Sunday, April 24, 2016

Just Say Whoa

 It was bound to happen sooner or later.

After all, we live just to the left of the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields of every stripe and contour. As much as I hate to admit it, most urban-dwellers would say we live in the country.

But The Princess is still just a baby in my mind. She's a sweet, little thing. So young and impressionable.

Of course that's the problem, right there. She's young and impressionable. Prone to errors in judgment, like all youth. Like I was once. Although never like this. I swear.

Somehow I always thought she would benefit from the influence of nearby, uber-hip Iowa City. Sure, I worried a little about the University of Iowa's party school reputation, but this?

Never saw it coming.

I just wasn't ready for it yet. Then again, maybe no parent ever is.

I mean sure, she drives a pick up truck. Sure, she's in FFA – which used to stand for Future Farmers of America but now just stands for FFA (but only FFA members know that) – even though she's a good two generations removed from actually living on a farm. Go figure.

And yes, the local FFA chapter still has a Drive Your Tractor To School Day during FFA Recognition Week. And yes, she really, really wanted to drive a tractor to school. But we don't have one.

In the end, it was her FFA connections that proved to be the bad influence.

I blame FFA and Iowa State University.

She left home for the Iowa FFA Leadership Conference at ISU as my little radio hog. She came home a changed young woman.

She came home a stranger to me.

She came home listening to country music.

It seems like just last week she was listening to a playlist that almost exclusively featured rap and hip-hop music. Tunes – to use the term loosely – in which every other word should have been bleeped out. And the words that didn't need to be bleeped out couldn't be used in polite or politically correct conversation.

It seems like just last week when she wasn't listening to hip-hop lyrics that caused even me to blush, she was listening to overly-harmonized boy bands and the high-pitched, breathy whining of the latest pop-Tart of the month.

It seems like only last week because it was only last week.

Where has the time gone?

I feel a little (very little) like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof:
Is this the little girl I weaned on 80s music?
Is this the little girl playing those awful Kidz Bop CDs?
I don't remember voluntarily handing her the aux cord,
When did they?

There she was, fresh off the school van, excitedly telling me about the food and the architecture, and the mullets (or lack thereof), and oh, yeah, there were presentations and stuff, too, when – as The Gap Band would have said – she “dropped a bomb on me, baby.”

“Who knew country music could be my jam?”

OK, now the very fact that she used “jam” and “country music” in the same sentence with “jam” being slangfor “my favorite” and not slang for an “improvised musical performance,” is just wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This is not about the fact that I am not a big country music fan.

OK, maybe it is. Full disclosure: My least favorite Billy Joel song is “Shameless.” It's not that I don't like the way Billy Joel sings it, but no matter how many times I hear the Billy Joel version, I am always reminded of the Garth Brooks version.


The only country music song I have ever actively sought out (that I will admit to) is "The Rodeo Song" ( Come to think of it, every fourth word of that song should be bleeped out, so maybe country music and hip-hop aren't always so different after all.

Not that it really matters because tonight when I hopped in the truck, she had the radio tuned to pop music again.

But I'm still not handing her the aux cord.

Friday, April 8, 2016

99% Inspiration, 5% Zombie Plague

I arrived home from the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop inspired and ready to write, only to find that the main characters in the novel I'm writing had left me without giving a forwarding address.

These were the same main characters who talked non-stop during the seven-hour drive to Dayton. The ones who dared me to jot down legible notes in the blue-black, pre-dawn of western Illinois. The ones who taunted me with plot points, punctuated by lightening strikes and torrential downpours in central Illinois. The ones who carried on lengthy, meaningful, insightful conversations as I navigated the hair-raising Indianapolis traffic.

These were the main characters who whispered frantically during the workshop sessions, like naughty students sitting at the back of the classroom:

“Describe the smell of The Bar – how the brick walls marinated in cigarette smoke for more than 100 years, and now they subtly diffuse that acrid scent, like a forgotten, cardboard, pine tree air freshener in a '76 Pontiac Bonneville.”

“Make sure our pitch represents us well! Mention the 80-year-old pole dancer. And the motorcycle. Don't forget the motorcycle!”

These were the same characters who mumbled discontentedly on the drive back home, accusing me of ignoring them as I fought the gusty winds to keep the car on the road. They hinted at inconsistencies with the back story. Like spoiled children they quibbled over which was my favorite. They questioned the entire narrative, and my ability to represent them accurately.

Now I was home, “ass in seat,” ready to write, and the little bastards were nowhere to be heard.

At the first sign of a tickle in my throat, they packed their bags for vacation. Or maybe they were forced out of my head when my sinus cavities swelled up to five times their normal size. All I know is, by the time the elephant sat on my chest and poured Tabasco sauce down my throat, they were on their way to the airport.

Those imaginary characters have an instinct for survival. I'm sure they are right now living it up on some fictional Florida coastal beach, having fun in the sun with their toes in the sand and margaritas in hand.

Meanwhile I've been left behind to shiver in my sweatshirt, head on my pillow, tissues in hand.

It's been cold comfort to find that other Erma-ites are suffering similar symptoms. I hesitate to admit that in the week before I left for Dayton I marveled at the fact that I had not succumbed to the crud so many others had suffered from this winter. It is precisely that kind of Pollyanna thinking that makes you a prime candidate to become Patient Z – because I am starting to think this could be the Zombie Plague and not just the flu.

So, while I wait for the aches, chills, hot flashes and coughing to subside – or until I develop a taste for brains – all I can do is wait patiently for my errant characters to drop me a postcard or two to move the narrative along. Maybe when they get tired of making things up on their own they'll come back to me. Maybe they'll even bring me a souvenir, like a nice t-shirt. Or a nice, tidy resolution to their story.