Being a Star

When I was a freshman in high school and my brother Andy was younger, we formed our own band with me on piano and Andy on drums. Before Andy got his drum set, we improvised. Our front porch had steps that led up to it so we pretended it was a stage. Andy found an old piece of wood for me to use as a microphone, an empty paint can for him to use as a drum, and another wood chip to use as a drum stick. I stood on the edge of the porch before an imaginary roaring crowd and sang my heart out, accompanied by Andy on his pretend drum. 

When I wrote the following poem about this memory, I included lyrics to the songs I sang. However, I would have had to get permission from Olivia Newton-John, Debbie Boon, and Paul Simon in order to publish the poem with the lyrics included. For a while, I performed the poem at readings, singing the songs as I went along. When I decided to submit it for publication, I removed the lyrics and paraphrased the songs instead.

As a special treat for my readers, I’ll provide two versions: the print version without the lyrics and below that, a link to a recording of me reading the poem with lyrics included. This poem appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders. When I was young, I dreamed of being a singer, but that dream was never accomplished; yet, I’m happy.

 

WHEN I WAS A STAR 

 

I stood on the front porch,

a piece of wood to my lips, sang

while my brother went rat-a-tat tat

on an empty paint can. 

 

I was Olivia Newton-John,

begging some drunk in a bar

not to play that painful song on the jukebox.

The air rang with applause. 

 

As Debbie Boon, I told the love of my life

how he lit up my life.

There was more applause. 

 

I stepped into Paul Simon’s shoes,

longing to be a sparrow, not a snail.

The crowd was on its feet. 

I bowed, took my leave.

 

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/when%20i%20was%20a%20star.mp3

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

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Heads in Beds

I loved hotels and motels when I was a kid. My earliest recollection was the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee Arizona when I was about five or six. My parents and I were living in Tucson at the time, and for some reason, we took a trip and ended up at this place. I don’t remember the room where we slept, but I do recall the elevator and coffee shop, both of which fascinated me. 

In high school, I spent a lot of time in motels during speech meets, concert choir tours, and other school-sponsored events. I remember many late nights with the other girls in my room, watching television, talking, and sometimes even having pillow fights. Of course there were the occasional family trips where my parents, younger brother, and I slept in a motel room together, but those stays weren’t nearly as fun, especially since Dad snored.

As an adult, I only sleep in motels twice a year when I attend the WyoPoets annual workshop in April and the Wyoming Writers conference in June. Since I’m no longer a caregiver, I could do more traveling, sleep in more motels. Will see.

I recently finished reading Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky. This is a memoir that talks about the author’s years of experience working in luxury hotels in New Orleans and New York, first as a parking valet, then as a front desk agent. Jacob Tomsky offers tips on how to make the best of your hotel stay from getting upgraded to a better room to stealing items from hotel room mini-bars and bathrooms. He also shares how joining a union helped him keep his job when the New York hotel where he was working changed hands and how the union helped him get  his job back when he was fired after being written up for numerous  minor infractions.

According to a blog post where the author was interviewed, he started writing short stories in high school after reading a lot of classic novels. After quitting his job at the hotel in New Orleans, he moved to Paris for six months and then spent another half year in Copenhagen. During that time, he wrote several novels but never tried to publish them. Heads in Beds is his first book.

I downloaded this book from Audible. The recording features Jacob Tomsky reading it, and he does a great job. At the end, there’s a surprise you won’t find in the print edition. If you still want it in that format, there are links on the author’s Website where the book can be ordered from major online retailers. I’ll probably never be able to afford staying in a luxury hotel, but I found the book entertaining. I recommend you read this book before your next stay in a luxury hotel.

 

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

How I Became a Writer

Thanks to Jimmie A. Kepler’s Blog for inspiring this post. Mr. Kepler, who writes poetry and book reviews, talks about how he writes and why. Below is my own story of how and why I became a writer. 

I got into Nancy Drew when I was about twelve years old. We were living in Sheridan, Wyoming. At first, Mother read the books to me, but I soon started reading them myself when I got a closed-circuit television magnification system. I developed a long term secret fantasy about me and Nancy Drew.

I was an orphan, and Nancy Drew and her boyfriend Ned Nickerson got married and adopted me. Nancy’s friends George and Bess married Ned’s friends Burt and Dave, and they adopted two girls my age. We all lived happily in RiverHeights, Nancy’s home town, where my two new friends and I followed in our adoptive parents’ footsteps in the mystery solving department.

When I was in high school and started watching The Bionic Woman on television, I imagined I went to a special academy in Washington, D.c. where I was given bionics and became our country’s most secret weapon. I married a guy I met at the academy who was also bionic. We adopted a baby and had two children of our own. The first child I bore, a boy, died of sudden infant death syndrome, and I had a girl a year or so later. By that time, the government no longer needed me. My bionics were removed, and I became a normal human being. The resulting depression caused me to attempt suicide, and I spent some time in a mental hospital before recovering and going on with my life. 

I’m ashamed to admit that I continued this fantasy in my adulthood. My husband, also rejected by the government, became a cop, and we moved to Richmond, California, which was a city reported on 60 Minutes as being full of bad cops. He became one of them, and I divorced him. 

When he was shot in the line of duty and declared a vegetable as a result of a bullet wound to the head, I appeared at his bedside. His doctor told me my husband had a living will that stipulated that if he were ever in this position, I was to pull the plug. He assured me this was legal so I did it and was arrested for murder. I was eventually exonerated when my attorney proved that I’d been set up. I returned to RiverHeights and eventually married another cop. The fantasy fizzled out after that.

Why didn’t I write any of this down? I guess it was because my mother would have rewritten it. She had a habit of doing that with anything I wrote, especially when I was in high school. It didn’t occur to me not to show her my work. 

During my first two years of college when I lived at home, she wrote my papers for me. Being young and naive, I was happy to let her do it. It was one less chore I had to perform. I stretched out in a recliner in the study and daydreamed, lulled by the continuous clicking of the electric typewriter and her sing song voice repeating everything she typed. Since she was a college English teacher, I got mostly A’s and B’s on my papers. Nobody suspected a thing. Years later, this experience inspired my short story, “Pregnant,” which you can read on my Website.

When I went away to college, I realized the error of Mother’s ways, as I sat in front of my own electric typewriter in my dorm room and attempted to formulate my own compositions. To my surprise, I got pretty good grades on those papers. I’m especially proud of one I wrote for a jazz history class on Duke Ellington. I still remember the opening. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

When the paper was returned to me with an A Plus, I mailed it home so Dad, a jazz enthusiast, could read it. I also wanted Mother to see that I could write just as well as she could.

After college, I returned to Sheridan and spent the next fifteen years working in a nursing home and volunteering at other facilities that serve senior citizens. A friend asked me to submit an article about activities for older adults to The Visionary, a newsletter produced by the Wyoming Department of Education and distributed to schools and visually impaired persons in the state. Aside from that and the occasional letter to a friend or relative I pecked out on my old electric typewriter, I didn’t do much writing. 

When I got my first computer, I discovered how much easier writing could be. When I used the typewriter, I had to remove the finished product from the machine and proofread it with my closed-circuit television reading system. I couldn’t do anything about mistakes, and if there were too many of them, I had to redo it. With my computer and software that read everything to me in synthetic speech, it was easy to correct mistakes. This made writing a snap. I wrote more letters and e-mail messages and composed several articles for my computer users’ group newsletter about how I used the screen reading software to perform various functions.

In the summer of 1999, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. During the past year, she’d written a story about her eighth grade teacher who often chastised her students with a ruler. The piece was published in Sage Script, a literary journal she edited that was produced by Sheridan College. This inspired me to write my own ruler story about how one of my sixth grade teachers threatened me with such an implement for not doing well in mathematics. You can also read this on my Website.

That summer, as I did every year, I attended the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on CasperMountain.  I signed up for a creative writing class and used that time to write the story with the instructor’s guidance. 

When I returned home, Mother was in the hospital. She’d lost a lot of weight as a result of the chemotherapy and was very weak. I’d written the piece in Braille, and when I read it to her, she said, “That’s nice, honey.” She didn’t take the piece from me, sit down, and rewrite it. 

Mother hoped to return to her job at the college’s writing center by January of the following year, but in December, a couple of weeks after she received a good prognosis, she passed away unexpectedly. It was a shock to all of us, but I now realize it was probably for the best. She didn’t suffer to the bitter end, and she might have rewritten my piece before publishing it in Sage Script.

The following year, I submitted the piece to a different Sage Script editor, and it was published in that year’s issue. I also entered it in a contest sponsored by a local writing group.  I won second place and was asked to join the organization. 

During the next few years, I continued to work at the nursing home and volunteer at other facilities and wrote when I could. It was hard finding time to write. I felt like I had two jobs, that of an activities assistant and that of a writer, but I managed to produce several poems, stories, and even a romance novel entitled We Shall Overcome. My work appeared in various journals and anthologies.

In the winter of 2003, I met my future husband Bill Taylor. We both subscribed to Newsreel, a publication where blind and visually impaired people could share ideas and contact information. He e-mailed me in response to something I said, and I e-mailed him back, and that’s how it started. He lived in Fowler, Colorado, and was supportive of my writing. I often e-mailed him chapters of my novel and other things I wrote, and he provided feedback.

In September of 2005, Bill and I were married, and we settled in Sheridan.  I quit my job so I could write full time.  In July of 2007, We Shall Overcome was published by iUniverse. In 2011, I published a poetry collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver, also with iUniverse.

For the next six years, I still had two jobs. Because Bill became partially paralyzed as a result of two strokes, I became a family caregiver. It was a lot easier to find time to write than it was when I worked forty-hour weeks. At the end of October, 2012, Bill passed away after a month of living in a nursing home because he was too weak for me to care for him. You can read about this here.

Now, I have even more time to write. Writing takes me away from reality, even when I’m composing blog posts.  I hope to continue in this endeavor for the rest of my life.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

 

On Taxes and Procrastination

Thanks to Joseph R. Mills for inspiring this post. On Tuesday, I filed my income tax return with the help of a friendly volunteer at the senior center. When I posted this information to Facebook, my brother replied, “Oh crap, I haven’t done mine yet.” I reminded him of what happened the year our illustrious father waited till the last minute to file. 

I don’t remember what year this took place. I was living on my own and working at the nursing home. On April 15th, Dad decided to file his income tax return. To ease the stress of completing the numerous forms and adding up the numbers, he consumed several glasses of wine. Then just before midnight, he made a mad dash to the post office to mail his return and was arrested for driving while under the influence. As far as his taxes were concerned, I’m pretty sure he avoided many unhappy returns, but as a result of the DUI charge, since it was a repeat offense, he couldn’t drive for six months.

Taxes weren’t the only area in which Dad procrastinated. When I was in high school, it took him three years to fix our roof. Actually, he never fixed our roof. Much to his annoyance, Mother finally called in professionals when I woke in the middle of the night during a rainstorm to find cold water slowly dripping on my head. I can see why the Chinese thought this an effective torture method.

After reading all this, you might think I don’t procrastinate. To tell the truth, I actually do. Since Bill passed away in October, I haven’t gone through his clothes, books, and other items to see what could be given away or thrown out. I also haven’t done anything with his computer which could be sold or donated. I also need to see about selling our van, perhaps to someone in a wheelchair who could use it. Fortunately, unlike a leaky roof, most of these tasks don’t need to be accomplished right away so I’ll get to them when I get to them.

This morning, I was planning to get back to my memoir which I haven’t touched in a month because of my trip to Florida and other obligations. Instead, here I am, writing this post, but I promise that as soon as I finish, proofread, and post it, I’ll start working on the next chapter. In the meantime, please don’t wait until the last minute to file your income tax return. Do it now!

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver