Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let It Shine

I always thought I was destined to do something really special. As a kid, I used to imagine flying to the moon, saving a life or inventing something really terrific, like the ever-lasting gobstopper. My life could slide this way or that way, but I just had this confidence that an extraordinary event or talent would happen to me eventually.

At 10, I did do some brief modeling for House of Bargains. While it was pro bono work, of course, it did give me a glimpse of how a life under the bright lights might turn out. I imagined traveling all around the world, thin and captivating, to give people this gift of beauty. So, when the modeling work dried up shortly after my debut, I just moved on. No hurt feelings really.

In high school, it dawned on me that maybe sports might be the way to go. I played softball, basketball and ran track. Go, go, go. I even made it to the state track meet my sophomore year. One week later, I tore the ligament in my knee. It was a hard break, but that's life. I packed away the gloves, and cleats, and batons. I didn't look back either.

I pushed my way through college as fast as I could because, well, let's get real, you are more likely to find extraordinary in the real world than in college. I started my first day at a national law firm in a very sharp suit, with a very bright smile, and walked into a very big building. Do you see the importance? I also sat at very small cubicle with not a very nice boss with not a lot of input into my work. I really was a good puppet. Nothing special about that.

Kids came. Here was my chance to give something Herculean. During birth, I asked for pain medicine and then cried like a baby during the c-section because I had failed to progress. I've spanked my kids in public, I've cried alone in the garage and I've gone to a big work meeting with some kind of goo on my shoulder from morning hugs. On the rare days I've got it all in a nice, neat package, I think if I could only sustain this.....it might be special.

But today, it came to me. There is a really good chance that I will never invent something, win the lottery, touch the moon, be a celebrity, or have people recite my poems in every classroom around the country. Perhaps I don't get a special event or that extraordinary big thing in this life, but instead I get a quirky personality and a light within that radiates to others. Special might be making people laugh. Being kind, or loyal, or loving. It might even be all those big mistakes I've made along the way that I thought made me really unlovable. It somehow also made me approachable.

So, I guess I feel good about that kind of special. No big headlines, you see, just a dogged determination to keep plugging away at those big, ugly, hot stage lights in my life. Those moments can be wonderful, too. Let it shine, let it shine.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Elvis Loved His Mama

I'm not much of a traveler. With two small kids, a husband that works weekends, and a budget so tight it squeaks, traveling is a luxury. But to my surprise, all the stars aligned and I arrived in Memphis on Monday with eight-women from my book club, varying in ages, all ready to experience some rock and roll. It was an adventure.

I didn't know much about Memphis. Well, I knew it was in Tennessee. I knew it was once home to Elvis. I also thought it might be kind of hot in July. All true. In some ways, Memphis is something extra special. In other ways, it scares me.

The best part about traveling is that you get to experience it all for yourself. I'm not sure if you've been or if you'll ever go, but here's a few trip highlights. Go ahead. Soak 'em in.

1. Beale Street, the place of all food, music and debauchery, is pronounced "Bill" street by locals. It's fantastic all lit up. Every stop had amazing musicians that dazzled me.

2. The bus tour was really needed, if you want a good history lesson about music in Memphis. Sun Records. Stax. Sam Phillips. Did you know that Elvis and his mama lived in government housing and only two blocks away was BB King's home? All on the same street, all at the same time.

3. Panhandling is an art form in Memphis. Kids, adults and crack heads all want your money, or your cigarettes, or your soul. They will steal it, if you let your guard down.

4. The lottery is not just for winning millions. Apparently, Memphis loves the Broadway production of "Wicked" enough to pull names each night for a $25 ticket in the front row. Sign up, wait 15 minutes and pay with cash if they call your name. Twenty lucky winners, including me. It was the best show I have ever seen. Thank you, Memphis!

5. Good food can be found at a place with a really pretty, ornate sign out front. GREAT food is in a dive so bad that you start questioning the legitimacy of health inspectors.

6. Priceline works. $160 a night hotel for only $80. Grab that deal.

7. Trolley systems are still transporting people down Main Street. For only $1, you can rest your feet and soak up some history.

8. Cotton was huge in Memphis because of the river. There are all different grades of cotton from pure white to gray. Cotton is so big, they still hold an annual parade with a cotton queen.

9. If you want to survive in the tourist industry in Memphis, you must be an entertainer. It doesn't matter if you're singing, waiting tables or cleaning the floor, people with personality are the only ones that make it. Find yours.

10. I love me some Elvis. I love me some Johnny Cash. I wish I had known them when they were young and hungry for music in Memphis. It must have been so exciting. Being rich and famous will kill you. It's too much pressure for one small soul.

And, my last lesson in Memphis.....when I was taking a photo of the historic First Baptist Church building, which is only a block away from the famous Beale street, a man stood up from the stairs and started unbuttoning his pants while I was snapping a photo of the sign.

"I got something free for you, girl. You want my picture," he says. "Girl, girl....where you goin'. I said I got something for you."

It felt good to visit, it really did, but I wasn't tempted to stay (even with all that free stuff that nice young man at the church was giving away). Amidst all that solicitation, and rocking and rolling, and great food, Memphis is really a happening place. It's alive. Enjoy at your own risk.