Sounds of the season

(Originally published Dec. 12, 2011)

Imagine the sounds of the Christmas season: the ripping of wrapping paper, the squeal of an excited child, jingle bells, the whispers to Santa, and your favorite Christmas carol.

Now imagine the holidays without those sounds. That’s how it was for Riley until she turned 2. With the help of cochlear implants and years of auditory-verbal therapy, she is able to enjoy all the sounds of the season just like any kid with typical hearing, including me yelling, “Riley! Stop shaking your presents!”

One of Riley’s favorite Christmas sounds is a DVD by The Wiggles. The kiddie band was one of the first things she heard after her implants were activated. “Mama, I don’t care how old I get, ” she says, “I’ll always love The Wiggles.”  The photo at right shows her gettin’ wiggly during her first holiday to hear. Pretty special, right?

Since then she has sung in numerous school Christmas programs and played three roles in her third-grade-class production of “A Christmas Carol.” Not bad for a girl who, when she was born, couldn’t hear a jet engine if you held her next to it.

When all the noise starts getting to you, stop and think what it’d be like if you couldn’t hear at all. No kids singing “Away in a Manger,” no friends laughing, no voice saying “I love you.” Then be grateful for the sounds. And take some ibuprofen and a nap and get on with your holiday-ing.

Cruel Summer: When life stops it also keeps going

So much has happened since my last post about disappointment. I’m not ready to share the details, but if you know me at all, you know it’s been a difficult summer. Instead of writing about that right now, I’m sharing some ideas that I might eventually make sense of, too. Let me know if any of them sound interesting.

Handwritten essay drafts in various notebooks:

Stevie Nicks as the Fairy Godmother of Rock

The Evolution of Baby in Dirty Dancing

My favorite summer spot

Essay/story/joke ideas in Notes on my phone:

Dolly Parton and football

What NOT to say to someone who’s just lost a loved one

Play it where it lies

Always Duckie, Never Andie

Talking to girls about Rob Sheffield

We will be fine. Your friends will be fine. It will be OK. I promise. (Did I lie?) 11/8/16 10:52pm

Rites of passage: So many of my firsts were disappointing

Every boy she has a crush on is dying … crushed under the weight of her infatuation.

The best of the era in music. The worst of the era in racism. Alabama.

If women are so powerful that we can control men’s thoughts through such a mundane thing as our clothes, don’t you think we’d have given them better thoughts? Like … “Let’s pay women the same as men for the same job!” “Don’t rape!” “Let’s take half our corporate profits and feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, make sure a great education is free for all kids, and provide for our veterans!” “Love who you love!” “Women can make their own reproductive decisions!”

Goodnight.

The failure that changed my life

As the final name was called, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes well up. It wasn’t mine. I walked out of the room, out the doors and down the stairs. I waited until I was safely in my house, nestled in my bedroom before I cried. I wasn’t going to let anyone see my devastation.

April 29, 1988. Thirty years ago. And I still remember how disappointed and embarrassed I was.

Read moreThe failure that changed my life

Stay focused

Two weeks into 2018 and life has been busy. Riley started the second semester of her sophomore year, and I’ve spent every extra hour planning a seven-team, 300-dancer showcase. I sent about 200 emails and countless texts while coordinating one of Riley’s dance team’s largest fundraisers. Unfortunately, a wintry weather forecast forced its cancellation. Maybe we can come up with another fundraiser before our Nationals trip at the end of February to help offset travel costs.

Last post I talked about focusing on the word CREATE. This post I want to talk about my need to STAY FOCUSED. If I cannot stay focused on where I want to go and what I want to do and be, then creating will be out of the question. I’ll just sit around on Twitter or Facebook all night after work and get nothing accomplished. Speaking of Twitter, here’s my plan to STAY FOCUSED on my creations:

  • Less Twitter – More books
  • Less sitting – More moving
  • Less outrage – More action
  • Less outrage – More peace
  • Less multitasking – More finishing

Twitter is anxiety-inducing so I’ve cut back. I don’t need to check an app to know the president has done something to make a mockery of our country and our democracy. That’s an everyday thing now. And my books are still waiting for me, their jackets getting dusty.

In addition to “Good Booty” and my other music books, I also want to read “America’s Original Sin” about slavery and its effects today and my books on writing like “Writing Is My Drink” and “Writer With a Day Job.”

Another goal is to get physical. I spend 8-10 hours at a desk at my day job and it is terrible for my body, both inner workings and outer shell. I’ve done a few squats and pushups the last couple of days – it may not be much, but I have to start somewhere. I’m trying to make it a point to stand more at work, too, even if just for 5 minutes at a time.

Next on the list is less outrage, more action. That means not clogging up social media with anger and disbelief at what is happening in the world, but doing something to make the world better. Whether it’s helping a family navigate a hearing loss diagnosis or donating to a progressive political candidate or calling a friend or writing an article or biting my tongue when I really want to lash out at someone. Doing something will give me more peace than just being mad online.

And, finally, less multitasking, more finishing. I’ve found that when I have too many pots on the stove, something gets burned. Usually me. I’m more productive when I focus on only one or two projects at a time. Any more and I get overwhelmed and procrastinate.

Oh, and one other thing: Roll Tide! What an incredible season and comeback to win the National Championship! Because ESPN’s streaming of live events is terrible, Riley and I listened to Eli Gold on the radio. Listening to a game is a very different experience. You really have to … STAY FOCUSED!

Goodbye, 2017. Hello, 2018.

Every December, I think about how I want to do something better the next year. 2017 was no different. Like I told my friend, Jamie, on Twitter, I feel like I’ve wasted so much time this year – being angry, zoning out, being frustrated, doing too little of consequence and too much of nothing.

So I’ve decided for 2018 to focus on the word CREATE. I want to create a better life for Riley and me and that starts with these three things: Home, Health, Hustle.

Home — Create a good home life for Riley and me. Improvement projects. More dinners in. A better, less expensive place.

Health — Create the body, mind and soul I want. Workout. Devotionals. Journal. Meditate.

Hustle — Create the career I want. Writing. Designing. Editing. Consulting/mentoring related to hearing loss, cochlear implants and IEPs and therapy and teaching kids to advocate for themselves. What else?

Writing and blog ideas: I’ve read and enjoyed books related to music, both fiction and nonfiction, and I want to share my thoughts here. I don’t know if that would be something anyone would read, but it’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while. I’ve read bios of Rod Stewart and Rick Springfield, and Elvis, Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Duff McKagan are on my To Be Read shelf. I’m also interested in Slash and Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and Keith Richards and Loretta Lynn.

Then there are the Rob Sheffield books about how music has shaped his life. And the fictional “Grace & The Fever,” inspired by author Zan Romanoff’s affinity for Hanson and One Direction, and revolving around internet fandom and what happens when you meet the object of your desire.

And I just started “Good Booty” by Ann K. Powers– a look at how music shapes fundamental American ideas and beliefs about social issues, especially sex and race.

I have essays that I’d like to sell. I haven’t finished (or started really) any of them–they are mostly just outlines.

Anyway, it’s a new year and I want to create. Instead of making resolutions, I’m going to use the following from The Universe as a guide:

  1. Give thanks that your life is exactly as it is.
  2. Decide that 2018 will be the happiest year of your life yet.
  3. Every day, follow your heart and instincts down new paths.

Happy 2018! Now, let’s get a good night’s sleep and wake up ready to create the world we want to live in.

Let it all go then write it all down

I’ll admit it. The title caught my eye. In the right context, all three are fun. But what author Adair Lara is talking about in “Naked, Drunk, and Writing” is letting go of your inhibitions and getting your story on paper.

I picked it up and read the back cover with the questions she’ll help readers answer and was hooked:

How do I know where to start my piece and where to end it? (Exactly!)
How do I make myself write when I’m too scared or lazy or busy? (Definitely need help here.)
What makes a good pitch letter, and how do I get mine noticed?
I’m ready to publish – now where do I find an agent?
If I show my manuscript to my mother, will I ever be invited to a family gathering again? (Sorry, Mom!)

Lara, a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, MFA teacher, and an Associated Press Best Columnist in California, divides the book into five sections: writing down your story, personal essays, techniques, memoirs, and getting published. Each section is broken into easily digestible pieces, such as outlining the essay, using images to provide details, being careful with tone, and how to handle rejection and acceptance.

The author gets to the heart by asking you to dig deep and be honest. Give the reader specific details, put them in the scene, add emotion but leave out the sentimentality. Make them hear the waves lapping at the jagged rocks, make them feel the heat of your skin reddened by the sweltering afternoon sun.

Additionally, Lara offers writing exercises and prompts within each section. For example, when discussing how to find your voice, she suggests “pretending to admire something to reveal its flaws.”

Another bit of advice: “Part of finding your voice is knowing whom you’re talking to,” she says. Lara tells the story of author Jane Jacobs, who would share her ideas with a Celtic novelist, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin. The imagined conversations often led to new ways of looking at ordinary objects, Jacobs said.

The most helpful part of the book for me has been how to find an angle. Many stories live in my head, but I have trouble figuring out why and how I should tell them. What’s the point in talking about burning old love letters? Lara’s techniques have enabled me to get to the meat of piece and end up with something that, although personal to me, still touches someone else.

“Naked, Drunk, and Writing” has won a place on my writing shelf … next to Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” and Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write.”

This piece originally appeared on the now-defunct BookendBabes website.

 

The Running Dream

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen made me want to run more. It’s an invigorating YA novel, and, yes, a fast read.

Just as high school runner Jessica is hitting her stride, the unthinkable happens. On the way home from a track meet, the team’s van is struck by another vehicle, killing one runner and leaving Jessica with life-threatening injuries that require her right leg to be amputated. The story shows her struggle to overcome her depression, retain her identity as a runner, and ultimately, get back on the track.

Early on in the book Jessica pushes away her friends and family. She is understandably shattered … her dreams broken in the crash, her normal life turned upside down. In Chapter 2, she says, “Running aired out my soul. It made me feel alive. And now? I’m stuck in this bed, knowing I’ll never run again.”

She’s not even sure she wants to try again, until she meets Rosa, a girl in her math class who has cerebral palsy, a girl no one has ever noticed. Rosa inspires Jessica to take another look at what might be possible, and Jessica begins to believe that maybe she could one day “sail over the dots of blooming clover” again.

The book does a good job of explaining how a prosthetic leg is fitted, put on, and worn. We get a glimpse of the measuring, the adjusting, and the learning curve that comes with using an artificial limb. Van Draanen also helps us understand the kind of physical therapy an amputee must do daily to ensure the stump stays healthy enough for a prosthesis.

With the help of her best friend, the school newspaper reporter (also her crush), her track coach and team, and her family, Jessica learns that losing her leg doesn’t mean giving up on dreams. It just means the dreams change.

Jessica’s voice reminds me of when I was a teenager, all the angst, the doubt, the confidence, the love, all rolled into one. The writing puts you right there – you feel the stares as Jessica returns to school for the first time, you hear the whispers when she shows friends her new leg, you feel her heartbeat when the boy walks up to her during lunch.

In the final chapter, Jessica looks back and then looks forward. She’s counting “one plus one plus one plus one. Somewhere in my fuzzy mind I made a connection – that’s how everything is done. One by one by one by one. … That’s how anybody makes it through anything.

“My ones are a distance between me and victory, not days between me and tragedy.”

I was a bit distracted by the blossoming romance. I felt it was unnecessary and detracted from Jessica’s strength. Don’t get me wrong; I like romance. I just didn’t understand why she needed one to prove she was a whole person despite losing a leg. However, I get that teen crushes appeal to teen readers.

If you’re a runner or want to be, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’re facing challenges and feel overwhelmed by the odds, you might find some inspiration here. I loved this book. And when I don’t feel like running, I think about Jessica and others like her and do it anyway.

Tiffani Hill-Patterson is a former sportswriter and copy editor. She played softball in college and still considers herself an athlete. She’s mom to a bionic teen (really!) and is working on more essays and trying fiction.

This post originally appeared at BookendBabes.com.

Growing a reader

(Originally published at Bookend Babes, September 2012. Granma passed away Jan. 8, 2016.)

I’ve always loved to read. Growing up, books and magazines were always lying around at our house. Momma read suspense and romance novels and magazines like Better Homes & Gardens and Woman’s Day. Daddy read Louis L’amour westerns and Field & Stream and Auto Trader. And they still enjoy getting lost in a good story.

However, it was Granma who let me into the world of grown-up reading. She always kept a stack of magazines by her bed, and when I’d spend the night with her in the summer during my tween years, I would read through them all. Cosmopolitan. Glamour. New Woman. Mademoiselle. The National Enquirer. And seed catalogs. Granma has always had the greenest thumb ever, and she grew the biggest, prettiest zinnias and the most red, ripe tomatoes. I’d stay up late reading then get up early and pick beans and shuck corn with the rest of the family.

Back then the late Helen Gurley Brown ran Cosmo and it was about finding yourself before finding a man. I read mostly the career and fashion articles (I wanted to be a well-dressed novelist), but occasionally I’d pore over a more adult piece. Back then, I felt like I knew way more than my sixth-grade classmates did after reading Cosmo. (I may have had the knowledge, but I sure didn’t know how to put it into practice.)

When I got a little older, I moved on to Granma’s novels. The first one she and I both read and shared a love for was Gone with the Wind. She lent it to me to read over Christmas break during my sophomore year of high school. I couldn’t put that thick, blue paperback down – I stayed up until two in the morning reading about Scarlett and wondering why she couldn’t see that Rhett was The Man. I felt like a grown-up after reading such a long book! And I felt for Scarlett when she had to harvest those potatoes.

The next was the North and South trilogy by John Jakes (Charles was my favorite character), then we moved on to his Crown Family series and the Kent Family Chronicles. Many more followed, such as John Grisham’s lawyer books (we think we might be distant relatives of John’s), the Da Vinci Code, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a ton of trashy romances by Sandra Brown, a Jackie Collins or two. Rhett Butler’s People was the last book we shared. So it seems we’ve come full circle.

Granma, who just celebrated her 90th birthday, has always been a free spirit. She has always known how to enjoy life. Whether it was seeing Elvis in small-town Alabama, or telling stories while shelling purple-hulled peas, or going out dancing with her boyfriends in her 60s and 70s, she’s always known how to have a ball. And she’s always known how to pick out a great book. I’d like to think I learned that from her.

How do you write when you have nothing to say?

I’ve forgotten how to be a writer. I no longer know how to take a germ of an idea and plant it, water it, give it sun and room to breathe, pull out the weeds and watch it bloom. It’s just a dirt pile full of jagged rocks, stinky wet leaves and random candy wrappers.

While I’m working at my day job, every essay or story idea I have sounds like a best-seller. Until I get home. And have time to write. Then every idea sounds corny. Or stupid. And I can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea in the first place.

To paraphrase The Commodores, I have no direction, no purpose, no one to love and no one to love me for me … wait, that last phrase should be for another post.

I’m searching, and it’s been hard trying to find my way, but I’ve got to keep on searching harder, day by day.