Saturday, January 20, 2007

I've a new home at
Cheerio, blogger!
Just see it
When "The Freedom Writers Diary" was published in 1999, it became a staple of freshman comp. classes in colleges all over the country. The format and the structure of its stories became the basis of many of those classes. I was lucky enough to take four such courses under the same teacher starting in freshman comp. and going right through advanced comp. Each and every class was special because we wrote, divided up into groups and shared our work with others who gave their opinions on what we'd done and offered suggestions on what we might think about adding to or changing. And in this way, we became more than just a class. We became a group of friends who shared the common bond of writing. People who at first were hesitant to like the classes or were nervous about writing grew to love it. No, we didn't put our lives in danger every day by walking out the door into a dangerous community and we weren't members of gangs, but we did develop respect for each other through writing. That's why I had to race to the theater to see "Freedom Writers."
It definitely didn't disappoint. In fact, it's probably one of the best films I've seen in a while, but I've actually been impressed with a few MTV-produced films. Mom went with me and cried throughout the entire show and I'm not one to tear up at movies, but I did get misty-eyed on more than one occasion. It was a gritty and hard hitting portrayal of a California high school in the early '90's. Actress Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) was very convincing as the teacher. Adding to the story was the soundtrack which MTV ever so cleverly set to be the music of the early '90's, namely the hip hop of the era. But, it really wasn't the typical little white teacher becomes the savior to a group of angst-ridden minority students kind of movie. In a way, of course, it was just that, but it was so much more (and I won't divulge too much in case anyone is planning on going to see it).
Not only did it remind me of the classes I took in college, but it also reminded me of another book I would recommend anyone to read.
Wally Lamb, author of "She's Come Undone," taught writing classes inside a women's state correctional facility. He compiled all the writings from the class and turned them into a book -- "Just Couldn't Keep it to Myself." Henrietta Chickenlegs was so inspired by one of the writers that she wrote a letter to her and got a reply back.
"Freedom Writers" was just one of those movies that, yet again, made me want to drop everything and get back into a writing class. It made me miss it all over again. It's ironic that I posted a couple of days ago about the civil rights museum when this movie really had so much to do with it.
Freedom was going to be a huge theme in the book I'm now working on and after seeing this film, it is beginning to take an even bigger shape.
Ah, you never know when you'll be inspired. Go see "Freedom Writers." Even if you're not crazy over it, you will be impacted, somehow, by its simple yet powerful message.
I have a friend who repeated very often his idea that good writing comes from writing through pain and heartache. In other words, giving them a voice and letting them lead. Though, at the time, I thought it was a bit of a morbid concept, I'm very inclined to believe in the cathartic powers of writing. It worked for the freedom writers and it certainly works for me because most of the time, my best work comes when I'm writing and being driven with the idea that I must give myself a strong voice and prove to others that I have one who would otherwise categorize me as being quiet.
Sometimes, it is that idea that keeps me going. Keeping a strong voice even when I'm sure others cannot hear it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

She was fearless
We passed it. Drove right by the "bloomin'" thing, as Granny would say. But we were able to reverse and pull back up to the tiny red crackling and stuttering box and do what we came to do. Mom reached over to turn down "In the Jungle" which was blaring on the radio as loud as it would go.
"Welcome to Dairy Queen," the voice popped on the other end. "May I take your order?"
Leaning in close enough to grab the electrical device up one handed like a microphone, Mom yelled at the box as if it were deaf, "WE WANT THREE HAMBURGERS AND....AND......HEY, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DRINK?"
"Uh, Coke, I guess," I said, jerking to life and fumbling with the red Mercury's window control switch.
Mom looked at the passenger seat holding her sister.
"Get me a Sprite. No ice. I don't like ice."

And just like that, she left the world, trailing behind sweet potato casserole and laughing loudly enough to jar the sadness out of any rainy day. It wasn't on her own terms, but she knew she had to go. She was tired of being tired and sleepy, tired of always pretending that things were okay when they really weren't. She hated to lie. Hated it the way a cold shot of ice would kill the warmth and brightness of a nice day. She left so she would never have to lie again. Her minutes simply had to be the hours of happiness.

Ripping open the snowman-covered wrapping paper, the screams came before I'd completely finished unveiling the blue and orange treasure that had come straight from my aunt disguised as Santa.
She rocked back and forth with laughter, all 5'2" of her. The short bleached blonde hair bobbed up and down and relatives all around suddenly caught the infectious disease of her raucous howling and its contagion spread like a Christmas wildfire.
"Do you really like that old thing?" she asked through rolling tears. She simply couldn't get over the fact that, to me, the Magna Doodle might as well have been a million bucks.
I nodded emphatically and she beamed right back knowing and understanding that, for me, that was just as good as a loud and hearty thanks.

But two years later in January, I did speak. My heart couldn't help it and it bubbled in my chest, beating forth the words that would eventually work themselves up to my mouth. She was and had always been a pastor's wife and moved around from place to place like a strong north wind, controlling and temperamental. She was strong, but she couldn't pretend to be that way anymore. And I thought of the Dairy Queen, the Magna Doodle, the last night visits to Kroger for Snickers, the peanut butter, the unforgettable laughter and mostly the understanding and with that, on the icy, rainy day 14 years ago, I said, "Goodbye."
A shoutout to all the people from "the Creek"
Few people would actually know this, but for almost two years, I was the editor of a fairly well known campus newspaper and I still occasionally get asked from a few people about when I'll put out a new edition.
Well, the answer is this. I would dearly love to get The Possum Gazette up and running again, but I'm a little short on staff now.
Okay, okay, none of you (except possibly Pshaw) probably has a clue what I'm talking about, so I'll just have to try to tell the whole story as best as I can. About five years ago, Henrietta Chickenlegs and I went to a church camp in Linden, Tenn. and were sitting on the front porch in rocking chairs when it all started. Now, you're going to believe I'm completely nuts, but I'll go on. As we were rocking and talking and no one in the world was around, we started talking to each other in exaggerated Southern accents and pretended to be old Southern women. She named herself Eulalie Plumhuffinpuff and I was Sarah Hogenswallow and we just kept building and building onto the story until we had thoroughly established the fact that I worked as the editor for the local paper in Bell Bottom Creek, the Possum Gazette, and she was a homemaker and mother of 17 kids. This actually went on for hours.
Over the next few weeks, we just kept on building the story and finally, I started creating these issues of the Possum Gazette. I made up the masthead, wrote all the stories (but created fictitious staff writers) and put the thing together once a week for about a year. Readership was good, it was so much fun and I kept all of the old issues I made. The other day, someone asked me how the paper business was going and the person was actually referring to the Possum Gazette.
Hee hee. You never know who you might influence with a crazy imagination
"Night at the Museum" eat your heart out
Had an interesting conversation the other day with Squirrel Queen about her and Newscoma's recent visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
The museum, built around the infamous Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King Jr.'s shooting, is located in downtown Memphis. I'd walked past it before, but had never gotten the chance to go in, so I prodded SQ for information and a detailed description of the place.
She said that while the museum provided a wealth of information and loads of interesting reading, it focused almost solely on the African-American portion of civil rights and did little justice to other civil rights events such as the women's suffragette movement for the right to vote.
"It's a very broad topic, so maybe they had to focus on just the one phase of it because they didn't have enough money and space to devote to all of it," I said.
"Then they shouldn't call it the civil rights museum. That's too broad of a title," she answered.
And I had to agree, but in all honesty, when most people think of civil rights, the first thing that usually pops into their heads is the African-American movement and if asked to define it on a test, they wouldn't include everything that the title of civil rights encompasses.
Later on, I got online and tried to locate a place in the country in which the title of civil rights was better represented and didn't find much of anything. So, while SQ did have glowing things to say about the museum, we both agreed that if there were a suggestion box inside the establishment, we might just add the request to build more exhibit wings onto the building to make a great place even greater by covering the full definition and scope of the ongoing and hot topic issue of civil rights.
That conversation led directly into another conversation about the Wonders exhibits that used to be housed in the Pyramid. Exhibits dedicated to the czars of Russia, the pyramids of Egypt and the paintings of Italy once graced the basement walls of the Pyramid in Memphis. Now that the Pyramid will be used for something else besides a game and concert hall, I questioned whether or not the Wonders exhibits would still be showcased in the basement.
"I remember going to see the Catherine the Great exhibit when I was in elementary school," I said.
"Oh, yeah, I saw that one too," SQ said.
"You did? Really? When did you go and see it?" I asked.
"When they had it up and going," she deadpanned with an absolutely icy look on her face.
And then the conversation paused while laughter ensued.
Museums are wonderful things and they make for some very interesting conversation pieces especially when you let in some good old dry humor as the third party in the conversation.

Monday, January 15, 2007


As a junior in college and with nothing but upper division classes looming in front of my path to graduation, I chose one semester to take English 485 otherwise known as African-American Literature. Thoughts of reading and rereading the works of such greats as Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Eudora Welty and contemporary authors Toni Morrison and Alice Walker dazzled me with unspeakable joy. Truthfully, I was the only white person to take the class that semester, but though I stuck out like a sore thumb, it didn't matter because we were all standing on the common ground of literature and we shared a common bond of appreciation and adimiration for the writers and their message.
In the second week of class that semester, we opened up the book to the "I have a dream speech" and analyzed the work for its value to literature and it suddenly hit me that I was by no means keeping a tally, but it was the third time and in the third different class that I had come in contact with the work. The history class I took examined the speech's historical value, the communications class I took examined the speech for its effectiveness in bringing across a point and now, the English class I was taking was examining the speech for its place as a work of art to the English language.
Dr. King's thought-provoking and prophetic speech was powerful enough to transcend color and race. His message was not meant to be directed only to the African-American community, but to all people. And sitting in my literature class, coming to this realization, I fit in even better than before.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Whoopee, Ms. Lee!
Got this in today from Finn's mother.
Great great news and suddenly my chances of meeting the elusive author just shot up considerably. Think I'll just go knock on the door. Why not?
When what to my wondering eyes did appear
Yesterday, an overwhelming urge to leave Weakley, get out of the house and just, in general, escape overtook me and I headed to Memphis to see some friends and hang out around the downtown area.
Jam packed I tell you. Jam packed. As we sauntered around the crowd amidst the media reform conference people and the George Strait fans, I knew the Dempseys were playing, so I went over to their arena of choice and saw, yep, her and her. Awesome!!!
Based on people I talked to downtown last night, the conference was a smashing success, but you don't have to take my word for it. Just go here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

So long, Newscoma and Squirrel Queen
Darn it if you won't be missed, but have tons of fun and remember to report back regularly. We're certainly jealous of where you're getting to go.
We sat on the couch. MM and I.
With eyes transfixed on the television screen and backs bent in acute angles attempting to draw ourselves closer to the happenings that crackled over the waves of CBS, we looked onward at what was being touted as "the president's most important speech to date" and discovered nothing more than a reworded and beefed up version of the original plan.
I was angry, flabbergasted, ashamed. My emotions and feelings played out noticeably across my face and my actions throughout the speech. MM's were encapsulated from years of practice. But I looked into his eyes and saw extra emotions beyond my own. I saw the unmistakable look of a tired and exhausted warrior who, having done his share of the job, knows that, according to the speaker on the television screen, although it was heroic and admirable, it wasn't nearly enough and he must go back to do even more. I saw the look of a surgeon who, having just performed a life-saving operation, is asked to go back and do it again and again with no complaint, no questioning and most of all, no fear. Most of all, I saw the look of a son who had to prepare himself to face his worried and loving mother and possibly bid her farewell yet again.
Suddenly and without warning, I tasted a bit of the sourness and tragedy that families are forced to consume when they're broken up for months and years at a time. The going away parties and jubilant returns which, up to this point, hadn't meant all that much to me because I couldn't relate personally took on an entirely different identity. In a brief moment, I regretfully acquainted myself with heartache, hopelessness and powerlessness.
His grandfather's medals stared at us from their place on the wall. The scrapbook labeled Operation Iraqi Freedom burned a hole through the coffee table.
"Looks like I'm going back," he announced with the hint of a sarcastic giggle bubbling in the back of his throat. "I'll have to call mom and see how she's doing."
And he turned to me to make sure I was taking it as well as possible.
And then the man with camo in his blood combined with the rich callousness of being a soldier able to mask any sadness, able to cover up any disappointment, able to hide away any fear at all for himself, for his mother, for his community and for those who daily look up to him as a hero, turned his back and left the room.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Go to any of these fine places 'cause I still got nothin'
For an overall great time and read, go here.
For everything you'd ever want and so much more, go here.
To be awed, inspired, mystified and downright amazed, go here and here, oh yes, and go here definitely.
Sports fan? Head straight over here. Pronto.
Wanna read all about college life as seen through the eyes of a perennial grad student genius? This would be the place to go.
Now, how about yesterday in sports?
If nothing else, yesterday was a great day in sports.
Yucky, sucky and overrated college basketball teams fell. Virginia Tech knocked off Duke!!!! Number one UCLA fell to the Oregon Ducks!!!! Both of those items alone should have their butt-kissing major media disciples undergoing deep bouts of depression. But wait, there's more!
In women's college hoops, Tennessee once again helped prove why it's not cool in this day and age to be a UConn Huskies fan. True, they were up by 18 and let the Huskies come roaring back a la cheers from sports analyst and former UConn standout Rebecca Lobo, but in the end, the Orange was too much for their navy and white blandness and TN prevailed. The UConn men fell as well to LSU and Big Baby (who's not as big as he used to be, but still big). Can things get any better? Yes!
The Indianapolis Colts faced the big running game of the Kansas City Chiefs on their home turf and spit in the faces of their naysayers by allowing KC only 44 yards on the ground and 126 total yards. The Chiefs didn't even pick up a first down in the game until the waning seconds of the third quarter. Over the course of the season, at times, the Colts' pathetic excuse for a run defense had been allowing about 173 yards per game on the ground, bad enough for lowest in the league and seventh lowest all time. But, they certainly redeemed themselves this game. And all I can say is........well, you could say it for's about time. In the NFC wild card game, the Cowboys lost to the Seattle Seahawks on a botched play from Tony Romo and while I'm not completely a Dallas hater, it's good to see Terrell Owens and his butterfingers out of the picture.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

'Cause I got nothin' but a book on the brain

Viva Pinata!!!!
It's the new Pokemon/Teletubbies phase. My brother has the game for his XBox 360 and would kill me if I told anyone, but apparently this is the next big thing. I've watched him play a few times and have to admit they are cute.
They're rainbow-colored walking and talking pinatas and the object of the game as near as I can figure is to keep them all happy and healthy in their little garden. In playing the game, you add more vegetation, water sources and sunshine to your garden area which helps to draw in these little paper animals with candy-coated names such as Bunnycomb (the rabbit), Fudgehog (the hedgehog), Preztail (the fox), Badgesicle (the badger), Donut (some kind of deer), Rashberry (the pig), Newtgat (the newt) and little worms known as Whirlms which have the capacity to fall in love with other Whirlms and begat baby Whirlms. Strange looking gardeners roam around the area and the doctor can be called to come and rescue sick pinatas. He gets out of his little ambulance and flings spoonfuls of green guck and them and they're suddenly all better. If any enemies enter into your garden area, you simply get out the beating stick (they're paper as well) and swat them until their candy pops out and they die.
You gotta see it to believe it.
It really is on my mind

In my endeavor to begin work on a book, for the past couple of days, I've been taking notes in a journal. I've been writing down any and everything that pops into my head about the project and so far, though the notes may seem a bit unorganized, they are leading me up to something I'm finally realizing is completely realistic.
Here are just a few of the notes I've taken down without totally giving away what I've decided to do. They range from motivational tips to myself to story ideas.
* Goal: 20,000 words at approximately 250 words per page (depending on font choice) is the equivalent of roughly 80 pages
* Leaning toward first-person omniscient voice in telling story, present tense relating back to past events (tentative)
* Draw experiences from own experiences (rule of thumb for beginning writers)
* Possible themes: Community brought together through one event (good or bad), bonded; Freedom of speech challenged, standing up for what's right, what you believe in, being yourself and helping others be themselves, bonding over words and ink; a miracle witnessed and retold by young narrator, punishment leading to reward, failure begats success in the most unexpected of times, ways and people
* Conflicts: Internal -- narrator vs. him or herself; External -- narrator vs. parents, newspaper vs. community, right vs. wrong or good vs. evil, superficial vs. deep
* After reading interview with Louis Sachar in "Writer's Digest," it may not be such a good idea to try to form the entire plot before diving into writing. Needs to come as it will = naturally.
* Let story take shape and form its own identity. Don't give it one before it's had a chance to unfold. This will cripple the story and give it a subtle template to follow. Needs no template. Take one thing at a time. No rush.
*Motivations/Inspirations thus far:
1. Just to say I've finished.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. Newscoma's idea for me to do it (and her stick-to-it-ness by setting a deadline)
4. The burning need and desire to make a point/express an idea/spread a message.
1. Pessimistic thoughts
2. Moods of depression
3. Discouraging/argumentative/unsupportive/overall negative people
4. Frustration in progress
5. Lack of motivation/inspiration/enthusiasm
6. Distractions -- people, events or otherwise
*Attention to first list and avoidance of second list equals success.
But, here's a break

Not many people can admit to having a pudgy little rodent who loves to lick you in the face and will eat absolutely any kind of fruit growing on the planet. But, that's my three year-old guinea pig.
He expressed interest this weekend in having his picture made and I had to oblige him because you just don't say no to this angel. He's my baby and so talented.......he whistles Dixie, literally, and she loves him.