Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zeroing in on the Future

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

In my earliest memory, I lay in my crib as a familiar face peered in at me. Margaret, our housekeeper who had been with the family since my mother was little, was practically part of the family.

“Law have mercy!” she exclaimed as she looked down at me. “This baby’s ripped off her diapers.”

Apparently, impatient to have someone deal with my wet diapers, I had simply pulled the plastic to pieces in an effort to remove them. This very early memory marks the impatience that has characterized much of my life.

As a culture, we are impatient people. We want everything now, and this unwillingness to wait, save, or use restraint has no doubt enslaved Americans to many a vice, debt, or heartbreak. I was no different. I was always striving for everything in the immediate—whether it was a husband, a baby, a bestselling novel, a different place to live, or just that thing I saw in the store—I struggled throughout my life with waiting on God’s timing.

Now in my forties, I’m just starting to get the hang of it. Jumping to that stone out in the middle of the lake before going to the Lord in prayer or seeking advice is a sure way of ending up in the lake. (Or covered in plastic strips of dirty diaper). Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in His time.” Over the years I’ve found that many of my prayers were answered but much later than the original prayer. Knowing my character all too well, God forced me to wait for so many things because He wanted me to learn patience, the art of delayed gratification, and humility. I find that I’ve appreciated the delayed blessings much more than I might have had they come in the immediate.   

Zeroing in on the future, I see many things coming together in terms of my career, callings, and creativity. A steady, persistent prayer life and a disciplined willingness to work toward my goals are the things that sustain me daily.

And music. There is always the music…

I've enjoyed being a part of the A-to-Z Challenge this year in my walk down memory lane. The daily posts are sometimes to tough to upkeep, but the challenge is well worth it in the end. Another exercise in discipline.

If you were a participant, what was your experience with the A-to-Z Challenge this year?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for Yesterday's Door

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

These days, one of my favorite songs is "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again" by Danny Gokey. Danny Gokey was an American Idol contestant a few years ago where I believe he won third place. He had a fantastic voice and a truly inspiring story. Not long before the competition, his wife had died, yet he went on to compete, feeling sure she would have wanted him to do so.

One of the lines in the song gets me every time: "Yesterday's a closing door, you don't live there anymore." I've been thinking  about how true that is. Yesterday's doors close for a reason, and I shouldn't try to live there or keep reopening them to wonder how things would have been if...

It's taken me several years to leave those doors alone and be content with the parts of my life that are unchangeable,  as well as to strive for change down the corridors lined with dreams. These days I try to live in the present and not allow my future to be stifled by any past patterns or failures.

In 2015, I attended Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. That week changed my perspective on a lot of things. First of all, I had the opportunity to be amongst other like-minded individuals who were all crazy writers just like me, and the support system was incredible. I felt looked around and realized that they were writing and publishing and making a living at it, so why couldn't I?

Second, I was introduced to the idea of freelance editing as a potential career. While attending a workshop, another writer suggested I check out some small publishing companies looking for editors. Specifically, Pelican Book Group was named. That tip resulted in an editing internship where I learned how to evaluate manuscripts for acquisitions, take the lead as primary editor, or man the back end as copyeditor. A few months later, I was hired on as a member of staff.

This "gig" has been a true blessing, and it has given me hope that I can change the parts of my life I don't like. Through God all things are possible.

This brings me to my second song for the day--another Danny Gokey song--"Hope in Front of Me."

Hope really does spring eternal, and yesterday does not dictate my tomorrow.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for Xavier Ross

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

In 2014, my novel Song from the Ashes was published by eLectio Publishing, a small press based out of Texas. Song from the Ashes is a retelling of Edith Wharton's s classic novel, The Age of Innocence, and tells the story of Landon Kingsley and his struggle to choose between two women: the one he really loves and the one he thinks he's supposed to marry. It was a departure from my sex-trafficking topics; this one dealt with the psychological tortures of love, its disappointments and demands.

I like to write about characters standing at crossroads who have to make big decisions. Historically speaking, I have always been attracted to plots that involve tortured men and the women who desperately want to love them. Or love affairs that simply cannot happen for one reason or another.  Going forward, I plan to write more books with these types of characters.

Currently, I am finishing a novel entitled Dangerous to Know. This is historical fiction based on the disastrous marriage of famous poet, Lord George Gordon Byron to Annabella Milbanke. Because the story departs from historical details at the end, I am naming his character Lord Gregory Gordon Bromby. He is dark, moody, and Byronic--just my sort of anti-hero. It has been a pleasure to write, and I think in the future I may follow this path for my writing topics.

This brings me to Xavier. Xavier Ross. I do not know the story yet, except that it will be a Gothic mystery set in historical England. I imagine this new character as a sort of Poldark meets Heathclifff and Hamlet...and of course he will be a tortured soul with secrets and an inexplicable magnetism.

I plan to finish Dangerous to Know in May, and Xavier Ross's story will begin this summer...stay tuned...

Whenever I think of dark and tortured characters, I think of Depeche Mode's tune One Caress. And then, who could ever forget Kate Bush's nod to Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff?

Who are some of your favorite heroic (or anti-heroic) characters?


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for Wellness

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

After all of the miscarriages and six years of trying to have a baby, it took a long time to feel like myself again. Physically my body was a mess. I was black and blue from shots, and my digestive track was a continual mess from all of the fertility drugs. And I need not speak of my emotional state. Even though we came out of that dark era changed and with many war wounds, the experience strengthened our marriage and our faith.

I knew that all of that tragedy, stress, and pain had been allowed for a reason. It sounds strange, but I knew God would use it for our good. Somehow. I think of those years as those that the locust ate. On top of the losses of all of the babies, we also lost Stephen's sister to cancer, my grandmother to old age and dementia, and our cat Sam to some strange nasal-cavity malady. The final blow was the loss of my heart-dog, Tessa, who had been my fur-baby for eleven years. After all of  that, Stephen and I both said we were through with loss and tragedy.

Then, three blessings occurred. We adopted a retired racing greyhound that we named Chase. He was a five-year-old, seventy-five-pound goof ball who turned our life upside down (in the best possible way). My little Tessa dog had been a quiet, self-sufficient dog who required very little. Chase needed a lot of time and attention. In fact, he was sort of like caring for a child. We loved him instantly. After Tessa died, we adopted Trinity--a twelve-pound Italian greyhound who became our "little baby girl." She was affectionate and cuddly and really filled the "baby void" for me.

In 2013, my husband suggested that we do something that we couldn't do if we had kids. We decided to go to England, Scotland, and Wales where I was able to show him all my old stomping grounds from when I'd once lived there. What thrilled me more than anything was how much he loved it. The trip meant as much to him as it did to me.

We now define that period in two different eras--before England and after. We were different people when we came back...we felt strangely healed. It was as though blinders had been removed from our eyes and we no longer mourned. An emotional wellness settled over us both, and we thanked God for these seemingly small blessings that had such a huge impact on our lives.

During this time, the song "Blessings" by Laura Story meant a lot to me. I think it holds true no matter what the tragedy or the trouble. Sometimes blessings do come through raindrops.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Vicious Cycles

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

The wait.
6 years.
6 rounds of IVF.
5 pregnancies.
5 miscarriages.
0 births.

"Wait"Sarah McLachlan

Under a blackened sky
far beyond the glaring streetlights
sleeping on empty dreams
the vultures lie in wait
You lay down beside me then
you were with me every waking hour
so close I could feel your breath
When all we wanted was the dream
to have and to hold that precious little thing
like every generation yields
the new born hope unjaded by their years
Pressed up against the glass
I found myself wanting sympathy
but to be consumed again
oh I know would be the death of me
and there is a love that's inherently given
a kind of blindness offered to appease
and in that light of forbidden joy
oh I know I won't receive it
When all we wanted was the dream
to have and to hold that precious little thing
like every generation yields
the newborn hope unjaded by their years
You know if I leave you now
it doesn't mean that I love you any less
it's just the state I'm in
I can't be good to anyone else like this
When all we wanted was the dream
to have and to hold that precious little thing
like every generation yields
the new born hope unjaded by their years...

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for Unleashed Creativity

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

After Stephen and I married in 2006, I began teaching high school English. Even though I really did not like teaching, I thought I would try older grades to see if it was any better (it wasn't). To complete my teacher certification, I had to take some classes. One of them was called Writing Across the Curriculum. In this class, the teachers were encouraged to write and workshop our writing in small groups. It was here that my first novel was born.

 I had written novels before. In high school I wrote what we would call fan fiction today in spiral notebooks. My friends asked me to place them and their favorite rock star in the leading roles. I probably wrote a dozen of those. Before I left for my first stint in England, I had written a six-hundred-page vampire novel set in London, and when I returned from Australia, I wrote one set in Melbourne (I even shopped around for an agent with that one).

 But this novel was the first I had ever attempted based on a cause I was passionate about. This novel dealt with sex trafficking and its links with pornography. It took me three years of researching, attending conferences, and interviewing experts before I finished it. And once it was completed, I was terrified. I had almost been afraid to finish it because...well, now what did I do with it? 

 Self-publishing had just taken off, and I decided that the impossibility of getting an agent outweighed “the shame” of self-publishing, so in 2009, I published All that is Right and Holy with Xulon Press. Simultaneously, and on a whim, I sent it to a bunch of agents as well. In June of that year, one of the agents contacted me. She loved the book and wanted to represent me. I was ecstatic.

 Unfortunately, two years later we still had not sold the book to a publisher. I think this was because the book was intended for a Christian audience, and the subject matter was too intense. In the meantime, I had pulled the book from Xulon Press just as it won second place in a Christian Choice book award. I was devastated and felt like all of the hard work and money we had poured into this book had been a waste.

 Despite my disappointment, a creative fire was unleashed inside me. I began to write every day, and even though two more novels were completed that I didn’t do anything with, the compulsion to write had become a daily presence.

I knew I wanted to write more about this subject—the effect of pornography on marriages and families and the terrifying reality of sex trafficking. Some of the people who had read the book told me this was their first time hearing about this.  Based upon reactions, I saw there was an audience out there…somewhere.

A few years later in 2015, I would revise and rewrite All that is Right and Holy and rename it Captives. Moving beyond the shame and the doubt, I am prouder of this effort than any of my others to date.

While writing this novel, I listened to a lot of soundtracks like House of Sand and Fog. Soundtrack music was my staple during this time.

What was the most creative time of your life?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Ten Years and Counting

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

After many years of fruitless searching, in 2006 I finally met the man who would become my husband. We met on eHarmony, just when I was ready to throw in the towel for good. In fact, I had to force myself to sign up for the online service again that February. I felt like God was prompting me to do it, but I experienced no enthusiasm about it.

In March, I got a message from Stephen about meeting up. He wasn't really interested in just chatting online forever and thought it would be best if we grabbed dinner one night to see if there was an attraction. It was early April when we finally had our first date at a nearby restaurant, and there was an immediate connection on both sides. Stephen worked for the same school district I worked for, but he was a motion graphic designer for the technology center. He was also a talented musician and played bass, guitar, and piano. This was a bonus, as we were able to play music together--I sang and harmonized with him on Eagles tunes like "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Wild Horses" (The Sundays version).

We were engaged by July and married in October of that year. We will celebrate our tenth anniversary this October...

I was thirty-four when I finally met Stephen, and he was well worth the waiting, longing, and heartbreak that led up to our marriage.

Sometimes the delayed blessings are the best ones.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Searching for Love Online

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

When I returned from Australia, I finished my master's degree in creative writing and obtained a teaching job at a private middle school. I did not like teaching, but I was thirty years old and I didn't know what else to do with myself. I had expected to be married by then. 

From 2002 until 2006, I scoured the online world for the love I had not found overseas. Both and eharmony became my hunting grounds, and it was a wild and savage jungle out there. Weirdos, stalkers, and psychos lurked everywhere; a few nice guys wandered in the open spaces, but there was no one who really interested me. Two or three matches resulted in a dating relationship for a few months, but ultimately, they moved on. One emotionally damaged man hung around for two years, and that was two years of torment as far as I was concerned. I couldn't wait for that one to be over--and once it had ended, it still took some time to completely get him to stop calling me.

By 2006, I was over the whole, ridiculous quest. I wasn't even sure I wanted to meet someone. I felt numb and embittered. I was ready to give up for good...

Have you just wanted to give up on a dream?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Repeating Mistakes

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.


From 1999 to 2002, it was as if my life-choice dial was stuck on repeat.
I went back and forth to Australia three different times. I was once again trying to make a life in a foreign country, once again involved in a dead-end relationship, and once again miserable. Although I had some amazing travel experiences in Australia and New Zealand (I did a two week tour from top to bottom in NZ, traveled from Darwin to Alice Springs and spent a good amount of time in the Outback; later, I did a two-week stint from Sydney to Cairns), lived twice in Melbourne and had the opportunity to work and live there as a resident (once in a homestay and another time with a friend in an apartment), I was physically and psychologically worn down. Another relationship with a guy who was not a good match for me was wreaking havoc with my emotions. It felt like London all over again. The only difference was that I was in Australia.
In March of 2002, I turned thirty and something inside me clicked. What was I doing? Why did I keep running from one country to another looking for a man who apparently did not exist? In May of that year I left Australia for home and permanently hung up my ex-pat cloak. Enough was enough.

It was time to meet someone and settle down…at least that was what I thought. It would be four more years before I met my husband, and there was still a lot of heartbreak to come.


Have you ever repeated the same mistakes over and over again?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Questioning Conformity

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

After I left England with a heavy heart and the realization that my Mr. Wonderful was not there, I began to question my goals and dreams. Did I really want to just meet someone in my home state, get a steady job, and settle down with a husband and babies? Or did I want to continue the quest and continue looking for my dream life somewhere else?

For a while I tried the normal thing. I got a job as a technical editor for a government contracting agency and I began taking classes toward a master's degree in creative writing. But I was still restless. In truth, I was afraid of falling into the rut of conformity.

In 1999, I decided to take off again and keep looking for the elusive "Nicholas Dunraven" and a life abroad. This time I went a little further Australia.

Have you ever been afraid of the rut of conformity?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Players

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

When I returned home to Virginia in 1996, I had only one goal in mind: get back to London as soon as possible. The only way I could fight for John's heart was if I was there, so in order to save money I lived with my mom and step-father and snagged a temporary job through Avis Rental Car corporate offices. By January of 1997, I was on a plane headed back to London.

I had obtained an internship with Soho Theatre Company on Dean Street as a literary assistant to the literary manager. This was the best job I never got paid to do. I read and critiqued submitted plays (the manager hadn't time to read all of them), helped compile press packages, and attended plays in the literary manager's stead. I got to sit in on auditions, readings, and play rehearsals. I loved going to work and hated to leave in the evening. From a professional standpoint, I was living the dream.

From a romantic standpoint, I was entrenched in a nightmare.  

For some reason, I thought that once I was living in London again (within walking distance of John's flat), everything would resume between us. It had been nine months since I'd been there the first time and to my dismay, John had gone on with his life. He had started a business that kept him busy 24/7, so he rarely had time to go out, but more importantly I discovered that John was a player. I knew it, but I didn't want to believe it. That didn't fit my romantic ideal of Nicholas Dunraven--the hero of my dreams--the tortured, yet gentlemanly man who lived on the moors somewhere.

Once, while on a "date" with John, he greeted another girl he knew by kissing her right in front of me. I was so shocked that I came up with possible reasons why that would have happened. Maybe they were just really, really good friends. Maybe I hadn't actually seen him kissing her (I had turned away right before their lips met). Maybe he was just being flirty.

I was utterly confused and more desperate than ever. This incident marked the trajectory of our relationship from thereon out.

Some weeks he was willing to get together with me; some weeks he wasn't. Sometimes he was warm and kissy-kissy, and sometimes he was stone cold. I celebrated my twenty-fifth birthday on a date with him, and as he talked to me over dinner using phrases like, "You're so young. You have so much ahead of you..." I had a sinking feeling that his feelings for me were not on par with mine for him.

After a tumultuous six months of desperate agony, I finally put the question to him one night. "Should I try to stay here, or should I go back to America?" His answer put everything in perspective: "I don't want you to stay because of me, but I don't want you to go either." The next day, I called and made my plane reservation. I was done.

For the next two years, I clung to my memories of John with a tragic, Blanche Dubois sort of grasp. I felt would never again find someone else like him and I was plunged into a deep depression. Believe it or not, I actually did see him again some three years later on a return trip to London. He invited me out to a pub, only to show up there with ten of his "mates" and a lady friend from Los Angeles. I watched in horror as he mauled her in front of me and then left with her, assuring me I was in good company by staying with his friends. As I rode in the taxi back to where I was staying, I knew I had been played. Again. But for the last time. I saw him for who he was, and my heart finally let go of him.

Anyone else out there ever been "played" by love?

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for On a Quest

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

Between 1995 and 1997 I lived in London off and on, returning home only to earn enough money to go back again. The first time I was there, I worked for several temp agencies, only doing a job for a few weeks or months at a time before moving to another and living in a room smaller than most people’s closets. But I still thought I was living the dream. The  room (called a bedsit—that’s really all you can do there…sleep and sit) was in a Victorian located in Nottinghill Gate, very central and close to everything. Even though I had to light the stove and the radiator-type-thingy with a match, feed pound coins into the meter, pay 50-pence coins to get hot water in the bathroom (I had to share with everyone else on my floor), and monitor the dot on the wall that measured the carbon monoxide in the room (I was told that if it turned black I should open a window), I was in my own form of paradise.

Even so, my quest for Nicholas Dunraven had gone somewhat off course. Where were all the English, Scottish, Irish, or Welsh men? In an international city like London, I was meeting a lot of people, but hardly any of them were from the UK. Other than my Irish friend, Rebecca, who took me in and helped me through many a homesick night, most of my friends were German, South African, or Australian.

I was nearing the end of my first stint there in the spring of 1996, when I began working at a non-profit company in the Holborn area. There, I met an Australian friend who introduced me to a man who would shake my world for the next few years. Maree and I got along really well at work, and I appreciated her straight-shooting style, as I found myself struggling with the way some of the English gave instructions. At the end of all of the “if you care to, if you can be bothered, you might, perhaps…” I would turn to Maree and ask, “So are they asking me to do this?” And Maree would interpret for me. “Yes, that’s what she’s saying.”

Maree and her partner lived over a pub in Holborn that her partner worked in and managed. One Sunday when the pub was closed, they invited some of the regular pub-goers to watch a rugby match, and that was the day I met John. John was thirty-seven, a Greek Australian from Melbourne, and what the romance novels would term ruggedly handsome—a man’s man type.

We left the pub that night and went out dancing, and then around two in the morning, he walked me back to my place in Nottinghill Gate. Standing in front of my house, we kissed...and Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” song came to mind.  

“Do you have a phone in there?” he asked me. This was before the age of cell phones, of course.

“There’s a house phone.”

Neither of us carried anything writing utensils, so I told him the number and he promised to remember. He didn't of course, and for the next three weeks I hounded Maree and made her promise to call me when he next came in the pub. Meanwhile, I was stalking all of the spots we had gone that night.

As a naïve twenty-three-year-old, I had very little experience with men, and none at all with thirty-seven-year-old Aussie men. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but with my romantic senses firing on overdrive, I plunged headlong into the heartbreak that was to come.

This night marked the beginning of the most tumultuous ten years of my life.  

Have you ever been on a quest for something (or someone)?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for New Era

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

In 1993, the movie Remains of the Day based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro came out in the theaters, and it completely changed my life. I had always been an Anglophile,  but watching Anthony Hopkins portray the stoic, ultra-reserved, and emotionally blocked butler serving on a sprawling estate in the English countryside solidified my lifetime love of all things British.

I also decided that a career in music was not for me. I was much more interested in writing about the lives of the composers than analyzing orchestral scores. But I was already three-quarters of the way through the program. Too late to turn back now. So I decided I would finish out the program and possibly pursue a grad degree in creative writing thereafter. In the meantime, I was writing…sweeping epic sagas—some of them more than six hundred pages in length—usually set in London and involving some tortured Romantic-era composer.

That summer, I decided I would visit my good friend, Michelle, and her family in England. Michelle and I had become great friends in high school, and as her family was from Scotland originally and was only in the US on a four-year stint, we had always known she would return to the UK after high school. We had kept in touch through monthly phone calls, letters, and tapes, but I told her one day I would come visit. Now it was becoming a reality. As I moved toward my departure date, I purposed to make that first trip across the pond one of many. The eventual goal: my relocation to the United Kingdom.

I no longer listened to hard rock or heavy metal music. I had moved on to instrumental soundtracks that coincided with British films like Howard's End and A Room with a View—much better writing music than Metallica. Gone were my days of obsessing over rockers. Thanks to a spate of British films out at that time, I was convinced that the love of my life did not exist in this country. He lived in Ireland, Wales, or somewhere on the Yorkshire moors. He was the perfect mix of Dracula, Hamlet, Heathcliff, and Lord Byron. He lived with his two Irish Wolfhounds in a mansion with a name like Wuthering Heights or Manderley. He looked like either Ralph Fiennes or Hugh Grant (or a combination of the two) and his name was Nicholas Dunraven…or something like that.

And so that summer I traveled to the United Kingdom…in search of him.

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for More Music

I am participating in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is ... the music of my life.

In 1990, Pretty Woman was a hit movie and "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips was at the top of the Billboard Charts. I graduated from high school, began George Mason University’s music program, and dated my first boyfriend.

Dad #3 had disappeared and gone back to Germany resulting in a nasty cross-continental divorce. Mom and I saw it coming. His “business trips” back and forth to Germany lasted for longer and longer periods of time. The final straw was a six-month stint that effectively ended the marriage.

My mom remarried within the year to a wonderful man who adored her. His determination to win my approval meant that he accompanied me to ear-splitting rock concerts and endured housefuls of teenagers for “haunted house parties.” He was a happy, social guy with a lot of friends and a great smile. Everyone loved him. His laid-back and easy-going manner was a welcome change, and Mom and I both felt like we could breathe again.

My own life was consumed with the rocker boyfriend I’d finally found. Three years my senior (better than the ten-year-my-senior rocker from before), D was a talented guitarist I'd met while working at Toys R Us. I would date him for the next four years (until I began to develop feelings for his best friend, and then it all went south—a story for another time).

That fall I joined the music department at GMU and majored in voice. Most of the classical training for singing involved performing arias and learning operatic techniques. I sort of got a kick out of learning to sing with that kind of power and technical ability, but I really just wanted to rip some Skid Row or Queensryche.

The music department was a shock. I had never had formal music training before, and I suddenly had to learn how to analyze orchestral scores, sight-sing from sheets of music, and memorize symphonies and composers. After years of thinking I wanted to be a singer and/or an actress, my dreams and plans began to change.

Did you pursue the career path you originally intended?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Led Zeppelin

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

The first song I ever learned on the guitar was "Stairway to Heaven." Big surprise. Isn't that the song everyone first learns on guitar? Well, that's what I thought until I started teaching high school and I realized that no one was learning that song anymore in their guitar instruction. In fact, none of students had even heard the song. Really? Who hasn't heard of Led Zeppelin?

I wasn't a huge Zeppelin fan when I was a teenager. They were slightly before my time, but every musician I knew practically worshipped the band. So I learned to listen to their music too.

For the entire summer of 1987, I was staying with my family in Tennessee. Music lessons were cheaper there, so I decided this was a the perfect time to learn to play guitar. My grandmother took me down to the local music store and signed me up. When I first met my guitar teacher, T (no names mentioned here), I nearly jumped for joy. He was exactly what I thought a guitar teacher should look like. He had long, black hair teased on top in the style of all the heavy metal musicians of the late 80s. I was obsessed with Whitesnake, Motley Crue, and Poison at that time, and he fit my image of what a rocker should be.

For the next year and a half, I made every effort to get to Tennessee (six hours away from  my home in DC) to take guitar lessons. Every holiday, school break, and family event was an opportunity to squeeze in a lesson. Despite the fact that T was twenty-five and I was fifteen, we became good friends. We wrote letters back and forth and even spoke on the phone a few times. My family seemed slightly concerned, but they just chocked it up to me having a teenage crush and him being flattered by my attention.

It wasn't until the fall of my junior that the kiss happened. I was sixteen by then and convinced I was in love and that there was somehow a chance we could end up together. A hug progressed into a kiss, and afterwards he asked me not to tell anyone it had happened. Of course I wasted no time in publishing the news to each and every one of  my friends who immediately began planning my underaged wedding.

Within a few months, I stopped hearing from him. He was engaged to someone else (my grandmother sent me the newspaper clipping with the engagement announcement). Never one to pass up an opportunity for romantic drama, I demonstrated my heartbreak by listening to the hardest and angriest metal music I could find and swearing off love forever. I would never love again.

I would, of course, but in the meantime I returned to my obsession with David Coverdale, Rudy Sarzo, and Adrian Vandenburg from the Led Zeppelin-inspired band, Whitesnake.

Do you remember your first love?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for Kissing

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is the music of my life.

There was a lot going on the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I would no longer be attending Madison High School but would be transferring to Marshall High School at the beginning of the following school year. This was my own choice and a goal I'd worked hard to achieve (with the determined help of my longsuffering mother).

I was also heavily involved in a local drama company called Kids on Stage. Through a contact of the drama company, I learned of an audition for a low budget movie. Part of the audition involved kissing the male lead. I was horrified. At fifteen I had never kissed anyone. My fantasy was to kiss some hot, long-haired rocker, not a pimply-faced teenager. It galled me to think that my first kiss would not be with Jon Bon Jovi or Stephen Pearcy (or even someone who looked like them). Instead, it would be with a kid I did not like at all. He barely spoke to me in between audition takes. I did not want to kiss him. But I was a compliant kid and the director was telling me to do it, so I did. Blech.

Afterwards, the director offered me the part on the spot. All of the kids at the drama company were so excited for me and so were my parents. Strangely, I wasn't nearly as excited about it as everyone else. Over the next few days, I became less and less enthusiastic about the idea until my hesitation grew into near panic.

My family couldn't understand my sudden resistance, and the owner of the drama company was very disappointed (she had been a made an executive director and was already working on the set by that time). I couldn't explain my trepidation to everyone, but it was one of several times in my life when I felt a strong premonition against something.

Later, I found out through V--the owner of the drama company--that the girl who took my place eventually moved in with the director. V said she had excused herself from the role of executive director because she also felt something wasn't right.

Instead of making a movie that summer, I went to Tennessee and began taking guitar lessons...and fell in wild, teenage love with my guitar instructor (who was ten years my senior). Within a few months he would be my first real kiss...a scandalous story for next time...

Do you remember your first kiss?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

J is for Jon Bon Jovi

I am participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blog Challenge. My theme is ... the music of my life.

A strange thing happened at the end of my two years in middle school. A split in the county boundaries sent all of my friends to one high school and me to another one. I was right back to where I started in the 7th grade...knowing no one, and now I was an angry fourteen-year-old girl. This is when I discovered hard rock and heavy metal music.

Fortunately, Tanya--an acquaintance I had known in middle school--was now at the same high school, and over the course of the next year we became best friends.

Initially we bonded over a shared obsession: Jon Bon Jovi. We were both mad about him. The inside of our lockers were covered in pictures we had ripped from magazines of the wild-haired rocker and his band mates. Both of us taped the late-night MTV show, Headbangers' Ball, every weekend and then poured over the videos the next day while comparing notes on the  phone. We watched, rewound, and re-watched the videos for "Living on a Prayer" and "You Give Love a Bad Name." We were positively apoplectic over taped interviews with the rockers, and we regularly shared our favorite pictures out of the music magazines.

Bon Jovi was my "gateway drug" to other metal bands like Ratt, Motley Crue, Poison, and Skid Row. Many metal bands graced my locker walls over the years. My obsessions with bands came and went (just like a lot of the bands themselves), but thirty years later it pleases me to see that Bon Jovi is still out there rocking it!

What were some of your favorite bands in high school?

Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for Isolation

I am participating in an A-to-Z blog challenge this month. My theme is the music of my life.

In August of 1984, we moved to the Washington, DC suburbs. What a shock. We went from a small town where we knew a lot of people to a teeming metropolis where we knew no one and no one knew us.
The kids at my new school were much more sophisticated than me; they dressed like the models in Teen magazine, and their conversations revealed concern with name brands and popularity. I hated it. I wanted to jump right back in the car and retreat to Tennessee. I felt intensely isolated and lonely for my family and friends.
But that was not to be. Mom got a job at an insurance agency, and I trudged off to the 7th Grade.  
The Bananarama song “Cruel Summer” was my anthem.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for Hometown Rivers and Huey Lewis

I am participating in the A-to-Z Blog  Challenge this month. My theme is...the music of my life.

In 1983, director Mark Rydell and a movie crew from Universal Pictures moved into Kingsport, Tennessee and the surrounding areas to film the movie, The River, starring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek. This was a really big deal in a small town like ours, and to have actors, directors, and producers from a big-name film company like Universal made people feel like our town had been put on the map. I auditioned for the role of one of the children even though I was much older than what they were looking for (I was eleven and they were looking for a six-year-old, but I figured it was worth a shot).

Many people’s homes in our area were rented out by members of the crew. I remember trick-or-treating at the home where the director was living. He wasn’t candy-ready, so he gave us fifty-cents a piece. Locals helped coach baseball and showed the actors how the other half lived. We showed up to watch scenes with Mel Gibson being filmed, and Sissy Spacek kept her horses at the same barn as ours. I even got to sing a song for her while sitting in her white BMW with her husband and eighteen-month-old daughter looking on. She was a lovely person. It was a really exciting time.

The River came out in 1984, and a lot of other interesting things were happening for me during that time. I was cast in a small-town production of Annie—nothing too exciting…I played an orphan—and this little foray into theater solidified a desire in me to act and sing (a passion of mine for many years thereafter). My stepmother gave birth to the first of two younger sisters, and Mom, her new husband, and I made plans to move to Washington, DC.

I turned twelve in 1984, and all sorts of wonderful movies were in the theaters like Ghostbusters, Footloose, and Sixteen Candles. The billboard charts were full of classic—80s songs like Huey Lewis and the News, Madonna, Pat Benatar, Night Ranger, and Eurythmics. Actually, there were too many good songs to mention them all. This was one of my favorite times of my life, and one of my favorite times for music.

What were some of your favorite 80s tunes?

Friday, April 8, 2016

G is for German Influence

I am participating in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge this month. My theme is ... the music of my life.

My mother's new husband was from Germany and he hadn't been in the U.S. that long, so he was still learning his way around the language. For a while things were great. My mother's family was excited as my great-grandmother was 100% German, and we were celebrating our ancestral connections. We loved hearing him speak the language, and we were constantly asking him how to say this or that in German, and we looked forward to a time when we could visit Germany with him.

In the beginning, he seemed like a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky guy. At least for the first few months. Until his first violent explosion that rattled dishes off of the dinner table. From my mother's expression, I could tell she was as shocked as I was.

In the early years, the verbal violence surfaced sporadically and we never knew exactly what might set it off. Part of the problem was that the guy had been swindled by previous employers, and without a steady job, he was in the throes of an identity crisis. But that excuse wasn't valid forever, and after a couple of years when my mother was the only bread winner in the family and my stepfather was in search of a new business venture, the excitement and romance of the relationship with this exotic man wore off.

It wasn't all bad; he had his good points and his good days, but the controlling and violent rages soon eclipsed the good times.

He didn't like that my grandparents lived so close to us and that I ran to their house during violent arguments. He didn't like that my grandmother meddled in our family affairs (understandable on some level), and he didn't like that Kingsport was such a small town where everyone knew everyone else, and he couldn't break into the "old boy's club." Secretively, he began to formulate a plan in which we would leave the area and move to a big city where he would have more opportunity.

But what we all knew without him saying a word was that he wanted to get my mother away from her family. He needed to have complete control, and that was only possible if he could move us to a place where we had no place to run.

We reached the end of our first year with my new stepfather. It was 1983 and MTV (Music Television) was in full swing. I spent hours in front of the television watching videos and planning my future as a singer. I was sure that one day I would see myself in one of those videos. The first video I ever remember seeing was "Der Kommissar" by After the Fire.

What is the first video you ever remember watching on MTV?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Faith, Friends, and Foreigner

I am participating in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge this month. My theme is ... the music of my life.

Ten was the age of opposites. On one side of the coin, life was good. I met some of my best friends in the fourth grade and we formed a band called The Socks (as part of our gimmick, we rolled up our jeans and wore crazy-colored socks). My fourth grade teacher booked us gigs in the library, the auditorium, and in front of members of the PTA. We were veritable elementary school celebrities! We performed songs from The Go-Gos like "We Got the Beat" and "Vacation" and although I really wanted to be lead singer (I loved singing, and I wasn't bad at it either), I was willing to take backseat to the prettier, more outgoing, Stacee.

But home was empty--no dogs or dads.  My mom was dealing with her divorce, and I was dealing with her emotional freefall. My way of coping was pretending to live in a fantasy world fueled by plotlines from soap operas like All My Children and General Hospital (I watched GH religiously). In many ways it was easier to stay in that world as much as possible. There, I could make my own endings to my own story lines. I often think of this time as my precursor to being a writer.

Then things got really bad, and I learned to pray. On my knees in my bathroom with my hands clasped and eyes closed, I called out to God with desperation. "Something really bad is going to happen. Please help my mother." I had grown up in a family of prayer warriors. My paternal grandparents were sincere lovers of Jesus, and they taught me that He was always there for me no matter what. And at the age of ten, I learned they were right.

God comforted me in this time of desolation. When I felt I couldn't talk to anyone else, I knew I could go to Him and He would listen. This was the beginning of real faith for me.

About a year after the divorce, my mother met a man who literally swept her off her feet. He was from another country and spoke with a thick accent that I found hard to understand. Within six weeks, he would become her third husband and my new step father.

And life was about to change for us in a big way once again...  

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

E is for Endings

I am participating in an A-to-Z Blog challenge this month. My theme is ... The Music of My Life.

When I was nine years old, my mom and stepdad divorced. It was a terrible time, although I tried not to show it. My mom wasn't in great emotional shape, and I felt like I was the only thing holding her together. Everything was changing for us. We thought we would have to move in with my grandparents who lived a few doors down for us, so our little Chihuahua, Putt, had to be given away. The only man I ever remembered living with as a father was now living with someone else. My mom had to go back to work, and there was a lot of confusion and sadness all around.

I overheard a lot of things through adult conversations. Most of the things, I later found out, were true, crushing my view of love, marriage, and stability. But I didn't have time to deal with that right then. I was too worried about my mom.

My grandmother was my rock. She picked me up from school every day, helped me with my homework, and fed me dinner. My grandparents, Carol and Big Whit, lived only a few doors down from us, so they were my second (and sometimes first) home.

Endings are always hard, but they are especially hard for kids...and especially when they encompass the end of people. I only saw my stepfather a few times after that. Perhaps visitations were too hard for him; perhaps they were too hard for his new, pregnant wife. Whatever the case, the sleight left an indelible mark on me that never really went away. Like the tune of a song, the grief of loss haunts the mind, heart, and soul...

In 1981, music was more important to me than ever. Here were some of the songs playing on my radio...

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

D is for Dogs, Drugs, and Debra Winger

I am participating in the A-to-Z Blog Challenge this month. My theme is ... The Music of My Life.

Growing up, there was nothing I loved better than dogs and horses. But as a young child, I had been diagnosed with asthma, and apparently I was allergic to everything. Especially dogs, cats, grass, etc. For years I took a concoction of drugs and shots that helped with the symptoms. I had already had to give up one dog because of the illness, but my mother read that Chihuahuas were supposed to help those with asthma, so we got Little Putt--an uncommonly sweet, brindle female. 

I began riding horses at the age of five. My mom had grown up with horses and had a trunk full of ribbons and trophies from horse shows all over the regions. When some of my friends were learning to play tennis, golf, or soccer, I was learning to ride.

Despite my asthma, my cousin and I practically lived at the barn during the summer. After our riding lessons, we helped groom horses, muck out stalls, and rake the inside of the barn. We loved the smells (yes, even the manure), the sounds (whinnies, whuffles, clip-clops), and the sights (nothing beats seeing a horse moving in perfect formation with its rider), and we formed lasting friendships from our time there.

When school was going on, my mom and I woke early on Saturday mornings and headed out for Rotherwood Stables, stopping at the 7-11 on the way to buy a king-sized Hershey bar and bottled Coke to share. The breakfast of champions. We did this for many years.

In 1980, the movie Urban Cowboy came out. John Travolta and Debra Winger were names on everyone's lips, and line-dancing was booming at the honky tonks. Mom bought the soundtrack and we played the tape in the car over and over again—we wore that thing out! It was a compilation album of songs from Jimmy Buffet, Mickey Gilley, The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and many others. But my two favorites on the album were Boz Skaggs’s “Love Look What You’ve Done to Me” and Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (whoo-hoo! Listen to that fiddle playing!) This was when I came to love country music.

I was too young to see the movie then, and to this day, I have never seen it (maybe this will be the year), but every time I hear Boz Skaggs or the Eagles, I think about those sunshine-filled rides to the barn and the smell of sawdust and grain. Ah, how I love the smell of fly spray in the mornings!

Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for Commodores

I am participating in a month-long A-to-Z blog challenge. My theme is ... The Music of My Life.

Everyone has that moment in life when they realize something so profound and paradigm-altering that it marks the beginning of an era. For me, it was realizing that the man I had been calling “Daddy” for as long as I could remember was actually my dad.


My cousin, Erin, who was three years older than me, lived in Roanoke, but she stayed with me at my grandparents’ house every holiday and the entire summer. We were the closest thing that either of us had to a sister. While sitting in the car one day with my mom and waiting for my grandmother and cousin to come out of the grocery store, she told me that Erin’s parents were divorcing. 

“What’s divorce?” I asked.

“Her parents aren’t going to live together anymore.”

“Why?” I asked.

“They just grew apart. They weren’t getting along anymore.”

“But why?” I asked. My seven-year-old mind just couldn’t comprehend the reason why anyone would stop living with their husband or their wife.

“It’s like your dad and me,” my mom said. “We couldn’t get along, and we finally had to divorce.”

“What? What do you mean?”

My mom laughed. “Well, yeah. How did you think your dad became your dad?”

Honestly, I didn’t know. It had simply never occurred to me that Mom and Dad had ever been married or had ever lived together. I was completely shaken to the core by this news. On some level I figured that I called this man “Daddy” just like someone would call someone “Uncle” when they weren’t, actually. But suddenly, everything clicked. This explained the reaction my dad had when I’d told him that I figured I would just start calling him by his first name, and I would switch to calling my stepfather “Dad.” This explained why I saw him every week, albeit only for an afternoon and only at my grandparents’ house.

Worlds collided in my head. Why hadn't anyone ever explained this to me before? How had I not known this? I never looked at my dad the same way after that. This was how I learned the true meaning of divorce.

And the soundtrack to that time of my life? The Commodores…

What was a moment in your life that changed everything?