … ready to make a comeback.

It’s bigger than me. That’s what I think … I can’t walk around six months from now and still be in the same spot, because it’s bigger than me. I’ve got my Zen back and it took me a loooooooooooonnnnnng time to rework my magic with this crazy environment and lack of support, with the failing of my awesome play earlier this year. I thought things would spark after that. It took a while to find my center … a lot of podcasts.

But I found it.

I woke up and remembered … waking up was not an accident. Turn the corner.

Buen Camino my friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grabbing The Mic

22 Mar

It involved getting bailed out of county jail, stepping in a pool of vomit on the subway, riding in the trunk of a car in a zebra bathing suit, playing with a lighter and can of hair spray, and a dead cat in the wall of an apartment.

It was only an hour, but it was the most inspirational sixty minutes of the week.

Hanging out with a bunch of storytellers and a glass of wine proved to be a memorable evening. I came away feeling motivated to finish my own stories after hearing about these adventures. Something about hanging out with a bunch of creatives and listening to them craft their epic misfortunes into Silver Lining Playbook stories centered on friendship was contagious.

I came home ready to dig deep, although with my life I didn’t have to go far to capture moments. Although the one thing about these artists was that the stories were free flowing. No script. They had it in their head. They performed their stories. They were animated and I felt like I was part of the circle. I was there when he was making the call from county jail and no one came to bail him out. I was there watching the woman slip in a pool of vomit on her way to steal the elderly woman’s seat on the subway. I was there when the zebra bathing suit got pulled over by the CHP. I was there when the curtains caught on fire from the can of hairspray. And I was there when the girl had to break her lease because she kept getting fleas from a dead cat in the wall.

The stories came to life. These storytellers were the writers, actors, and directors themselves. They placed full confidence in their stories and their ability to tell it. They stepped on stage, grabbed the microphone, and began. Fear or no fear. They grabbed the mic.

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I left away with that feeling … the one with butterflies. They took creative control of their story and it was empowering to see. No one changed their timeline. No one added unnecessary  dialog. No one changed the integrity of their characters. No one changed their soundtrack. No one changed their stories.

It was great to see how their bravery helped maintain their creative control.

I watched. I listened. I learned.

I might be grabbing the mic soon myself, as I was invited to come back “try it out”.

And I just might.

After my experience with the play director, creative control seemed to matter more in my next endeavor. But I’m not rigid, I welcome constructive criticism, and collaborations. I like input that makes the story better. With every creative, story and characters matter. Every writer has this intention.

But not every project ends that way.

So my lesson learned during this inspirational outing?

Be brave enough to grab the mic and hold onto your creative control, but be willing to work with others, just choose people you trust when sharing your visions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Wednesdays … Fan Battles, BS-Ometers, and Nooks & Crannies

1 Feb

When you decided to pursue your passion a twist came at the end of it … Along the journey and after all the obstacles, you ended up seeing what was behind the giant curtain.

Through the discovery, some of the mystery disappeared.

How is the doctor different when she’s a patient? How is the lawyer different when she’s a client? How is the teacher different when he’s the student? How is the pitcher different when he is the batter? How is the writer different when she is the reader?

Yup. Perspectives change when you’re on the other side.

As a writer this question has been posed to me before.

Like the doctor, lawyer, pitcher, and teacher, the writer becomes more aware of the approach and of the details. We  give our fellow writer the benefit of the doubt, but don’t walk blindly into the story.

We just pay attention more. We can smell the BS when it surfaces and tries to camouflage itself as substance. I feel like my BS-ometer has gotten better throughout the years. You notice things that others might not, even with the most avid readers, you still have an edge because you’ve been behind the scenes.

But aside from having a finely tuned BS-ometer,  I get into the nitty-gritty of it with characters. I’m in the nooks and crannies. Characters are big for me, whether it’s from a book or on a television show. Characters are what make it happen for me. Story and plot are intriguing, they peak my interest, but characters are what make me stay all the way to the end. I pay attention to how the character mattered to this writer and how they developed. I’m constantly on the look-out for that A-HA! moment and see how the character responds. Is it the way I thought she would?

When the character becomes so amazingly great that it changes me from a writer into a fan, that’s a job well done by the creator. It’s hard for me to watch series finales sometimes because the fan in me battles the writer in me. Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, LOST, 24, The Closer … all of these had me on the edge of my seat for the series finales and as a writer, I battled with the fan inside of me.

The fan roots for the underdog and the happy ending, but sometimes as a writer you just know … you know that can’t happen because it’ll betray the story and the character’s intention.

Being a writer, enhanced the reading and watching experiences for me. I see the strings being pulled and think wow how amazingly awesome that they pulled this off, or when I’m disappointed I think, man there could have been a better way. The fan and writer constantly battle each other when the stories are good.

Some people may think it works against them to know what’s coming, to know how the pieces are being moved. I just think it makes you pay attention more, makes you look at the decisions being made and if you end up becoming a fan … well then, once a fan, always a fan maybe even a die-hard fan.

 

 

Happy Wednesday

 

 

Writer Wednesday’s

7 Dec

I can admit to the fact that change is hard for me. I like my routines, I like the fact that I can count on certain details of my day following a certain agenda. I find comfort in knowing how things are gonna pan out.

However when it comes to motherhood, I sort of have to go with the flow or I’d have a breakdown everyday. I learned to loosen up a bit with expectations. You can’t stick with Plan A all the time, you’ve got to be prepared to kick in Plan B, C, and D at any moment.

That is something that happens with writing all the time. You come up with a genius idea in the middle of the night and realize after further review that this half-baked notion should not see the light day. Other times awesome is just awesome no matter when inspiration strikes.

Writing is one of these things where flexibility matters. Change will happen. Your first draft will not always be awesome, in fact most of the time it isn’t. So rewrites are part of your life. I know about writing changes, I used to work for a newspaper. Edits happen all the time, but the thing is when they happen … It’s a collaborative effort to help improve the story, preserve the voice, and and enhance its best parts, which is why I’ve always embraced the editing process.

Just makes things better.

However I’ve learned that not every change is for the better and that’s when you’ve got to take a stand, especially when you weren’t even aware that it was happening.

I’ve never worked with someone whose taken the liberty of changing my story without letting me know. In fact had they changed it for the better I’d probably thank them for it, but let them know that the manner in which they did it could have been handled better.

However these changes affected the kind of story I wanted to tell. My voice was changed and it was changed without permission. As you all know one of my pieces was selected to be part of a theater festival. I was extremely excited and proud that my work would hit the stage.

However, I find myself at a crossroads … well not really. I thought it was but I know what my gut was telling me to do.  I’m ready to pull out of the festival.

You see, the director that was chosen decided to change my piece and not just a small enhancement, but a pretty big change that for me changes the direction of the story and essence of my characters.

So I was at a crossroads …

But the decision wasn’t hard, I know I would pull out. It was just sad that I would have to do it. I didn’t want to seem like a diva who was storming out of a room, but I knew that this change was something I couldn’t let go. Don’t know if you writers out there know what I’m talking about. Ever feel like the story becomes a story that you wouldn’t have written? That’s where I felt this was going.

So I’m at the crossroads, but not really. There’s a meeting set for Friday to see if a compromise can be reached. If not … then it’s back to page one of a new project and a renewed sense of determination to make something happen.

 

DontGiveUp

🙂

 

So I’ll write on …

 

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

IWSG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Wednesdays …

2 Nov

There wasn’t just one, but two reasons …

Telling stories and making people feel.

I was reminded of my two favorite aspects of being a writer just recently. I wasn’t even looking for it, but the reasons came and I was super grateful that they did. Sometimes during writer’s block or a daydreaming marathon, where you only get one sentence on the page, you might lose your way for a minute, especially with the Madness of NanoWriMo in full effect. You get lost as to what your favorite part of being a writer is when the discipline of it all drives you to exhaustion during a word count check for the NanoWriMo marathon of November.

So I was humbled by the words that came my way from a young lady I have yet to meet, but she was kind enough to stop by and let me know what my stories had done for her. Anna over at Anna’s Rambles decided to stop by on a Writer Wednesday to explore some of my Insecure Writer’s Support Group posts and she found a little something I was hoping someone would find.

Hope and encouragement.

Some of my stories had touched her in some way and I was happy to know that my writing had made someone feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel something so much that they found encouragement and hope to continue writing themselves.

Writers often second guess themselves and are probably their toughest critics, I know I am. So when I get this kind of feedback, it’s very rewarding to know that my instincts were right all along. I don’t write for gold stars or pats on the back, although they are pretty awesome to receive and I welcome them whenever they knock on my door. But I write the stories so that my voice can be heard, so that people can feel, either by relating to, understanding, or realizing that someone else once felt what they felt. They were there, where you are now.

I write so that when I’m long gone, my kids can one day say they knew who I was and they felt my heart because I always put it out on the page. Funny. Sad. Frustrated. Angry. Ecstatic. Heartbroken. Proud. They’ll know me even when I’m gone, because my stories will still be around, on the page, in photo albums, or in their hearts, still connecting to them.

The people down at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group asked what’s the best aspect of being a writer? My response …

Telling stories and making people feel.

Thanks for the reminder, Anna.

Buen Camino.

 

 

 

 

Writer Wednesday’s

5 Oct

So how do you know when it’s over?

Like any relationship … you know, because there’s that tiny quivering feeling in the pit of your stomach letting you in on the secret, letting you know that the end is near.

After weeks of sleepless nights and Costco-sweat-wearing days, there’s a big exhale when I type THE END. It takes me a longgggggggg time to get there and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see the finish line.

Doubt. Anxiety. Insecurity. They all creep up on me during the entire process. Never sure if it’s going to be good enough. Never sure if people are going to relate. Never sure if people are going to laugh. Never sure if people are going to keep reading. Never sure whether to send it out. Never sure if it’s going to pay off. Never sure if the daydreaming I’m doing today is gonna pan out in the story tomorrow. Never sure of a lot of things, but once I get past all these inner voices (as well as the outer voices who think I should just get a “real” job) and I get to the end, I know.

I do, because I feeeeeeeeeeeeeel it. Definitely.

There’s closure.

Stuff that’s necessarily missing from my current existence, I find in my made up world. My character, dead or alive, has come full circle. A messy and dramatic one, with multiple post visits to a shrink included, but never the less an adventure that has come to an end. It isn’t to say that another adventure isn’t waiting for them tomorrow, it’s just that the adventure they started with me, the day I was day-dreaming it up has finished.

So I put on a new pair of Costco sweatpants, and dig into my messy life archives and see if there’s another story that’s ready for the page.

Not everybody feels it, not everybody goes through the Costco sweatpants phase, everyone has a different journey. Difficult and emotionally exhausting, but we all get there in the end and high fives are a requirement.