My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

In the summer of 1980 after graduating from high school, I went with my parents and brother to see Coal Miner’s Daughter. I was so taken with Loretta Lynn’s story that I wrote my own song about being the daughter of a man who sold and serviced coin-operated machines. I don’t remember all the words, set to the tune of “Coal Miner’s Daughter, but looking back, that song was one of the silliest things I ever wrote. “I’m proud to be a service man’s daughter. If you should see a broken jukebox, holler.” I was still too young and privileged to understand Loretta Lynn’s life growing up in Butcher Hollow.

Sissy Spacek, who portrayed Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, decided after graduating from high school that instead of going to college, she would go to New York and try to make it as a singer. She eventually did, and I just finished reading her memoir, My Extraordinary Ordinary Life. Sissy was born on December 25th, 1949. She grew up in Quitman, Texas, and first became famous for her roles in Badlands and Carrie. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Coal Miner’s Daughter. She received Oscar nominations for her roles in Carrie, Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart, and In the Bedroom. Click here to learn more about her.

In My Extraordinary Ordinary Life, Sissy starts by describing how when she was born, her mother went into labor on Christmas Eve in 1949 but wouldn’t let her father take her to the hospital until she had finished decorating the tree. She discusses her idyllic childhood when she was a tomboy who climbed trees, hated wearing dresses, and participated in numerous adventures with her older brothers. She explains how she became involved in music and acting as a teen-ager and how the drama teacher told her she wouldn’t succeed as an actress. Years later, when she won the Oscar for Coal Miner’s Daughter, the drama teacher approached her mother in the grocery store and told her Sissy wasn’t cast in any of the school’s productions because she didn’t learn her lines.

Sissy also explains how she was affected by the death of one of her brothers from leukemia and how she fell in love with the idea of being a singer when she spent a summer in New York  before he died. She describes how after her high school graduation, she sang in various establishments and worked several jobs in New York before landing her first movie deal and moving to L.A. At one point in New York when a record producer told her they already had another singer who sounded just like her by the name of Loretta Lynn, she said, “Loretta who?”

She describes in detail the process of making most of her movies including Badlands, Carrie, Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Streets of Laredo to name a few. She talks about her marriage to Jack Fisk, a set designer who worked with her on most of her films, and how they settled on a farm in Virginia, raised two daughters, and eventually bought a home near the ocean in Los Angeles. She briefly touches on her older daughter’s career as an actress and musician. At the end of the book, she describes encountering a teen-aged fan with a tattoo of Carrie in the movie on her arm and her induction into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2011.

I downloaded a recording of this book from Audible, and Sissy does an excellent job  narrating it. She even sings one of her songs a capella. I got the feeling she was telling me her story, not just reading it. I’m sure this book is available from bookstores and online retailers. I recommend it if you’re saying, “Sissy who?”

 

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

Video Book Trailer

This month, my publisher is launching a video marketing campaign for How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver that includes a 60-second video. This has no voiceover, just music, text, and images. If you use a screen reader, you probably won’t be able to read the text so I’ve pasted it below along with a description of the images and a link to the video. If you like it, please feel free to share on  Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.

 

One night will change two people’s lives forever.

(Visuals of an animated statue’s head crumbling to the left – this symbolizes the stroke and it’s damaging effect)

A happy couple will be transformed.

(Elderly couple sitting on the bench, we see their backs, the old man kisses the lady on the cheek)

In January of 2006, tragedy strikes

(Old man in pain, head down, about to have a stroke)

 when Abbie Johnson Taylor’s husband suffers a debilitating stroke.

(MRI computer scans of the brain and skull as would be done post stroke)

Through pain and perseverance,

(Close up of hospital patient’s hand being held)

 Abbie cares for her beloved,

 nurturing and supporting him

(Picture of Abbie and her beloved husband)

during the ups and downs of recovery

(Elderly man being pushed in wheelchair)

and the aftermath of a crippling condition.

(Close up of elderly man being hugged and kissed on the cheek – we only see his nose and mouth so it doesn’t look like a different man)

Discover the heartbreak and the triumph in this very human story

(Close up of the couple holding hands – hands only)

 available online at: www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com  

 

http://youtu.be/j9hgGhwL7pA

 

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

Prioritize! Prioritize! Prioritize!

Thanks to Glenda C. Beall for inspiring this post. In her latest blog entry, “What Defines Your Life? You Choose.” she talks about finding time to write in the midst of family and other obligations. 

Before I became a full time writer, I worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home. When I developed an interest in writing, people said, “Don’t quit your day job.” It was hard to find time to write when I wasn’t working.

When I got married, my husband Bill encouraged me to quit my job. He was also disabled and assured me that between his and my social security benefits, we could make ends meet without me having to work. Since I wanted to write full time, I jumped at the chance to do so.

However, I still had plenty of other obligations. After the wedding, I had to send a multitude of thank you letters to those who sent or brought gifts or money. Bill hired a friend to put up a Website for me, and I was busy putting together material for that. He also bought me a new computer, and since it was a PC, and I’d been using a Mac, I had to learn how to use the new computer and transfer my files from the old to the new system.

Three months later when things finally settled down, Bill suffered his first  stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side, and when I wasn’t traipsing back and forth to the nursing home while he was recovering, I was on the phone to doctors and other professionals in an attempt to manage his care and filling out paperwork for a loan to buy a different house that could more easily be made wheelchair accessible.

When he was discharged from the nursing  home eight months later, I became a full time family caregiver. This meant dressing him, helping him go to the bathroom, giving him his medications, not to mention preparing meals, and doing laundry and other chores.

To make a long story short, he’s gone now, and I have plenty of time on my hands, but I still have to prioritize. I’m still asked if I play my guitar and sing at the nursing home, but I always say I don’t have time. I do have time to work on my memoir, write an occasional poem or story, update my blog and Website, send material to publications, and do various chores associated with positions I hold in several writers’ organizations to which I belong. At the end of the day, I have time to stretch out in my husband’s recliner and read a good book written by someone else who is probably scrambling to find time to write.

 

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

Graduation

Thanks to Bruce Atchison for inspiring this post. On his blog, he talks about his struggles with math in high school and how he almost dropped out because of that. Although he managed to graduate, he couldn’t participate in the ceremony because he  couldn’t afford a cap and gown. He shares his experiences on his blog and in his three memoirs: Deliverance from Jericho, When a Man Loves a Rabbit, and How I Was Razed. You’ll find links to where these books can be purchased in print and eBook formats. 

I also had trouble with math but not just in high school. In the sixth grade, a teacher I’ll call Mr. Smith threatened me with an eighteen-inch ruler for not understanding long division. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t required to take math past the ninth grade. I had some problems in high school, but because of the love and support of my family, it never occurred to me to drop out. I don’t remember if I had to rent a cap and gown, but I do recall walking across that stage to receive my diploma and my classmates giving me a standing ovation.

If anyone reading this has just graduated from high school or college, good for you. I leave you now with “Climb Every Mountain,” a song I remember singing with the choir at the ArizonaStateSchool for the Deaf & Blind in Tucson one year during its commencement ceremony. Good luck to all you graduates in finding and realizing your dreams. 

 

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

 

 

Lessons Learned from Dad

My fondest childhood memories are of Dad and me listening to music together. Dad loved to play the old standards on those scratchy long-playing records by such artists as Fats Waller and Nat King Cole. These songs taught me lessons that I’m pretty sure Dad wanted me to learn.

If “The Joint is Jumpin,” you’re going to get in trouble. No man will like you if “Your Feet’s Too Big.” You’d better “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” I also learned to appreciate “Seafood, Mama” but not until I was an adult.

Dad also tried to teach me the value of money. He thought he’d succeeded until I sold my wheelchair accessible van last month because Bill was gone, and I no longer needed it. George, who responded to my ad, asked if I could take a thousand dollars off the asking price because the switch on the back of the vehicle that automatically opened the doors to the lift didn’t work, and the lift needed to be re-sized to fit his electric wheelchair. Because he appeared to be in desperate need of this vehicle, I agreed. Dad was livid. He claimed that it wouldn’t have cost a thousand dollars to fix these problems, but what he didn’t understand was a lesson I didn’t learn from him.

Although money is important, being helped and passing on that good deed to another is more valuable. Several years ago, Bill and I really wanted a van we could use to go places at night and on weekends when the local paratransit service wasn’t running. We were lucky to find someone willing to sell us such a vehicle at a price we could afford. When George came to my home in response to my ad, I could tell right away he was in the position we were in several years ago. I didn’t really need that extra thousand dollars, and he needed the van.

I leave you now with another lesson I did learn from Dad via Louis Armstrong. Despite the hateful things going on around us, we live in a “Wonderful World.” To my dad and others reading this, I hope you have a special Father’s Day.

 

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

Don’t Hate, America!

According to National Public Radio, a recent Cheereos ad posted on YouTube sparked a lot of hateful comments from viewers because it features a mixed race family. The video opens with the white mother and child sitting at the kitchen table, talking about how good Cheereos is for your heart. In the next scene, the black father awakens to find a box of Cheereos being unceremoniously dumped on his chest. 

After all these years, I can’t believe that so many people still feel hatred toward others who are different. They’re so wrapped up in their hatred that they’ve forgotten the concept of America. Centuries ago, this country was formed by people who fled here from other lands to escape oppression. Nevertheless, ever since before the Civil War, we’ve been oppressing others because of their race, color, religious beliefs, disabilities, and other attributes that set them apart from the rest of us.

A woman in my singing group apparently doesn’t like homosexuals. For years, she and her husband have been volunteering  with the Boy Scouts. Last Saturday while I was having lunch with her and others in our group, she announced that she and her husband were considering leaving the scouts because of a recent ruling abolishing their anti-gay policy. I told her, “That policy was just like telling me I couldn’t sing with you because of my visual impairment.” I hope I gave her some food for thought to go with her dessert.

I’m not homosexual or black. I haven’t married a black man or woman and started a family. However, my mind is open to a world of possibilities. A family doesn’t have to have a mother and father who are both either black or white and not mixed. A family can have two moms, two dads, a potbellied pig. The wonderful thing about this country is that we have diverse cultures with different beliefs and traditions, and for the most part, we’re free to live how we choose. Nobody should have the right to hate others who are different. I leave you now with another video of a song that echoes my sentiment and the words of Rodney King, the black man who was beaten by white police officers. “Can we all just try to get along?”

 

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

Do You Dream in Color?

I don’t think I do, but I just finished reading a memoir with that title by Laurie Rubin, a totally blind mezzo-soprano. To listen to her sing, click here. This site cannot be read with a screen reader, but in a recent interview with Books and Beyond, an Internet radio program showcasing authors, publishers, and other interesting people, she stated that she is working to make the site more blind friendly. In the meantime, you can listen to a live recording of her singing mostly art songs with piano accompaniment. If you like what you hear, her CDs are available through Amazon, and she’s on YouTube. 

In Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight, Laurie Rubin talks about her life from birth to the present. When she was a baby, she was diagnosed with Leber’s Amaurosis, a disorder that keeps the retina from developing and left her with only light perception. She describes her life growing up in Los Angeles during the 1980’s and 90’s. She began her education in a nursery and elementary school, both for blind children, but because her parents were not pleased with her progress, they were eventually instrumental in getting her mainstreamed into a public school when she started fourth grade. For the seventh grade, she applied and was accepted to a private school where she finished her education before continuing to OberlinCollege. She explains how resource room teachers and other professionals helped her during that time.

She started voice lessons at an early age, and although she liked popular songs, she wanted to sing opera. She describes meeting Kenny Loggins who taught her to water ski. She also learned downhill skiing through a program for the blind.

In middle and high school, she had a hard time fitting in because of her blindness, but when she attended summer music programs, she bonded well with other students because once they heard her sing, they realized she was one of them despite her sight loss. Laurie also describes attending a summer camp for the blind where she also bonded with other students with vision loss. She talks about the competitions she entered and her eventual performance at the Dorothy Chandler concert hall in Los Angeles when she was still in high school.

She describes her college experience at Oberlin where she played the lead role in an opera during her senior year. She was then accepted into Yale’s graduate opera program, and she talks about the frustration of not being cast in their operas because of her blindness, although the director and other staff at Oberlin were willing to work around it. At that time, she got her guide dog, Mark, and that gave her more confidence. She also talks about discovering that she’s a Lesbian and details the relationships she had in college.

After graduating from Yale, she moved to New York with her partner, and she describes learning how to cook for the first time because her mother never taught her. She also learned to make jewelry which she still does today. After living in New York for one year and studying in London for another, she moved back to New York and started performing chamber music and eventually was cast in her first New York opera. That was in the earlier part of this century. She now lives in Hawaii where she is director of a fine arts program and is currently working on a novel.

I found myself identifying with Laurie when I read her book. I didn’t want to sing opera, but I did want to be a performer. I took voice lessons in college because it was a requirement of my music major. During my sophomore year at SheridanCollege, my mother insisted I audition for an opera she was directing. I didn’t get the part, but I don’t think it was because of my visual impairment. Other sopranos with better voice quality auditioned for the same role, and the music director chose one of them. I didn’t care because I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Instead of an opera singer, I became a music therapist and worked for fifteen years in a nursing home.

I became indignant when I read about Laurie being told point blank by the director of Yale’s opera program that she wasn’t cast because being on the stage would be too dangerous for her. To me, it was a clear indication that they weren’t willing to work with her disability. It reminded me of a time when the activity director at the nursing home told me she could not work with my visual impairment and wrote me up for every possible minor infraction and drastically decreased my  hours. This was a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I appealed to the State Division of Labor Standards and won. I wonder if Laurie could have made a similar appeal with the same results.

Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight is available from the National Library Service’s Braille and audio download site. You should also be able to purchase it from Amazon. Even if you hate opera or you’re not blind, I recommend reading this book. The story is a good example of how one woman didn’t let her blindness stop her from doing what she wanted. So does Laurie Rubin dream in color? Her answer is it’s not the dreams you have when you’re asleep that count. It’s the dreams you have when you’re awake of what you’ll be that are important.

 

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