Excerpt From My Memoir

After studying three terms of fiction at Bennington College, it was strange, yet liberating to switch to nonfiction for my thesis, The Beauty of it All. It was a story that insisted on being told.

I have Jill McCorkle to thank for allowing me to spill my guts one day during lunch in my third term. Without her incredible support and encouragement, my story would have never been unearthed.

David Gates, my thesis advisor, was kind enough to describe my story as “grimly fascinating and deeply affectionate.” So here goes…

The Beauty of it All is my tale of growing up in conservative Dallas as the daughter of a liberal Democrat hairdressing father to women in the Park Cities (the Texas version of Beverly Hills) and an opera singing, former beauty queen mother; tearing my hair out and wearing corrective shoes; blossoming as a teen with frosted Farrah Fawcett hair; attending SMU as a sorority girl; running away to New York City to pursue a career in copywriting, then returning to Dallas to confront addiction, my uncle’s mental illness and family secrets that had haunted me since childhood.

I am fleshing it out now so that it’s book-length, wringing my hands over what else to reveal. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

Most of the male hairdressers wore loud shirts with wild patterns that looked like tornados. Or vomit. The shirts were silky and clung to their bodies; I could see their man-boobs. Some of the men wore tight pants, platform shoes and gold neck chains. One man, Bob, wore eyeliner and pancake make-up. He had a big stomach; when he walked around the salon it looked as if his stomach was leading the way. Most of the men had dainty, theatrical voices. They were always rushing here and there, escorting women from their chairs to the hair dryers, while they flew by others (Oh, hello, dear! Be just a sec!) in the waiting area, which had a church pew my dad had stained green. He’d put a flowered plastic cushion on it instead of the red velvet ones in church.

A few women did hair, too. Billie looked like Loretta Lynn, had high black hair and ungrateful children. “I replaced the radiator in my daughter’s car. Had to dip into my savings and I tell you what, I did not get one word of ‘thanks’ from her. Not one.” Joanne wore blue smocks and had a haircut like a man. She walked around with a clipboard in her hands and a More cigarette hanging out of the side of her mouth. She was forever talking about “documented evidence.” At the time, people were getting attacked by sharks in Florida and she said she had “documented evidence” that people were also getting attacked up and down the Texas coast. “You’re going to Galveston to the beach? I sure as heck wouldn’t go,” she’d say. “I have documented evidence that a week ago a shark took an arm off of a toddler down there.”

All the stylists, or “operators” as my dad called them, stood and chatted as they combed and teased blonde, black, brown and red hair. However, many of the women were silver foxes and had white–even blue hair. Lots of dad’s operators complained about their feet hurting. “Damn bunions!” Dr. Scholl’s toe cushions were scattered everywhere, even all over the back counter where they washed the combs. One turned up in a big vat of egg salad that one of the operators had made and had left out for people to help themselves.

Thank you for your time and blessings to you all.

Cast Adrift

The knife has fallen and my left hand is in a cast. I am relegated to typing with one hand. Do not do well with being partially shackled. Have all these thoughts I wish to instantly dash off, but they are stuck in a cluster in my mind. Don’t feel like dealing with new software (Dragon) to do so. And my smart phone is a terrible listener and just pisses me off.

Am driving with one hand, which should make you all a bit nervous, but I putter along like a granny, so you’ll just be irritated. Did work on a short story. It involved my right hand ticking along and a few moves of my heavily bandaged left hand hovering over the keyboard and striking gingerly at each key, but I grew weary of the slow torture and husband’s fussing. He said I had probably screwed up the surgery.

But I prevail and meet new adventures in handling, or not handling things every day.

Last night, I went to make the last snack of the day on my starvation diet. I put water, ice and protein powder into the glass, over-sized measuring cup atop the blender. It was an old-ish model and tended to vibrate and move around the counter. To steady it, I placed my luggy cast on top of it. As I pushed “Blend,” an ear-splitting noise occurred, a horrible grumbling and clattering. It was if the blender had come alive: the little, round plastic thing through which you pour stuff into the canister was apparently not secure. The weight of my cast had pushed it into the deadly blade.  My heart racing, I hit the “Off” button, but was pushed aside by my frantic husband, get back, get back, and together, we looked inside to see a mass of bumpy vanilla liquid full off what we believed to be ice and plastic. My husband  retrieved a thinly-webbed colander (still frowning) and poured the conglomeration into it, then washed it all into the sink, revealing a bed of glistening plastic chards. Ruined blender, yes, but my greater concern was that I could not have my last snack of the day, as I had used the last packet of protein powder. I went to bed hangry, hoping I could sleep through the pangs, but awoke in the night and snarfed down a cinnamon bun.

Another fun thing: Showering with one hand in a trash bag. Makes me think of my friend’s grandpa who was a one-armed banjo player. Handling my conditioner and not falling down to break a hip is performance enough.

One upside: using it as a weapon. Thought about using it last night at my nephew’s basketball game on a mouthy father from the opposing team who was sitting right behind me.

Seems the best thing to do is slog along and catch up on reading now, all those novels I didn’t finish in grad school. (Sssshhh.) Bumble along at a glacial pace. Might give my pathetic smart phone another chance. Wish I had a scribe to follow me around, but that would just be weird.

As David Gates said at the end of each packet letter, onward and upward. But maybe, a bit more slowly.

 

 

The Thumb

Well, I’m finally doing it. Going under the knife, as the idiom (that I abhor) states. It scares me just to write the aforementioned sentence. Anyway, my left thumb is bone on bone. Pain that defies articulation shoots through my thumb and surrounding fingers any time it pleases. It’s completely arbitrary and mean. It’s been happening for two years and it’s become unbearable.

I’m willing to go through the short-term torture for long-term (God willing) payoff. I’m going to try that Dragon speech thing, the software where you talk into a mic, but as a luddite, I am sure that will be a bugger.

All of this upcoming ordeal is in preparation for my new chapter: my “writing” life. I have written stories for corporations for three decades. Now it’s time to tell mine.

We’ll see.

I’ll keep you posted.

Godspeed, chickadees.

Assistant Graduate Fellow, Bennington Writing Seminars Teaching Fiction

It’s exhilarating to have just written the above headline. My fingers are even excited. I will be teaching High School students at Burr & Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont, during my upcoming final residency at my beloved Bennington. Of course, I’m nervous. However, at 57, what better time to jump right in, am I right? Can I get a witness? So many feels and shivers I can hardly stand it.

I’ll let you know how it goes. But first, I have to tackle yet another rewrite of my graduate lecture on Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. If there are such things as spirit animals, he is my spirit author. If you haven’t read this group of connected stories, you must. Talk about shivers.

The Thesis Looms

Yep. I am slated to turn in my thesis on December 4th to my advisor at Bennington College, the brilliant, Pulitzer short-listed David Gates.

How do I feel? (Don’t you just hate self-talk? I do, but I couldn’t resist.)

Answer: A-new-word-that-has-not-yet-been-invented for “happy.”

I wish I could write more, expound upon all I’ve learned. But right now, my finger strength is being reserved for the 120 pages I have in front of me.

More later, chickadees.

Deep South Magazine: Josie’s Documented Evidence

This story was originally here on my blog, but after a good, much-needed edit, it became exponentially better and was then accepted for publication in the iconic, warm Deep South Magazine. I could not be more proud. Makes me wanna drink a big ‘ole glass of sweet tea.

It’s inspired by real people who I knew from my dad’s hair salon in the Beverly Hills of Dallas, Park Cities.

Read the story here.

 

Our Film: #4 Best Music Documentary in Dallas

Yes, it’s true. Our film, “His Name is Bob“, was voted by the Dallas Observer as in the Top 10 best music docs in the city.

Huge honor. Here is the link to the story.

Just a quick back story: I co-produced it with J. Sebastian and Heather Lee. Together, we are 3 Frogs Productions.

Selected to be in nine film festivals across the U.S., the film received distribution on The Documentary Channel and ran for a year. After that it received streaming distribution from Nelson Madison Films in Los Angeles, and it can be seen now on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube Movie Rentals and SnagFilms.

You can also buy a DVD on our site.

The tagline:

The story of a spiritual savant who survives his own personal holocaust.

A line from our trailer that pretty much says it all:

Bob has nothing to offer us. Except the answer that could save us all.

Come join us on a spiritual journey.

Big Shrimp! Sounds like a contradiction.

Jingles. Yes. I have written them. Can’t say I’m proud. It’s just a fact: when you’re an ad copywriter, some corporations call for musical renditions through which they woo their customers. Or think they are wooing them. (Right now, the Milestone Electric “Fix it in a Flash” jingle makes me instantly frozen with distaste and anger. I want to punch the TV in the face when I hear it.)

You see, most of the time, these simpleton-ish ditties get stuck in my head on a terrifying loop and I end up singing them 24/7 like a crazy person inside my head, but sometimes, these irritating melodies spill out when I’m in the shower or taking out the trash or walking to the ladies room (or in a ladies room stall). So excuse me in advance, if you ever see/hear me singing to myself.

My jingle was for fried-in-GMO-vein-clogging-corn-oil (might even be some motor oil in there) shrimp from Long John (Dong, we said) Silvers. Yes. But not just any ‘ole shrimp. BIG SHRIMP!

Here are the lyrics:

“Big shrimp, sounds like a contradiction.

Big shrimp, we’re not talking fiction.

Big shrimp, it’ll bigger than your prediction.

Big shrimp, it’ll cure your shrimp addiction.

At Loooong Joooohn Siiiillllvers…

BIG SHRIMP!”

The jingle was sung for me by a now-deceased friend, Mark, who chose to interpret this jaunty number as a Frank Sinatra/SNL Bill Murray lounge singer, replete with accompaniment on his portable Casio organ.

It was incredible and I can sing it now. I wish you could hear me.

The agency, however, chose to make it schmaltzy with a chorus of singers and lots of tambourines, finger cymbals and congas. (Not really.) But the thing I liked best about the commercial was that the couple, two blonde-ish, middle-aged actors (bad casting, middle aged people can die eating this crap) who were meant to be in love with Long John’s Big Shrimp flirted with each and actually “toasted” with the shrimp a la wine glasses. However, while on production, they (I didn’t get to go on the shoot) saved the best for last:

These two vanilla-y, scale-paid actors consumed this death food by wrapping their wrists around each other like newlyweds do at a wedding when eating their cake and FED each other the shrimp.

I am going to find this gem of creative brilliance and post it here. All I have now is a clunky, boxy three-quarter tape that costs oodles to get transferred to a something playable. (The speed technology advances is as warp-speed fast as Twitter posts appearing on my feed. I refresh my page and there are 3 Tweets. I look up two minutes later, there are 568. True story. Sort of.)

Nevertheless, Mark sent me a cassette (what are those?) with his joyous recording on it. I played it for everyone who I could pin down in my office for at least a minute.

But the fun didn’t end there.

Mark used the same tune for another song that he wrote lyrics for, and sadly, I can’t claim authorship to them. His excellent song was “Let’s Rock Iraq.”

Once again, he sang his unique compositions a la Wayne Newton and he just tickled me – his voice had a certain swagger. Back in the backward technology days of 90s (car cell phones the size of bricks) and when we were at war with Saddam Hussein, he sang this one to me – into my answering machine. When I came home from work, I was greeted by a flashing light (always so exciting!). I pushed the button and out came these astonishingly clever lyrics:

“Saddam is such a mad man.

Hussein rhymes with insane.

He’s really got it, that man.

This guy’s a royal pain.

He’s stirrin’ up the Arab masses.

He needs some geography classes.

Look how high the price of gas is…

Let’s go kick some Iraqi asses…

LET’S ROCK!

IIIIIIIIIRAQ!…”

And then repeat that last refrain.

When I got home and heard this on my modern machine, I just fell out (this is what they do at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church when someone is slain by the spirit. I was just writhing with uncontrollable laughter.)

I miss my friend, Mark. He was such a funny, kind, gentle soul, and so wanted to be a jingle singer. When he died, he left me all his VHS tapes of classic movies like “Gone with the Wind” and musicals like “My Fair Lady” – hundreds of them! I was in Cinema Heaven!

And while Mark never was a national sensation, he was my Big Shrimp-singing hero for a brief :30 in time, and was famous through Big Shrimp from Long John Silvers. In my office. For all who passed by.

To this, I raise my imaginary crunchy crustacean and toast a hearty thank you to the Jingle God – and Long John Silvers for bestowing upon me – and Mark – the chance to immortalize ourselves in the baffling contradiction called Big Shrimp!