Marvellaland

Essays on memoir, music, and more from Beatrice M. Hogg

Archive for the category “Writing”

A Day in the Life – December 31

Diaries It amazes me that I have kept a diary for 45 years. I’ve never had a romantic relationship that lasted longer than five years or a job that lasted longer than seven years, but somehow I have been disciplined enough to chronicle my life for over four decades. Most of the diaries are the little rectangular books with tiny locks, but for the last five years, I used a letter-sized journal. Next year, I will return to a smaller format, with a 6 ½ by 3 ½ bound book that cost $25. I also hope to be able to splurge on a fireproof box to store them in, as by now, they are the only connections I have to my former self.

I always joke that the diaries will be enjoyable fiction if I develop dementia or Alzheimer’s someday. But even now, they are a fascinating narrative of who I used to be, the people I used to know, and my changing priorities and interests. They can be fun reading or they can make me cry. Sometimes I have both reactions, when I read about good times and realize that all of the people who shared those times are gone or out of my life. But as long as I am lucid, I will continue to record the day’s events in five lines.

Sometimes, I like to pick out a date and review what happened on that date. I will check out today, New Year’s Eve. I dig into the back of the closet for the metal box that contains my stories. I’ll select five entries, one for each decade.

December 31, 1975 – Cousin Mag, Cousin Rose, Cousin Joe, Bobby, Dickie, and Carolyn came for the funeral and left. It rained practically all day.

My father’s funeral was on this date. A few hours after the funeral, everyone left. My cousins from Kentucky, North Carolina, Maryland and Harrisburg wanted to get back to their homes before the New Year. As I sat alone waiting for 1976 to begin, I remembered the year before, when my father said that I might be at a party this year. But instead, Daddy was gone and I was an orphan. I wondered if the loneliness that I felt would ever dissipate.

December 31, 1987 – I got two Christmas cards from Linda. I called Mary and she is going to see Whitesnake and Great White on February 3. I got another tape player. Get it straight in ’88!

I spent New Years Eve in a flatlet in the Victoria section of London. At midnight, someone on the other side of Eccleston Square serenaded the New Year with a saxophone solo. I had no home, just a return ticket to Pittsburgh and a round trip ticket to San Francisco, where I would start a new life on February 2. The New Year held unlimited promises.

December 31, 1999 – I watched the Year 2000 celebrations from around the world. Lorraine called. Mary called also. I got a birthday card from Brenda. Be a hero in ’00!

Of course, everyone over the age of around seventeen probably remembers the changing of the millennium, even though technically it didn’t start until a year later. But like everyone, I wondered if my computer would continue to work or if some global catastrophe would happen. I had a good life. I had a job that I enjoyed, where I got the week between Christmas and New Year’s off with pay, a two-bedroom condo, a funky 1988 Toyota MR2, and two loving cats that hid when I threw confetti later that night.

December 31, 2007 – I went to Loehmann’s and got a leopard knit jacket for $15. I got a pizza. Mary Lou sent me a birthday card and $30. Cindy called and we talked about an hour. Get a date in 2008!

Little did I suspect that this NYE would be my last one as a full-time employee. Changes would be occurring soon, but getting a date was not one of them. In four days, I would be flying to Las Vegas to meet a friend and celebrate my birthday. There was a big storm that day, the first of many upheavals to come.

December 31, 2010 – It cost $30 to get a taxi to the hotel. The show was good. Don looked good with long hair. I tried to get some pictures of him for Mary. Sean sat in with Y and T. Chuck Billy sang “Ace of Spades.” A member of the Y and T Forum died at the hotel of a heart attack after the show. Turn in up to 2011!

For the first time in my life, I went out for NYE, attending a benefit concert by Y and T for this bassist Phil Kennemore. A week later, he would lose his battle with cancer. But it was a wonderful night, in spite of the death after the show. A year later, I would be homeless, but on this night, I was surrounded by friends and enjoying the music that I loved.

I often wonder how I should dispose of my diaries. Would any of my friends want them? Is there some national archive of the lives of boring, regular people that would want to preserve them for future generations? I’m sure that who ever finds them after my demise will just throw them in the trash and it will be like I was never even here. But regardless, I’ll continue to write…tomorrow is a New Year, a new book, and the start of new adventures.

Happy New Year! Thank you for visiting Marvellaland!

Book Review: Dance of the Electric Hummingbird by Patricia Walker

LinkedIn can be a wonderful thing. It hasn’t brought me the job of my dreams, as my career coaches implied, but it did bring a beautiful spirit into my life. I joined a group of memoir writers on LinkedIn and read the descriptions of the books that the participants were working on. Most of them were similar; stories about abuse, loss, and horrible events that had happened in their lives. I was quickly disillusioned with the group. My life stories weren’t anything like what these authors were writing about. Everyone has negative things happen in their lives, but I didn’t want to dwell on them.

But one author stood out from the group of doom and gloom chroniclers. Patricia Walker had written a book about a transformation that happened in her life, a transformation that involved rock musician Sammy Hagar. Transformation? Rock and roll? I was intrigued. I sent a message to Patricia, letting her know that I was glad to meet another rocker chick in the group. She referred me to her website, where I read some of her concert reviews and other postings. I felt a connection to this writer in Colorado, and looked forward to hearing more about her journey – both literary and personal.

Dance of the Electric Hummingbird is subtitled, “An ordinary woman’s accidental journey to enlightenment, the supernatural, and rock star Sammy Hagar.” It sounded like a lot to cover in 329 pages, but once I opened the book, I was immersed in Patricia’s story. On October 11, 2003, Patricia is in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with her second husband Dee to attend a series of shows at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina. Little did she know that after that night, her life would never be the same again. A hot, sweaty rock bar seems an unlikely venue for a transformative experience, but that is what happened. As Hagar started to sing “Dreams,” the words bring up memories from her past. She thinks about her life. But what is happening is more than a flashback. “The sensation of being an audience member falls away in slow motion, as my body suddenly becomes paralyzed, lighter than air, and I feel myself lift right out of it.” Her out of body experience fills her with positive sensations and brings joy into her soul. In a few minutes, it is over. At first, she wonders if she had drunk too much tequila, but she isn’t drunk – she is aware.

The feelings don’t fade, but become stronger. Pat reviews her life, including her abusive first marriage, which had caused her to question the beliefs of her Catholic faith. She becomes more in tune with her sexuality and more open in her musical tastes. But unexplained things keep happening to her. She starts writing them down in a journal. And where does Sammy Hagar fit into all of this? She writes a poem about her experience and sends it to Sammy. He writes to her and encourages her quest. She discovers that Sammy has also had supernatural experiences. Could they be related? He sends her a list of books to read and she discovers other authors and guides on her own.

Dee and Pat keep returning to Sammy Hagar shows – his birthday week shows in Cabo San Lucas and his Cinco de Mayo shows at his club in South Lake Tahoe. No longer “just a housewife,” she is drawn to the power and sensuality of rock and roll. The more she learns about energy changes and mystical transformations, the more she realizes that she and Sammy Hagar have a connection that may be part of another dimension. Her newfound transformation isn’t enough to stop personal losses in her life, but music once again saves her soul. “I’d been so wrapped up in grief and anger, and judging God and even myself, perhaps I was blocking anything positive from coming to me. I forgot about my passion and my connection to the Divine Spirit. I forgot all about my mystical journey. And because of that, I forgot how to live.”

At one of his shows, Sammy tells his audience about Pat and her poems. When she calls in on a radio show, Sammy says that she will write a book. He seems to have more faith in her than she has in herself. But she keeps writing and starts to get her poems published. She continues to correspond with Sammy. Birds appear as Spirit Guides whenever she starts to doubt her mission.

Pat doesn’t have all of the answers. But her book fills me with hope. A transformative experience is possible for all of us, even without a rock and roll soundtrack. Pat’s quest for the answers in and purpose of her life made me think about the events in my own life. I underlined one passage in the book, “…doing what we love most is an avenue available to all of us, and that’s what our lives are all about. Maybe when things don’t happen the way we think they should or as fast as we want them to, we give up and that’s the one reason nothing changes.” I recommend her book to anyone with an open mind, a questing soul, and a belief in a Higher Power.

(Pat’s book can be found on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, among other places. To receive an autographed copy, go to Pat’s website, http://www.bajarockpat.net. And the book is on sale in the gift shop at Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.)

Welcome Back…

Today is the birthday of Soleil Esperanza DeSalle, one of the main characters in my novel, Three Chords One Song. If Soleil was a real person, she would be 34 today. When I “interviewed” her at the start of the novel, she “told” me that she was born on November 2, 1978. I had planned to write about her today, but after several false starts and after yesterday’s events, I decided to write about myself instead. What was I doing on November 2, 1978? Fortunately, it was easy to find out, as I have kept a diary since January 1, 1970, three days before my 13th birthday.

It wasn’t a very eventful day. I washed my hair and did laundry. I went to the hospital to visit my Aunt Elizabeth. I went to Hills, a department store similar to the Target of today. And I got a call for a job interview at Miller’s, a high-class ladies’ fashion store at South Hills Village, the local mall. In the fall of 1978, I was 21 and unemployed, having left my very first job, in retail sales, a few months before I graduated from Pitt, so I could devote my time to finishing my final term papers. I had spent the last few months looking for work and contemplating a life-altering decision. Two weeks later, I would get a job at Gimbels, a department store where I would work for the next year and a half, making some lifelong friends. The adventure of my adult life was just beginning, even though I didn’t know it at that time.

On November 1, 2012, my photo appeared in the online version of the New York Times, along with a few sentences from an interview I had with reporter Catherine Rampell on October 11, about issues affecting the long-term unemployed. The interview came about because a year earlier, I had sent one of my essays (a version of “Driven to Tears” is in the July Archive) to the National Employment Law Project and indicated that I would be willing to be interviewed by the media concerning unemployment issues. The interview took about an hour, but the text used in the article was three short paragraphs. The article didn’t mention the problems of finding work when potential employers required credit checks and the possession of “reliable personal transportation.” It indicated that after losing my apartment, I had stayed “occasionally at train stations.” Now, I don’t consider two nights spent sleeping at Union Station in Los Angeles to be “occasionally,” but I guess it sounded more interesting than my real LA experience of staying in emergency shelters for six weeks, staying in transitional housing in South Central for one month, and staying in a Santa Monica hostel for two weeks. But I am grateful for the publicity, even though I would rather my Times debut would have been on the Best Sellers List. I sent out e-mail to my friends and posted the link on my Facebook page. I gritted my teeth and even read some of the comments about the article on the website. (FYI – the article will be in today’s print edition of the paper.)

When I started work on the novel that would become Three Chords One Song, I knew that one of the main characters would be a female musician. After selecting the name from a song on Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans, I visualized a tall, beautiful multicultural woman with the voice of an angel and the shredding skills of a demon. Soleil was created as a microcosm of many women I have known over the years, both personally and professionally. She is the descendant of the blues women I have admired, from Bessie Smith to Baby Washington to Romaine, a friend of my parents who used to visit when I was a little girl, who could coax magic from my old upright piano. Soleil’s story of tragedy and triumph is duplicated in the lives of women everywhere. She is all of us, with a bravado forged from fighting to make a name for herself in her world. As I was writing the book, I found Soleil to be the character that I was drawn to. Maybe in some ways she became my alter ego – the woman that I could only imagine becoming. Maybe she was the daughter I might have had if things would have been different 34 years ago.

Maybe years from now, I’ll look back on today’s diary. Maybe I’m embarking on the next adventure of my adult life, embracing my inner Soleil – whose middle name means “hope” – but I don’t know it yet. Today is also the birthday of keyboardist Keith Emerson. As ELP used to say, “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.” Maybe the show is just beginning. Only time will tell.

My eBook Three Chords One Song is now available on Amazon.com.

The New York Times article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/business/economy/lingering-unemployment-poses-long-term-risk.html

It All Started at Pitt

This weekend is Homecoming at the University of Pittsburgh. I sent in this essay to commemorate the 225th Anniversary of Pitt’s establishment, but it wasn’t used. Go Pitt!

The first time I stayed away from home by myself was when I went to the freshman orientation in Oakland in 1974.  Even though Pitt was only about twenty-five miles from my coal-mining hometown in Washington County, it seemed light-years away to me. I was a sheltered seventeen-year-old, living alone with my illiterate seventy-five-year-old adopted father, who couldn’t understand why a girl needed an education.

Pitt was like a dream to me, a dream of liberation. Even though I was a voracious reader, I had never had a library card before. I would spend hours browsing the stacks at Hillman Library, marveling at the thousands of books available to me. My father would shake his head in bewilderment when I would come home laden with notebooks and textbooks and spend the evenings typing out term papers on my trusty Royal typewriter or reading with a highlighter attached to one hand. There was nothing better than being a student.

During the winter break of 1975, my father died of black lung disease, leaving me orphaned a week before my nineteenth birthday. But it never crossed my mind not to return to Pitt. I carried on, filling the lonely hours with more books and papers. In 1976, I was accepted into the School of Social Work. As a junior, I found that I liked to write even if it wasn’t for a class. Some of my poems were published in the Black Action Society newspaper. Most of my final term was spent doing Independent Study, writing papers about social problems and issues that interested and intrigued me. One day, Dr. Anne Jones asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a writer. Such an idea had never crossed my mind. Writers were those esteemed individuals who filled the stacks at Hillman Library or the impassioned professors that conducted my elective literature classes. As a freshman, one of my Black Studies literature teachers had told me that I could not write about my “black experience” because I grew in an integrated coal mining camp of 500 people. What would I write about?

But I never forgot her comment. I spent almost twenty years working in social services, even after moving to Northern California ten years after graduation. In California, I started to write book and concert reviews and op-ed pieces, even getting some of them published.  I liked seeing my byline, which even appeared in Astronomy. For four years I was the Communications Coordinator for the National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter, combining my loves of writing and social work. In 2004, I received a MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. My final manuscript was a 150-page collection of essays about growing up in a coal mining town in western Pennsylvania, embracing the heritage that was deemed to be “not black enough” in 1974.

In April 2011, Dr. Jones died at the age of 89. Even though I only saw her once after my 1978 graduation, her words have stayed with me for over thirty years. I often wonder if I would have become a writer if she had never asked me that question. In August 2012, my first novel, Three Chords One Song, was published as an eBook. In the final chapter, one of the characters donates a large sum of money to the University of Pittsburgh, doing fictionally what I will never be able to do in real life. I still proudly wear my Pitt class ring, which has been on my finger since I received it in 1977. I will never be able to repay what Pitt gave to me – the chance to learn, to dream, and the confidence to write it all down.

Finding Mik

He had gotten a faraway sad look in his eyes until the waitress brought his coffee. Then he turned on his rock star charm and smiled broadly, displaying perfect teeth. Lucy shook her head and watched the performance.

A woman with salt and pepper hair had timidly approached the table. “Mr. DeSalle, may I have your autograph?” She handed him a pen and a page from her pocket calendar. Lucy noticed that the date was August 3, Mik’s birthday.

Mik’s smile had broadened and he absentmindedly tossed his hair. The woman told him about the first time that she saw Sheffield Steel in person. When the woman looked over at Lucy, Mik had said proudly, “This is my daughter, Lucy.”

 

I can’t remember when I met fictional singer/guitarist Mik DeSalle. When I decided I wanted to write a novel about a rock star, I got a certain image in my mind. It was an image of the classic rock star of the seventies – bare chest, long blond hair, tight pants, open shirt – the look of musicians like Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, and Peter Frampton, among others. I remembered staying up late as a teenager to watch Midnight Special and Don Kirchner’s Rock Concert, having rock star images invade my television screen and dreams. Those golden gods were larger than life and light years away from my reality. But I never forgot them or the music they created.

Since my novel, Three Chords One Song, starts with Mik’s untimely demise, he is not a physical character in the book. He only appears as a flashback and a disembodied recorded voice. But his influence on the women he leaves behind is one of the main themes. Even though I have never experienced a rock star lifestyle, I can imagine the toll that it must take on those left behind. But the same can be said for the loved ones of  anyone compelled to follow a dream that involves years of sacrifice and dedication.

I created a data sheet for my main characters, but I don’t remember if I ever did one for Mik – probably not, since he was dead. But I knew his backstory intimately – I think that it mirrored my own. Mik was born a few years before me and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. I was raised about twenty miles southwest of Pittsburgh. His dad was a steelworker – so were the fathers of some of my friends and relatives. Music was always a means of escape for me. If I could have been a musician instead of just a music fan, I’m sure it would have made a profound difference in my life. Mik decided to leave Pittsburgh to become a famous musician. I left western Pennsylvania to become a rock journalist – which never happened, except for a few pieces here and there over the years.

An editor told me that she couldn’t understand why all of these women loved Mik. I could tell that she didn’t grow up listening to Led Zeppelin or the Who. She didn’t have posters of Zeppelin and Frampton on her wall. She had never sat in a club or bar and felt the energy change when a rock star entered the room, all eyes turn like flowers towards the sun. I couldn’t really put into words what his attraction was, just like I couldn’t tell you why I fell in love with heavy metal and hard rock while my peers did not. I knew that Mik had to be born in August – a month that is filled with rock star birthdays, including Jerry Garcia, Joe Elliott, David Crosby, Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Rob Halford, Keith Moon, Gene Simmons, and Robert Plant. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, Mik shares his birthday with James Hetfield of Metallica.

But it wasn’t until I was doing the last edit that I discovered Mik’s main flaw. He never grew up. I spent the better part of a decade writing the novel, but it wasn’t until I realized some personal truths that I was mature enough to recognize this fact. He never grew up to be a responsible husband and father, a man accountable for his actions. Even when the fame was gone, he still expected the perks, especially unconditional love no matter what he did, or didn’t do. He got the love, but could never return it. And that is why he left three daughters confused by and deprived of love. Maybe there is a statement in the story about my own confusion about love.

So Happy Birthday, Mik – man who never was but will always be a part of me. We shared some good times and bad times over the years. I hope the world will love you as much as I do. But even if they don’t, I’ll always be here for you. Thank you for being a part of my personal story.

 

Three Chords One Song is available as an eBook from Genesis Press (www.genesis-press.com).

Post Navigation