Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Today, I Cry

We don’t cry for the dead. We cry for the living. Specifically, we cry for ourselves. John Belushi, Jim Henson, Madeleine Kahn, George Carlin, Gilda Radner, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams… They made me happy, made me think, opened my mind to other perspectives, and taught me things I didn’t know I was learning, all while making it all look easy. I never met any of them, in person, but felt a bond or kinship with each of them, nonetheless. They were more than entertainers on a TV screen, they were exceptionally funny and clever entertainers whose influence directly contributed to the adult I am today. Their deaths were painful. Yes, we can watch hours of recorded moments on YouTube, but – once they’re gone – there can never be another next moment. So, we cry.

At least, with entertainers, we have their bodies of work to honor their memory. With ordinary folks, like family and friends, we aren’t often so lucky. Maybe they wrote or recorded a few things. Maybe somebody took an old home movie, somebody else shot a short video. Mostly we’re left with a photo album or two and whatever images and stories we carry within us. Over time, even those disappear. It makes me wonder, then, what it is that we leave behind in this world. We work so hard to build things, raise children, touch lives, and leave a legacy. In the end, it’s not even up to us; the preservation of our memory ultimately lies with those we leave behind. 

Every time I visit a House of Blues, I seek out the “altar to Jake” and down a shot with a friend. I never miss the opportunity to let a Muppet make me smile. Whether entertainers or ordinary folks, my heroes live on through me: I have my grandfather’s dedication to family; my mother’s words echo in my head and out my mouth almost every day. Every joke I share – every story I tell – keeps their legacies alive.

It’s up to you and me to preserve the memories of our heroes. Do them proud. Share the “7 Words You Can’t Say On Television” with your friends and your children. Show them how they can entertain themselves for hours with nothing more than a box full of hats. Teach your girls it’s okay to be pretty AND smart AND funny AND talented AND still laugh at themselves. And teach your boys it’s okay to cry; some heroes are worth a few tears.

RIP, Robin Williams. I hope Jonathan was waiting for you on the other side … with a box of hats.

~ Dawn

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Life: One Kick in the Nuts After Another

[Final edit at 6:08pm, accompanied by a tall glass of Jack and water over ice…]

I’m tired of being optimistic. Tired of smiling and pretending I have any influence, at all, on what happens next in my world and that everything’s going to be okay. Because I don’t, and it’s not. Our lobbyist-run government is corrupt, our politically divided country is full of sheeple, and our flat, over-sized televisions spew a thousand channels of shamelessly over-commercialed garbage. Cities, towns, and entire islands all over the globe are disappearing under rising tides. Economies (including ours) are crumbling. Human trafficking, slavery, organized crime, poverty, child abuse, torture, terrorism, and war exist – will continue to exist – everywhere.

With advances in technology, and one-click access to more information than probably every other generation before us, combined, you’d think we’d get better at solving the world’s problems. Instead, phones, tablets, pads, and the mindless games and activities over which we obsess have taught us to look down instead of out and inward. We see it as multi-tasking. We think we know ourselves – and each other – but we don’t. We pop in headphones, link to WiFi, and think we’re connected, but we’re not. Social networking is, in fact, making us anti-social. We tweet our “Check in” at Applebee’s or click “Like” on a friend’s photo of a kitten pushing a smaller kitten in a tiny, red shopping cart and call it “communicating,” while eating lunch surrounded by people doing the same thing. Our “Friends” lists are growing, but our vocabularies are shrinking, and our attention spans are getting shorter. I’d say that’s far from advancement.

As a novelist, I find it all discouraging. What, exactly, does one write about when the world clearly doesn’t give a damn about anything worth writing about? And, given the dwindling number of people willing/able to sit down and read for more than three minutes at a time, where do I find the motivation to produce material for an audience that doesn’t exist? I have enough trouble drumming up readers for a blog post that took a day and a half to write (this one, for example), what’s the point in spending two to five years crafting a story only three hundred people will read, half will pay for, and fewer will review and/or recommend to friends? (Not that I’m ungrateful for those of you who DO buy, read, comment, share, and keep coming back; if YOU didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be here bitching there aren’t more of you.)

The only reason I’ve been able to publish two novels, two short stories, and six magazine articles – and (poorly) maintain a blog – is because my husband makes it possible. I’d hoped to ultimately repay his support and sacrifice by justifying my existence (sporting a substantial ROI, if you will). After ten years, I’m not only NOT making a living, I can’t even cover my vices. Though I’ve certainly reveled in the hundreds of copies sold and the tens of dollars I’ve pocketed in royalties, I’ve arrived at a crossroads.

Ten years, people – TEN! That’s a fucking DECADE of fighting for time to sit on my ass, stare at blank pages, and make up stories, while Scott schleps off to work every day, so the bills can get paid. I’ve persisted through the death of my mother, accidental and suicidal deaths of dear friends, at least half a dozen hurricanes, countless arguments and/or serious misunderstandings with my children and siblings, two near divorces, and a lightning strike to the house that wiped out cable, Internet, and half the sprinkler system. I nearly died in ’08 from poor nutrition and exhaustion! And yet, I have little more to show for all that persistence than a small shelf of books and magazines that collect more dust than royalties, a blog maybe twelve (wonderful) people read, and a husband who’s overwhelmed and out of patience. I don’t want to think about what the next ten years might bring.

Why am I doing this?!

My next project is supposed to be an historical novel that incorporates the origins of firefighting with the history of the Knights of Malta, the eternal clash between Christians and Muslims, and the importance of family and community. The themes are dear to me, and the topics seem relevant and interesting. But, every time I sit down to write, I think, “Aside from the luxury of being at home and available for family, friends, and the occasional crisis (aka, kick in the nuts), what GOOD am I doing?” I’m not making money, creating jobs, or changing the world. I’m not even changing attitudes about anything important, like foreign relations, genetically modified food, the destructive natures of religion and monogamy, benefits of recreational marijuana, pitfalls of vanity and greed, and the very basic need for real, human contact. How do I justify – every day – the hours (days, years) it takes to write a book about people who don’t exist, doing things that didn’t happen, when my husband resents me and the world is going to hell? Surely, you can grasp my dilemma.

If you don’t hear from me for a while, blame Willie and Lukas Nelson. Might as well throw Kid Rock in there, too, since we’re throwing blame around (on everyone but ME, of course, because I’m brilliant, faultless, and totally free of personal responsibility – try saying THAT to yourself in a mirror without laughing…or crying). Through their actions, as well as their music, they’ve inspired me to do well AND do good. I want to make a difference. I want to change the world. MY world, anyway. A successful novelist might be able to pull that off, but the simple fact is: I’m a housewife in Jupiter. Yes, I still believe in my work and my ability, and I couldn’t stop writing if I tried. But, until I reach more people and sell more books than Paris Hilton and her dog, I’ll go on being nobody in the world of readers and writers. And no one will listen. Rather than waste more energy being optimistic and plod forward as merely an aspiring novelist, I think it’s time for a change of focus and scenery. I’ve heard I throw a good party. Maybe I’ll start there…

Until next time.

Peace. Love. Balance.

~ Dawn

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Shove America - With All You've Got

Ann Coulter made me smile today. Never thought I’d say that. On the few occasions I’ve attempted to give her my attention – to see what all the fuss was about – she’s spewed nothing but bullshit, and her voice made my head hurt. Then, along came her #hashtag photo on Twitter, one where she’s clearly shown shoving her foot in her mouth. The Huffington Post’s headline said her now-viral tweet went “beautifully wrong,” so I’m not the only one smiling. I sincerely hope all 276 girls kidnapped from their Nigerian school are found and safely returned to their families. I also hope they team up with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign organizers and send Ms. Coulter a nice fruit basket (because, not only would it be rude and in poor taste, it’s rumored to be impossible to send her a kick in the dick).

What happened to our humanity? In American (media-driven) politics, it seems non-existent. People choose one side or the other – I’m right, you’re wrong – the end. No discussion, no compromise, no real solution, just a bunch of politicians and pundits spewing identical, propaganda-laced sound bytes into their press conference microphones. They could achieve the same results sticking their tongues out at each other.

As human beings, and as Americans, we lost our sense of community when we started pushing the “R” and “D” buttons and stopped thinking for ourselves. As in, allowing data (or thoughts) time to percolate inside our own heads (i.e., without a smart phone) while we weigh facts and consider opinions (preferably from reliable sources who make logical sense and base their opinions on actual fact) in order to deduce a reasonable (hopefully humanitarian) hypothesis. Which is all an opinion is, really: a hypothesis. In the world of science, it’s neither earth shattering nor unusual when new information replaces one hypothesis with another (though I’m sure it’s pissed someone off a time or two). In the thought-processing world inside your head, it’s called, “Changing your mind.” To quote Flo from that insurance commercial, “It happens to me all the time.”

This is 'Merica: Our votes don’t count, but our dollars sure as hell do! It's time we combined forces and allowed our choices to be driven by our right minds instead of by the right or left wing. Once we let go of the “R” and “D” mentality, we’ll realize it’s okay to change our opinions (our hypotheses) about Ann Coulter. Rush Limbaugh, too. Even I changed my mind about Barack Obama. Not every Republican is conservative, not every Democrat is liberal. Few on either side are equipped for the positions they hold, most are full of shit puppets run by greedy corporations, and some should be executed. I won’t profess to have the answers, but I strongly believe thought is the most powerful tool we Americans have in our arsenal. When we open our minds to truth (climate change is real, Columbus did NOT "discover" America), rather than simply buying into what our political leaders tell us (pot's bad, pharmaceuticals and fracking are good), we’re able to see rhetoric for what it really is, we’ll make better choices (with our money, our time, our resources), and we can finally shove this country in a positive direction. You can’t argue it needs a good shoving.

We are the UNITED States of America. UNITE. For truth. For humanity. For real.

~ Dawn

Friday, March 28, 2014

BYOB & Ten Bucks, or Liquor In the Back

Musicians live a hard, misunderstood existence, travelling the country – the world – checking in, setting up, tearing down, practicing, performing, meeting and greeting, collecting (counting) the money, paying “the man,” rushing to the next place to do it all again. They write and record and promote and eat and sleep when they can fit it in, as in when they can afford to lose the time or the money. Every day is another struggle in an endless, grueling cycle. Unless they have a day job; then it’s worse.

With the strum of a six-string, the gentle tap of a key, a musician has the ability to turn silence into something unique and spectacular. It’s a gift many possess, few share, and even fewer truly excel at. Ask any of them how easy it is to make a living out of playing music, and – if they don’t tell you to bugger off – they’ll say there’s nothing “easy” about it. Centuries ago, musicians were mocked, tortured, and cruelly executed. Today, they’re merely overlooked, underpaid, and taken for granted. As a broke novelist, I understand their pain. Why, then, do they keep doing what they do? Whatever their reasons, I will be eternally grateful for their sacrifice.

Music isn’t everything to everyone, but it means something to most of us. My husband, Scott, loved (still loves) Sammy Hagar and Van Halen, and bands from the 80’s, like INXS and Boston, are his go-to when he needs a lift. My tastes evolve and expand – from Phil Collins to AC/DC – but I will forever refer to country music as my “comfort food.” In our 25 years together, Scott and I have been to countless concerts, music festivals, bars, backyard parties, hotel lobbies, and holes-in-the-wall of all shapes and sizes. Consequently, we’ve developed a fondness for live music and the musicians from all genres who share themselves with us. Sure, you can buy a CD or download recordings to your MP3 and possess music, but where’s the magic in that?

From intimate, acoustic shows in coffee rooms to massive auditoriums, I’m continually in awe at how music simply “appears” from nothing. One minute, there’s a stage, a few microphones, a couple guitars, a piano, and a drum set, and then people walk on, strike up their instruments, and suddenly … music. Sometimes all it takes is a chair, a guitar, and a voice. Or just a harmonica. But it’s not only the music, itself, that makes the experience memorable: the setting, the people, the atmosphere, and the weather all contribute to the ultimate “feeling” of a live performance. And that’s what really gets you. Imagine Willie Nelson crooning “Georgia On My Mind” under a full moon amid the trees along the banks of the Suwannee River; Kid Rock singing, “I’m goin’ down to New Orleans,” on the deck of a boat as the sun sets beyond the banks of the Mississippi; some random guy at a party who brought his guitar to the fire pit and started to play. I might be broke, but those images, and the peace that comes with them, will ALWAYS be with me.

When Scott and I purchased our first “real” home five years ago, turning the place into a concert venue was nowhere on our list of priorities. Not even at the bottom. And, don’t misunderstand me: it’s still not our intention. Friends and family who were here at the Campground for Scott’s Birthday in 2013 were witness to a turning point, however, when the F.O.G. Band rocked the East Ball Room on a chilly, rainy night in January. I think there were about 40 of us. We’re no strangers around here to late night dance parties, but the change in energy was undeniable.

There’s nothing like watching a live performance…until the performance takes place in your back yard. Imagine being surrounded by your friends, watching young men you used to call "kids" kill an acoustic set as Operative Me and listening to John Eddie belt out, “I’ve got a real big deck,” only steps away from your actual, real, deck. It’s possible, and it feels amazing. If you have the means and the inclination, I heartily encourage you to consider live entertainment for your next gathering. It doesn’t have to set you back a lot. Ask the chick who plays the bar you go to every Saturday night. You could be the opportunity she’s been waiting for. If you can’t host an event, at least attend a few. And invite friends, throw a few bucks in the tip jar, and tell them how much you appreciate them. It ain't easy, selling yourself and praying you’ll survive to do it again another day. Support live music. Any way you can.

~ Dawn

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Disagree With Me - I Double-Dog Dare You!

(Originally posted to the blog on November 16, 2006. But not a thing's changed...)

Today, your mission--along with the obligatory, "should you choose to accept it"--is to disagree with me. I can't believe we're all on the same page on everything. There surely must be something I like that you don't or I don't like that you do or, if we both like or dislike something, you've got to have more noble reasons than I do for liking or disliking it, because I have the morals of a trained chimp. Or maybe a panda. You get the point.

Let's see if we can't stir shit up, okay? I'll start slow and obvious...

Marijuana should be legal and available at Walgreen's in convenient quarter-, half-, and full-ounce bags. Among other benefits, it's a safe, natural way to combat nausea, lack of focus, poor appetite, sleeplessness, and anxiety, and few substances open better paths to creativity. Also, pre-rolled joints should be packaged like cigarettes to make it easier to smoke while driving, because every stoner knows it's not the high that makes you dangerous, it's the distraction of preparing to get high or trying to hide the fact that you're getting high that sends you swerving into the ditch or slowing to 8 miles-per-hour. (Before you launch your attack on THAT one, please prepare to defend the millions of drivers legally operating under the influence of mind-altering prescription drugs, like Oxycontin, Percocet, Ritalin...)

Prostitution should also be legal. And free of disgrace. People in the profession should have excellent health and dental plans and their clients shouldn't have to put up with bitching and moaning and whining on the homefront. It's just a blowjob or a hand job or an ass pounding or something equally mundane that YOU won't give him. It's not like he's buying her a house in the suburbs. Damn! What does it take?!

Marriage should be a more difficult institution to join and nearly impossible to quit. Our divorce rate is disgusting. We should be ashamed of ourselves. To make a relationship work, you have to talk and fight and sacrifice and struggle through the bullshit. Together. Gay couples already get that--in spades. They're better at commitment than heterosexuals. Don't believe me? Keep an eye on the state divorce rates where gay marriage is allowed. I'll bet you a dollar rates improve in 5-10 years.

Masturbation techniques should be taught in junior high. I'm not talking live demonstration, just assign the kids a book or a pie chart or something with pictures or detailed descriptions. At least tell them it's NOT WRONG and an excellent way to stave off cravings when you're trying to hang on to your virginity. And show them where they can learn more about it. Talk to them one-on-one or in small groups if you have to. Make it okay for them to talk to each other about it, too, because my cultural boundaries won't let me talk to my children. Would prefer, in fact, I not speak to anyone about it. I didn't learn how to "properly" use a vibrator until I was 30! Can you imagine how much better I could have kept my libido in check if I'd been taught sooner? Of course, I might not have such good stories to tell...

Driving tests should require that applicants actually learn to drive before being issued a license. Seniors (whatever that number is these days, 65? 82?) should be evaluated every year on their ability to operate an automobile, which includes proper use of the turn signal and brakes, adherence to speed limits (especially minimum requirements), and general navigation. They should at least be able to see over the dash.

Early term abortion should be a SAFE, legal option for ALL women, and the doctors who perform the procedure should be able to go to work, lounge at home, open the mail, and sit on the toilet without fear of dismemberment and/or gruesome death. PERIOD.

For people who CHOOSE to be parents: Children should be spanked when they need or deserve it. They should also know, before committing the crime, that said whacking will likely come along as a consequence of their actions/behavior, making their "choice" a conscious one; the point is to teach them, not generate fear. And the punishment should NEVER exceed the crime.

Women who kill their children should be publicly stoned. And I don't mean the Cheech and Chong kind. I mean the one with chunks of granite that fit nicely in the palm of your hand. Don't sing me that depression song or try to pawn "my boyfriend made me do it" on me. I don't give a flyin' shit. Mothers protect their children to the death, they don't kill them. Any one that does, in my opinion, doesn't deserve another day above ground.

Guns don't kill people, people do. Go after the people, not the damn guns.

Kid Rock rocks!

And so do you.

~ Dawn