Monthly Archives: February 2012

Mountain-top moments

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting is the mid-week topic for Jackson’s Journal, a memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey.

Are you sitting down? You might want to.

I’ll wait.

I’m actually an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

I’ll wait for you to pick yourself up off the floor. I told you it might be best to sit for that news.

Although I haven’t “practiced” my pulpit skills for more than 10 years now, I do try to practice my faith in home, work and play, because that’s who I am even though I no longer tread the pastoral waters.

I’ve been wondering what the 2012 Jodie would say to the 2001 fire-and-brimstone Jodie. Probably something like, “Wow, you talked a lot about grace. Ever try showing any?”

My sister, Kathy, and I “played house” when we were little tykes, and I’ve used that experience as an analogy when I’ve seen city councils, school boards and other official entities just kind of go through the motions when it’s painfully obvious they’re clueless. I’ve seen numerous public bodies “play” board of aldermen or board of education or even State Senate and House of Representatives.

And not only have I witnessed people “play church,” I’ve perfected that charade myself. I know what it is to go through the motions, to sing the hymns, to say the prayers, to give the right answers to Bible study questions and to give the appearance of a fine little Christian Baptist. I learned by example. My first pastor — my father — taught me the importance of image.

On the other hand, I’ve been to the mountain top, spiritually speaking. I’ve personally learned and experienced the reality — not just the doctrine — of grace, and I think I know when my beliefs and faith are real and when they are just empty motions and emotions.

I’ve had some Hank Busche moments. Hank is the fictional pastor of the Ashton Community Church, a seemingly insignificant and divided group of believers at the epicenter of Frank Peretti’s 1986  novel, “This Present Darkness.” The book begins with two very tall visitors — both seven feet tall — entering the town of Ashton. Eventually they come to the church where Pastor Busche is kneeling in prayer. Alone.

It’s quickly evident that the visitors are angels and the description of sulfur-breathing, demonic beasts unsuccessfully trying to enter the church is vivid and inspiring. The two visitors enter, locate Hank Busche and watch and listen to his heart-rending prayer. As they stand over the kneeling prayer warrior, the room fills with white light that reveals floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall angels, while sentries with flaming swords stood outside.

From “This Present Darkness”

“And now the two men were brilliantly white, their former clothing transfigured by garments that seemed to burn with intensity. Their faces were bronzed and glowing, their eyes shone like fire, and each man wore a glistening golden belt from which hung a flashing sword. They placed their hands upon the shoulders of the young man and then, like a gracefully spreading canopy, silken, shimmering, nearly transparent membranes began to unfurl from their backs and shoulders and rise to meet and overlap above their heads, gently undulating in a spiritual wind.

Together they ministered peace to their young charge, and his many tears began to subside.”

I love the picture those words paint. The story is fiction, but the description of angels comforting and protecting a prayer warrior is one I’m sure I would have witnessed many times throughout my life had my eyes been able to see the spiritual, angelic realm. Over time I’ll tell you about some of the prayer warriors I’ve known and some that I’ve created, including Edna Mae Ferguson, the spiritual matriarch of Faithful Servants Assembly. It’s the little church in my fictional town of Silverdale, Kentucky, the setting for Chasing The Devil. With apologies to Peretti, Devil shares a few similarities with This Present Darkness, although the angels are unseen.

Now, let’s do this right, and end with a couple of songs.

Victory In Jesus  a la Gaither Homecoming crowd. I gotta tell you, I love classic rock, I love anything a cappella, and I love 70s and 80s pop (apparently I stopped listening to “modern” music around 1988). But THIS is my kind of music. Try not to be put off by the sheer “whiteness” of the Gaither crowd and if watching Bill Gaither sing makes you chuckle (although I don’t think he’s in this video), keep this in mind: if you’ve ever been part of a group (writers, singers, cupcake-bakers, whatever) and knew everyone else was far more talented, but you loved it anyway, well … that’s sort of Bill Gaither. It’s kind of like being on the B team and suddenly the A team asks you to suit up.

I’m a Bill Gaither fan, what can I say? Besides, he’s written some of the all-time classics.

And now a sacred rendition of the sacred classic, Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone),  live performance by Chris Tomlin. (Make sure your volume is turned up).

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Filed under Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

Songs of the 70s: Doug and the Drive-In (conclusion)

This is the conclusion of a four-part story that weaves songs of the 70s and early 1980 with a look back at my job as assistant manager of the Belle Drive-In from June 1979 to October 1980. One of the more colorful characters was Doug, a troubled drug/alcohol abuser whose singing voice perfectly mimicked Bob Seger.

“Whatever compelled me to work in a place as filthy, vile and dangerous as the Drive-In, I will never know. Well, yes I will. I do. It is called ‘money.’ A buck an hour … Some say I’m a narc – here only to report on drug transactions and other crime. I suppose my taking notes like this doesn’t relieve suspicions, either …”

Personal journal of Jodie E. Jackson Jr., Feb. 17, 1980

Streets lights illuminated the buckled sidewalk that ran south along Johnson Street. The stately oaks and elms that also lined the street offered hiding spots and shadows from which to leap to surprise – or whip ‑ a guy who couldn’t wait to get home to shower and scrub the French fry grease off his skin and out of his hair.

I’d never been “jumped” on the way home from work, but I surveyed the parking lot with keen interest that night, heeding Doug’s warning that Alan and his buddies ‑ buddies of mine until I put them on the Drive-In’s “kicked out” list – were going to beat me up somewhere along the 1,000 feet between the Drive-In and my house.

The coast was clear, except for the tell-tale orange glow in the street-side shadow at the corner of the parking lot. The slow, deep draws that made the orange dot burn hot was the clincher. I knew who smoked his cigarettes like that.

When I walked past, strutting with confidence, I pretended not to see Doug watching from the shadows, watching to make sure there’d be no “getting jumped” that night.

Well those drifter’s days are past me now

I’ve got some much more to think about

Deadlines and commitments

What to leave in, what to leave out

Against the wind

I’m still runnin’ against the wind

I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind

Well I’m older now and still runnin’

Against the wind.

Against the Wind, Bob Seger, 1980

E.J., my boss, finished the late-night meal with his wife, Mary, and the couple that came with them to polish off what was left of the potato salad and coleslaw. E.J. stayed behind to total the register receipts, collect the cash from the register, and then made the rounds through the rec room, emptying quarters from the pool tables, pinball machines and the jukebox.

Perhaps as a special “thanks” for my meal preparation or for me working for a dollar-fifty an hour, E.J. sometimes left the pinball machines and jukebox open, giving me a chance to play and listen to music at no cost into the wee hours of the morning.

But guests weren’t allowed and it was time for Doug to go. He sang along to another raspy, soulful Bob Seger hit as I began mopping the floor in the rec room.

Deep in my soul, I’ve been so lonely

All of my hopes, fading away

I’ve longed for love, like everyone else does

I know I’ll keep searching, even after today

So there it is girl, I’ve said it all now

 And here we are babe, what do you say?

We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?

We’ve got tonight babe Why don’t you stay?

We’ve Got Tonight, Bob Seger, 1978

“Everything okay here?” E.J. asked on his way out the door. He turned toward Doug. “You know it’s closing time?” He looked at me. “You know it’s closing time.” He wasn’t asking.

“Doug’s on his way out,” I assured E.J. as he left. What I really wanted to say was that the place would have been dark and closed down two hours ago if not for a telephone order for four chicken dinners at 8:59.

I continued to mop, wondering if Doug was really going to leave. When the jukebox was finally silent, Doug hollered from the booth where he was sitting in the dining area.

“Little Preach, maybe you could have church here sometime?”

I kept mopping and hollered back, “Would you come?”

“Already here, Little Preach.”

He had a point. This was where he was comfortable.

“You could lead the choir,” I said, scooting the dirty mop bucket to the far end of the rec room.

“Hell yeah!” Doug shouted. “How’s this?”

The next thing I knew, the voice of Bob Seger was crooning Doug’s version of “Jesus Loves Me.”

“Jesus loves me, this I know.” The first and fourth words were more spoken than sung. He let the words hang in the air.

I stopped cleaning and leaned the mop against a pool table.

“For the Bible says it’s so.”

Thinking back to that wonderful, impromptu rendition, I wondered about the snooty, tall-haired women who’d told Doug he’d have to get cleaned up and wash his hair before he could be baptized. Those old snoots would have objected to his song on so many grounds – it’s “tells me so,” not “says it’s so” ‑ and probably would have insisted that, in fact, Jesus does NOT love those who sing that song a la Bob Seger.

“Little ones to him belong … When they’re weak … he is strong.”

I could only hear ­– couldn’t see Doug sing – from my position in the rec room, but I realized I couldn’t move. It wasn’t just the voice, but what was behind the voice that was so mesmerizing.

And why were my cheeks wet? Was I crying?

“Yes, Jesus loves me,” Doug continued. “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. My Bible … says … it’s … so.”

Silence consumed the air. When I’d regained my composure, I returned to the dining area, not sure whether to hug Doug or applaud. But he was gone.

I glanced out the window and followed the path of a glowing, orange dot that disappeared into the night.

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Childbirth and an epic snowstorm: This date in history

Feb. 26, 1984. The weather forecast was for a chance of flurries and a high of 34. A couple of hours before dawn that Sunday morning the snow started falling. By the time the big wet flakes stopped around mid-day Tuesday, the result was (and still is) the most significant snow event of my lifetime. (No. 2 on my list of lifetime all-time weather events). Snowfall totals ranged from 24 inches in Maries County to 34 inches in Gasconade County.

Ten-foot drifts (I have photos) shut down Highway 63 at the Rolla Airport at Vichy. Not that it mattered, because Highway 28 between Belle and Vichy was impassable for two days. Power went in and out, but the temperature never dropped much below freezing. Otherwise the snow event would probably have been deadly as well as deep.

At that time Kelly and I were on-site caretakers for a 350-acre cattle farm — Pine Corners — in southern Gasconade County off Elk  Head Road. We managed to get to Belle (about 10 miles away) before everything was completely impassable, and it was three days before we were able to return, but only with the aid of a nearby farmer and his tractor. The drifts were consistently knee to waist-high. On our return to Pine Corners and the long, difficult trudge to the barn, we discovered that several of the cows had successfully calved.

Feb. 26, 1985. That night, Kelly gave birth to Kishia Chantel, our first-born, at St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City. We instantly became rich beyond our wildest dreams. Kishia. Our baby.

Kelly had been in labor the better part of four days. I gently lowered Kishia into a warm bath. Kelly, completely exhausted, asked if Kishia had “all 10 fingers, all 10 ‘toeses’ and all 10 noses?”

“She’s perfect,” I said. “Only one nose.”

“That’s good,” Kelly said, mustering all the energy she had.

 Later, in the wee hours of Feb. 27, I drove home to Belle and smoked — or tried to smoke — a celebratory cigar.

I very nearly caught myself on fire. While I was driving.

Happy Birthday, Kishia!

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Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

The Write Life: Setting as character

It’s Saturday, time for The Write Life, an exploration of words and the nuts and bolts of the writing craft. Guest posts and comments are strongly encouraged.

Setting as character

I simply have to learn how to use Dropbox. I’m constantly emailing myself notes and reminders. This week I had an epiphany about viewing my fiction’s setting as characters: alive and organic. Give the setting weight, make it an integral part of the story, not just an element that fits a novel-writing formula

I thought I was really on to something until I found this buffet of thoughts on “setting as character.”

I was especially struck by the last line: “The only question will be whether you use your setting consciously, or it uses you.”

I’ve tried to put some of these ideas into practice this week as I’ve honed, revised and forged ahead on my unfinished first draft of Chasing The Devil. I know my characters intimately, yet I don’t watch them in the bathroom. Sounds a bit awkward, I know, but the point is there are unseen elements in their lives. And that’s okay. They aren’t automatons. Robots. (That’s an idea someone else can pursue; it’s not my genre).

In the same way, I want to know some of my settings so intimately that they are alive, yet retain the shadows, nooks and crannies that make them complete — and more life-like. In my tiny hometown of Belle, Mo., the damp, dank areas between the buildings on main street (Alvarado Avenue/Highway 89) always caught my eye. When we lived above Faith Baptist Church – the old Dahms Hardware building that was infested with brown recluse spiders – one of those shaded, shadowy walkways separated Faith Baptist from the local newspaper, Tri-County Publications. The street-side entrance was through a brick archway and I always felt as cool and tough as James Dean when I went between those buildings.

And I like thinking about the nooks and crannies in the lives of Cole Davenport and Jamie Light, the primary protagonists in Chasing The Devil. I know 99 percent of all there is to know about them. Somehow it’s nice to know that there’s 1 percent – probably more – of mystery. Besides, it leaves room for my fictional creations to grow and develop.

I suppose there are dark alleys and breezeways in both characters and settings.

Here’s one attempt to create a setting as vivid as the characters. In this example, from the chapter “Missing Pieces,” the old house of Cole’s childhood seems to literally breathe. At least that’s the movement and presence I’m trying to create. Cole’s mind is tortured by empty, shapeless memories of something his parents and sister refuse to acknowledge, much less talk about.

I want the creaking floor to become so familiar to my readers that the mere mention of that setting triggers sights and sounds in your mind. (Let me know how I’m doing).

MISSING PIECES

(Chasing The Devil)

Every floor board in the house announced each approaching footstep, each closing door, and every stiff breeze that frequently blew across the flat expanse of Cole’s hometown. His mother complained that something was always “settling.”  The house wasn’t as old as it sounded, and until recently the predictable vibrations of something settling took Cole’s mind to a different time, a nostalgic trip to a more peaceful time. A time before the night-long nightmares began.

He read the sounds vividly and depended on the rattling from the China cabinet to announce the next person coming down the stairs. The importance of that announcement was incalculable when the teen-age Cole sat on the sofa with his high school sweetheart – with the lights off.

The staccato, high-pitch “ping” of the cream-colored gravy boat was a dead giveaway for his sister, Penny. The cabinet doors emitted a low, prolonged growl of sorts, sometimes barely perceptible, when his dead approached the top of the stairs. Now even that sensation slipped further away with each nightmare seizure. The missing pieces of memories cried out for exposure from the fog and static in Cole’s mind, and the mental chaos blocked the signature rattling. Now Cole felt like a stranger in the creaking, noisy house, sitting on the sofa, more like an unannounced houseguest, waiting for his dad to summon his mom from her bedroom. This time, he said to himself for the thousandth time, she’s going to tell me the truth.

Cole missed the China cabinet’s high-pitched pinging announcement that Penny was on her way downstairs. A shadow on the wall below the off-key musical bird clock was the giveaway that Penny was finished having another whispered conversation with their mother upstairs. His sister’s tired eyes were full of disappointment. It was a stinging look that Cole knew well.

“Cole, you’re such a moron.” His sister shook her head slowly. “You just can’t let it go.”

Next time Cole’s childhood home comes into the picture, I’m hoping you’ll “see” the sounds, and feel that the creaking floors are as important to the scene as the cacophony of misfiring synapses in Cole’s mind.

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My (not so) finest hours

It’s Friday. That means a memoir-in-progress flashback to the big hair and big dreams of the 1980s.

From the pages of My Senior Drear, the day-by-day, hour-by-hour log of each day of my four years of tormenting classmates, teachers and administrators at Belle High School …

Monday, Feb. 23, 1981 – Second hour (astronomy). Some stuff about Saturn. Ten or 11 moons, rings are made out of chunks of ice, blah blah blah … and these notes:

“Uranus orbits the sun once for every 84 earth years. It has five moons … Tim asks Mr. Abel how many of the moons could fit in Uranus. Mr. A. ignored him … I asked Tim how many moons he thought would fit in Uranus. Tim says, ‘We’re not talking about myanus. I’m wondering about Uranus.’ However, I respectfully insisted, ‘Myanus ain’t nobody’s business.’”

Laughter. Hysterical laughter. (At least from me and Tim).

“Mr. A. says he’s worried about me and Tim … Worried we’re going to end up in prison someday.”

How to not win

In a moment I’ll present the evidence of one of the most bone-headed decisions I ever made – at least up to the point of me being 17-years-old. I was a speech-and-debate nerd and excelled in original oratory (wrote a speech, memorized it, delivered it in compelling, convincing manner); debate (when we were on the “affirmative” side, Jack Smith and I advocated for banning tobacco products, and we wiped out the competition … until we came up against state champion debaters from Pattonville High); and extemporaneous speaking.

I was a wiz at extemp. You’d draw a topic from a bowl or hat, then you had 30 minutes to jot down an outline or ideas on a notecard. When your name was called, you presented a five- or six-minute persuasive speech.

Sometimes the topic related to a current event of the day, and me being a news nerd and all, I’d knock those speeches out of the park. I was the conference champion. (I LOVED extemp and, to this day, seem to have the gift of gab.)

And then I got stupid. And arrogant.

You see, one strategy of extemporaneous speaking was to assume a position opposite from the prevailing public opinion. I could advocate for or against nuclear energy. (How many of you kids out there remember when the Callaway Plant wasn’t there? I warned against the civilization-ending certainty of unmanageable nuclear waste or the national security danger of depending on fossil fuels and foreign oil for our energy). I could convince an astronaut that space travel was wasteful and unnecessary.

So there I was in the spring of 1981, in the semi-final round of the state speech and debate tournament in Jefferson City. The questions we chose from related to state policy. I was on a roll.

And then I reached into a tumbler and pulled out the folded piece of paper with my question: “Should Missouri legalize prostitution?”

Conventional wisdom said, “Don’t get cute here.”

But I was much less conventional back in 1981. I prepared a note card (below, just the front included here) with an outline that I was sure would convince anyone that, of course, we should legalize the world’s oldest profession.

I strutted into the room, already wondering what my championship round speech topic might be, when I realized the judge was a woman older than my grandparents.

I stayed the course of unconventional.

The judge was unconvinceable.

It was my final speech of the state tournament.

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Sticky situations: The 7 deadly sins

The Journal thanks Amy Swiney for allowing a re-post of Tuesday’s entry in her blog, Ephemera Geek. We didn’t properly recognize Fat Tuesday or Wednesday’s first day of Lent, so we’ve “borrowed” this entry . Remember, the Journal looks for guest posts on Tuesday and Thursday. (That means YOU. You’re reading this? Yeah, YOU!)

Today is Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday, so what better day to talk about the Seven Deadly Sins? After all, today is the day that we are supposed to eat up all the fat, sugar and eggs to prepare for the fasting of the Lenten season. Here’s a (hopefully) humorous look at the seven deadly sins and how they might make their way into today’s celebrations:

lust — Perhaps you lust after your neighbor’s … pancakes … because you think they are better than your own pancakes.

gluttony — Or maybe you just eat too many pancakes.

greed — Or you keep all the pancakes for yourself and don’t share them.

sloth — And then after you eat all the pancakes, you don’t feel like doing anything and just want to lay around and take a nap.

wrath — Maybe someone else ate all the pancakes and you didn’t get any, and now you’re mad because they didn’t share.

envy — You are jealous of your brother’s pancakes because they are rounder than your pancakes.

pride — The pancakes you make are the best and no one else’s compare.

So I’m sure that’s not the literal translation of the Seven Deadly Sins but I hope you enjoyed this humorous look at them. Happy Fat Tuesday!

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Cave song

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

A memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey, centered on but not always about Wednesday night prayer meetings of my childhood and teen years.

 

Caves have impeccable acoustics.

There’s a cave at Windermere Baptist Conference Center near Lake of the Ozarks. In September 1981, a group I was with from the Baptist Student Union in Warrensburg left a late Saturday night worship service as part of a weekend youth conference. Instead of heading back to our cabins – men and women had separate quarters, of course – we instead hung out on the grounds, somehow staying in the shadows and avoiding the slow, sweeping beam of a night watchman’s flashlight.

We were under direct orders – both from conference staff and our BSU director – that anyone not in bed with lights out at the stroke of midnight wouldn’t be allowed on future trips.

There were other, non-specific consequences, the type that 18- and 19-year-old Baptists flatly ignored.

There were about 15 in the group I was in, so we must have felt braver en masse. Just after midnight we dashed from the cover of a shadow into the cave. I wouldn’t say I was the ring-leader, but I was in front with one of our two flashlights. Someone in the back had the other flashlight.

I don’t remember the cave having much length, and as I recall it had a shallow spring that seeped from under a dead-end wall. When we reached that point, I switched off my flashlight. The girls screamed. (And probably some of the guys, too). Then the flashlight in the back went off.

I started the praise chorus, “Alleluia.” That was the first verse. Just “alleluia,” sung to very simple, harmonious chords. Second verse was “I will praise him, repeated eight times, following the same simple chords. Third verse was “He’s my Savior.”

Back in Warrensburg, I’d auditioned and was selected for “Testimony,” the BSU’s touring music group. I never was sure whether to sing bass or tenor – or just carry the melody. One of my group-mates, Elaine Black, had one of the most effortless soprano voices I’ve ever heard. She was somewhere in the group of singing Christian rebels that bathed the limestone cave walls and ceiling with rich harmony.

Gently powerful.

We finished the song, I think someone probably prayed – we’d have lost our Baptist cards if someone hadn’t prayed – and just as I flipped my flashlight back on, the applause of one person approached from the entrance.

The night watchman.

As he wiped tears from his eyes, he whispered, “You kids get to your bunks.” He thanked each of us as we walked past him, following his quiet order.

“Testimony” was a musical experience I had from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1982, maybe eight or nine months. We sang in all corners of the state, visited every group member’s home church (mine was Faith Baptist in Belle, Mo.), and sang at every nursing home or veterans home in the western half of the state.

My hands-down, favorite piece we sang was a chorale, “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All”  — a capella, of course. It was the most challenging piece in our repertoire, so naturally we worked on it the most. And we performed it exceptionally well. I loved the bass line and even though I haven’t sung that song in almost 30 years, the memory is crystal clear. We had quite a few upbeat songs and my group-mates teased me – kind-heartedly, of course – about my preference for more sacred, slower pieces, such as “Jesus My Lord …”

We sang at a nursing home – in Clinton, I think – and the scene, as it is in most nursing homes, was just sad and depressing. That particular performance was especially uncomfortable and awkward. You could say we just weren’t “feelin’ it.”

That changed when we sang “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.” As we sang the final measures, one old woman with a walker slowly made her way to the front. She stood in front of us, stepped away from her walker, and motioned to our director, Jon, to have all 10 of us kneel in a circle. In complete silence, she shuffled from person to person, placing her hands on each of our heads. Jon said she was praying. I didn’t hear it.

But I could feel it.

So I leave you with a treasure I found early this morning on YouTube: Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.

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Filed under Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

Kianna: ‘Follow your heart’

GUEST POST by Natasha Jackson

My sister, Kishia, just had her baby on Wednesday. It was an INCREDIBLE day. Here’s my letter to the sweet little princess … my precious niece. (Letter originally appeared on my blog, “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”)

Kianna,
 
If anyone in the family could describe me in one word, they’d probably say I’m a “butterfly.” I’m not known for staying in one place for too long. I go where the wind goes. And what is that wind? That’s the Lord, hopefully, that I’m following! I feel like about 98 percent of the time my decisions are based on God’s leading. I gotta leave some room for error. I’m human.

But my personality, too, is very much of a butterfly. I love going from place to place to learn new things, and teach people things. My goal is to show the love of Christ to anyone God puts in my path. Sometimes, I don’t do the best job of that ‑ but I sure do try. Sometimes I miss it, even though I don’t mean to.
 
With that being said, I haven’t been known to be around the family as much as most. Generally when family get-together’s happen, I’m off on a mission trip or women’s retreat that I’m either leading or attending. I haven’t given much attention over the past few years to family. Part of that is because I live further away than any of the others in our family. But I’ve decided over the past year or so to not let the miles be an excuse anymore.
 
Just two months ago, your Great-Great-Grandma Nola went to go be with Jesus. We all wanted so much for you to meet her. But I’m sure that you two already knew each other. If people have guardian angels, I’m sure that she is yours. Just like all of us, she loved you so much before you were born. Even when she couldn’t remember anything because she was so sick, she remembered you.

The pain of Granny Nola leaving this world is still very fresh. But, Kianna, you have helped ease that pain. When I saw your face just moments after you were born, something in my heart changed. As I held you, I wanted nothing more than to make you smile. I can’t wait to get to know you.
 
So this is my promise to you, Sweet Princess: I will be there for you. I have had some great examples as to how to be a really good aunt. And I plan on even surpassing those examples! I don’t know where the wind is going to blow me next. I don’t know what God has in store for me in my next season of life. I might be miles away from you, but I won’t let that keep me from you. And I promise to be there for your mommy and daddy, too. I haven’t done the best job at that either. But that’s going to change.
 
You are already the sweetest little girl. I can’t wait to see how you change the world ‑ because you’ll change it just by being yourself! Don’t try to be anyone else, because you are incredible. I can tell you from many, many examples and stories in my own life that you should feel free to follow your dreams. No dreams are silly. So go with it.

Follow your heart.

I can’t wait to see what you teach all of us. And I can’t wait to tell you about the adventures I’ve had in my life.
 
You are truly the most beautiful little girl that I have ever seen. And I can’t wait to see you grow into a stunning little lady!

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Doug C., the Belle Drive-In, and ‘Just another brick in the wall’

This is the third installment of a four-part story that weaves songs of the 70s and early 1980 with a look back at my job as assistant manager of the Belle Drive-In from June 1979 to October 1980. One of the more colorful characters was Doug, a troubled drug/alcohol abuser whose singing voice perfectly mimicked Bob Seger.

Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time

Breaking all of the rules that would bend

I began to find myself searching

Searching for shelter again and again

Against the wind

Against the Wind, Bob Seger, 1980

—–

“Little Preach.” Doug was the only person who ever called me that. “Tell me, Little Preach,” he said, raising his voice above the hum of the ice cream machine and the low roar of the deep fryer. “How do you put up with those snooty old bitties with the tall hair?”

I walked out of the kitchen, wiping my hands. He was fascinated that I – a 16-year-old  — had been preaching off and on for about a year at my home church and a couple of country road rural churches. His disdain for “going to church” was clear. Besides, I knew exactly the type of self-righteous, holier-than-thou group of women he was talking about – they attended the other Baptist church in town, of course, but I pretended not to know.

I wanted to know what he meant by “tall hair.” Doug was all about the hair. His was just past his shoulders, a length that got him kicked out of school some years earlier. He’d even answered an altar call during a revival service and claimed he was told he’d have to cut his hair and “clean up” before he could be baptized. So he didn’t go back to school. And he never went back to church.

I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t have gone back, either.

“You know, Little Preach,” and he scooted off his stool at the counter and walked across the room on tip-toes, mimicking the gait and snooty, nose-turned-up manner of women who still wore their hair like it was the 1960s. Doug continued his impression all the way into the game room when my boss, E.J., his wife Mary, and another couple came in the back entrance.

E.J.’s good mood disappeared as quickly as Doug punched in Pink Floyd on the jukebox and broke a rack of pool balls.

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

“Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” Pink Floyd, The Wall, December 1979

The song that became an anti-apartheid anthem in South Africa (it was eventually banned there) was Doug’s personal anthem that announced his distrust of authority – teachers, the fuzz (cops), preachers (except me), “the man” (E.J.).

E.J. offered to finish up his late-night meal order. “You go ahead and mop, and lock up.”

I suppose he meant for me to tell Doug to hit the road.

Not a chance. I’d done that once before and Doug hopped over the counter.

The most unpleasant but necessary part of having the “assistant manager” title was the authority to “kick out” unruly customers – usually my friends or classmates.

Fighting?

“Bruce, you’re out of here. Two weeks!”

The clipboard on the wall just inside the kitchen was where E.J. and our dollar-an-hour staff kept track of who was banned, for how long and why. It seemed that most of the entries were made in my handwriting.

My buddy Stacy once de-pantsed another trouble-maker. It was hilarious, but …

“Stacy, that’s a week!”

Alan tossed a lit firecracker under a pool table. “Alan, you’re OUT!” I shouted.

He didn’t argue. “How long?”

“A month. Four weeks. And you gotta talk to E.J. before you can come back.”

I jotted down my edict on the clipboard as Alan stormed out. I cranked up the volume for one-hit wonder Larry Van Warmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most,” probably the most popular B-side song of any seven-inch LP in the history of the Drive-In.

Pssst! Little Preach.” Doug got my attention and leaned over the counter toward me. “Just heard Alan say he knows when you get off tonight. He’s bringing Bruce and Shane. They’re gonna jump you and kick your ass.”

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Filed under MIP: Memoir-in-progress

‘A novel kind of guy’

The Write Life

Lamar Henderson / Guest blogger

I’m a really bad writer.

That might be a glaring admission to make considering I have been writing fiction pretty much since I learned to write in the first grade and that being a writer is the only career I’ve seriously wanted to pursue in my life. (Some people might say that it’s about time.) Consider, though, a few facts.

In spite of writing fiction since first grade and being a writer is the only career I’ve seriously wanted to pursue in my life, I don’t have a lot to show for it. A few years ago, I put together a collection of short fiction to self-publish (Ten Minutes ‘til the Savages Come, now available as an e-book on Amazon, B&N and iTunes), mostly just to experiment with self-publishing and to make a rather unique and special birthday present for my lovely wife.

The biggest problem I should have had putting together this collection is selecting from my body of work the items I wanted to include in this omnibus edition. In fact, the problem I had was gathering up enough material that I was willing to publish in order to make a book. Looking through the bulk of my early short fiction – the college years, mostly – I found that most of it seriously wasn’t anything I was willing to put out there for public view.

Well, that’s all right, I told myself. I wasn’t really a short-form writer, anyway. Even my short fiction was mostly novellas. I’ve never even been a big reader of short stories. I’m a novel kind of guy.

As to that, though, although I’ve started many a novel, I’ve only completed first drafts of two. The first one, an epic fantasy started back when epic fantasy was actually starting off as a publishing category, took me seven years to complete. I wasn’t writing all the time, though – I’d write on it for a while, then have to work on boring, bothersome stuff like actually finishing my degree or, you know, getting a job. And, honestly, the last third of the manuscript was finished in a sort of literary death march fueled no longer by my love of the project but only by a fierce, numbing resolution to actually finish the damn thing.

Which I did. And it sucked. I mean, epic vacuum going on here. The thing is, although my first novel sucked, and will never actually see the light of day, I imagine, I did learn a whole lot about the process and craft of writing a novel.

You’d think I would have wanted to put all that to use, then, you know, as being a writer is the only career I’ve seriously wanted to pursue in my life, and all. And I tried, I really did.

For nine years I tried. Nine. Years.

When my second novel came along, it sort of snuck up on me. I’d been fiddling with a character for a while – most of my stories start with a character idea – and one night, I just started writing. I managed to get through the first chapter, and actually did some revision, something I’ve never been good at, either. For reasons I can’t really get into (mostly because I don’t know them, actually), this project took off and had a life of its own. In a period of about two months, I cranked out a first draft of the second novel. And no slim volume of prose was it, either – it came out to about 165,000 words. (For those keeping score at home, the definition of a novel generally starts at 50,000 words.) It was a rush, an exhilarating time. I can’t think of a project before or since with which I was so enraptured.

In the next few years, I made some half-hearted revisions and looked for an agent, which didn’t go anywhere. My second novel took up space on my hard drive, and we seemed to come to an understanding – I didn’t bother it, and it didn’t bother me.

The next decade saw my production decline even further – you know, that whole life thing getting in the way of writing. I did get some stuff done – started a few more novels, wrote an actual screenplay – but in the back of my head, I kept going back to all the things I’d worked on and not really finished.

And that’s the thing, in the end. A first draft is rarely a final draft. If ever. A writer friend of mine once said that, while writing the first draft of a novel, he would have no idea whatsoever what his book was about, and it didn’t matter to him. It wasn’t until the revisions, the subsequent drafts, he said, that he ever figured out what the story was and how it needed to go together.

And that, friends, is why I’m a bad writer. It isn’t just that I don’t write enough. It’s that I have never really dug into the hard, difficult, horrible work required to revise a first draft and polish it into shape. And I’m not talking about just copyediting – I’m talking about completely rewriting large chunks of a manuscript. A second draft, a third. Hell, I’ve read that Fitzgerald would routinely go through nearly 20 drafts of his manuscripts. I am certainly no Fitzgerald.

Well, it’s finally time, I think. I still want to be a writer. I want to be a good writer. I want to be a writer whose work people actually want to read. That means I have to roll up my sleeves and dig into the meaty work of revising what I’ve done before. So, I’ve started doing that with my second novel. I’m into chapter 5 of 26 now, and I’ve already had to completely rewrite chapter 2 (I’m terrible at writing chapter 2s) plus big chunks of the rest. It’s actually going pretty well, I think. I think, this time, maybe, I might be able to turn out a book people will actually want to read.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Filed under Guest Blog, Living Write