Friday, February 23, 2018

Musical Inspirations

            Last month Neil Diamond announced he is retiring from touring after being recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He made the announcement during his 50th Anniversary tour and canceled his concerts in Australia and New Zealand. I’m not embarrassed to say Neil Diamond has been my internal teenage soul heartthrob ever since I heard “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” on the radio 50 years ago. Lucky me; I saw him in concert last July when he was in Phoenix. Not that I consider myself a stalker, but I’ve attended almost all of his Phoenix concerts and one in Minneapolis, dragging along whomever I could conjure into going with me.

            Music inspires me with ideas for stories or musings. When I go for my walks, I make sure I have my ear buds plugged in so I can listen to my favorite tunes. Not only music by Neil Diamond, but music that stirs my soul or touches my heart. On many occasions, I hurry home to the computer to start writing about a seed that began germinating because of the lyrics I’ve enjoyed for the umpteenth time. “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” inspired me to write a short story, “The Revival,” about the dark side of evangelists and tent revivals. I submitted it to a literary contest. It earned honorable mention and it was published in the 2015 Literary Magazine by Arizona Authors’ Association.

            My brother, Rick, enjoyed listening to blue grass, folk, and old country on his Bose machine. Music touched his soul in a way that would sometimes move him to tears. He would share with me music trivia and told me about the day John Denver died in a plane crash. Rick fancied himself as a writer and penned many musings in spiral notebooks as he deteriorated away in his bedroom. I promised him on his death bed that I would publish his work. Here is his tribute to John Denver: “Sometimes when I allow myself to indulge in a mild spate of melancholy, I think to myself, oh, you have left us with so much, but still it was way too little, not enough, oh, John, why did you do it . . . for we cry enough already . . .”

            When I taught financial services in high school, sometimes my students would come to me for suggestions on how to complete an English assignment because they knew I used to teach English. One young man was worried about an assignment where he had to write his personal interpretation of the lyrics to a song of his choice. Even though it was way before his time, I played “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel and suggested he write about that.
            In the literature class I taught adults at a community college, I always began a new unit by playing music and providing the lyrics for discussion. This was to stimulate their cognitive thinking skills as they tackled abstract stories that held no meaning to their lives. Most of my students had struggled in high school and were trying to catch up in order to graduate with an A.A. degree. Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” was an excellent choice for one of my lessons about irony in a story.

            What is your music of choice? Are you moved by the lyrics, the beat, or the artist? How can you combine music with your writing muse? Writing seems to be a solitary man kind of activity, and sometimes it helps to drink a little cracklin’ rosie to get the muse excited, but the nice thing about being an author is you can sit at your desk all day in sweatpants or forever in blue jeans.

Find out more about Barbara on her website,, twitter, @barbararenner, Facebook,, and Good Reads,

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Snippets From the Boardwalk

The sisters are restless and feel compelled to spread their wings in search of fresh salty air, cool sand, and freedom from worries and never-ending chores. They set their sights on San Diego where a magical place called "The Cozy Condo" beckons. Most fly; some drive, until finally they settle into their cozy nests for the weekend. Not one, but two Cozy Condos face the sparkling water and warm sun of Mission Bay. But wait . . . an unexpected turn of events happens. Their desire for an uninterrupted respite includes extracting snippets of conversations exchanged between walkers, joggers. bikers, skateboarders, segwayers, men, women, children, dogs, and . . . undetermined.

"The older ones never want to participate anymore."
"This is why I worry."
"So I got that recipe for banana bread from Jan."
"And, they're all on my Apple plan, so I have to call."

The view from the Cozy Condo takes their breath away. The sailboats dancing on the water, the moon rising over the horizon, the precision rowing teams, the bustling Boardwalk, and . . . the guys! The guys with their tans. The guys with their muscles. The guys with their hairy bodies and bold tattoos.

"I've never been with a little guy."
"I'd rather have a butch than a mustache."
"It fell out of his pocket when he was taking a dump."

One of our sisters spouted her own snippet, projecting the internal turmoil of her frustrated self.

"That big guy is so big; I wonder what else is big."

Ah, the Boardwalk. It springs to life at dawn when the fog rolls over its sand-dusted pathway for the energetic joggers who rise to satisfy their compulsions, and finally succumbs to the drunken stumblers who weave back and forth, grabbing walls to steady themselves and be their guide back to their lairs.

"I'm wearing electric underwear."
"You can't drink all day unless you start in the morning."
"I totally wasn't sleeping in my room."
"He lives in the bottom of the house, and, like, it's all moldy and stuff."

The beloved sisters keep themselves fit. They walk, they laugh, they exercise their arm muscles (glass to mouth, down, repeat). The young chicks dancing down the Boardwalk gaze with envious eyes towards the loveliness sitting on the Cozy Porch at the Cozy Condo. Occasionally a gorgeous swan with a purchased body saunters by, but her vanity will soon bite her in the butt when Mother Gravity claims her prize.

"It was a white dress with a boob job."
"That's a lot of estrogen."
"That feel good?"
"Well, you can just get bent."

Crafty. The ingenious sisters are crafty. They envision creations of beautiful bangles crafted from discarded earrings, so they spread out their tools, their sparkly baubles, and their imaginations to produce bracelets that rival Tiffany, or Cartier, or . . . Zales's.

"She has this special thing for it."
"That's not a skull."
"You've gone too far."
"I call it bongo head."

Laughter resounds to condos all around the bay. Laughter returns from residents who wish they could join the sisters' festivities. "Nickel, Nickel" echoes across the ocean as the winner slaps her cards down on the table. Skill, persistence, luck of the draw, and ability to count points entertain the sisters for hours.

"I can't do it like normal people."
"He wasn't on his med's."
"Yeah, if you have books around."
"Gambling's illegal."

Every moment embraces celebratory activities: an excursion to Ralph's, the local grocery market; admiration of seaweed; the discovery of seashells; the purchase of a new dress; petting Harper, the resident dog. But the most important celebration of all is Jalie's birthday. (Her name is really Julie, but the cake decorator misspelled her name) Happy Birthday, Jalie.

"I don't like you; the rest of you are great."
"I don't know why, it sounded like a bad idea to him."
"A revised scavenger hunt."

The lovely sisters keep themselves busy. They drink water; they dine on gourmet food; they drink coffee; they shop at Ralph's; they drink tea; they strengthen the economy shopping for souvenirs; they drink red wine; they walk to breakfast, snapping photos of flowers & wall murals & gates & condos; they drink white wine; they walk the beach looking for sand dollars; they drink RumChada; they snack on aged cheese & artichoke dip; they drink bourbon; they watch award-winning movies; they drink. This leads to all kinds of folly. "Let's utilize these paddles we found in our Cozy Condo," they say. "Let's rank the Boardwalkers with 10s or 8s," they say. The prepare the paddles and sprinkle their Bloody Marry's with pepper. The view is perfect on the Cozy Porch of the Cozy Condo early Sunday morning.

"Ah, I see it's happy hour now."
"Tequila shots - ordered on a platter."
"I'd rather be drinking with you guys."
"If it's not executed right, I'm going to head butt your privates."

The Boardwalkers observe the Finish Line from both directions and accept the challenge. To earn their 10s, they run to victory over the chalky mark. The paddles showing 8s quickly change to 10s along with cheers of encouragement when the male and female finally hold hands after cajoling and hissing emit from the Cozy Porch.

"That's the final judgment on the left."
"Why don't you just stop?"
"I've heard all this before."
"Rugby - pleasure without protection."

And then it happens . . . tragedy strikes. A skinned elbow. A bloodied knee. A dead body chalk outline. Just as the girls cross the Finish Line on their bicycles, one of them is so flattered by the cheers and praise originating from the Cozy Porch, she turns in acknowledgement, her handlebars twist in the opposite direction, and she delivers a most graceful crash landing on the cement. Her elbow and knee take the fall. The Good Samaritans on the porch rise in unison. “Get some water.” “Grab that washcloth.” “Bring paper towels.” “I’ll get your bike.” “Would you like a shot?” The injured girl nodded. “Vodka,” she murmured. Like a trooper, the cyclist mounted up and rode off into the sunset.

"The purse is the nurse."
"And I did it the old fashioned way."
"That's what pictures are for."
"And that's the way you do karaoke."

The young ones know. They admire the matriarchs sitting on the Cozy Porch of the Cozy Condo. The Nanas and Grandmas and Grammys and fur-baby Grannies are all envied for their wisdom and skill in encouraging hand holding and high fiving.

"You still doing that?"
"One day, baby, one day."
"We have to go all around there."
"That's my recollection; I could be wrong."

“Wear solids,” she advised. “White or khaki, and ocean blues,” she instructed. The sisters bring a variety of blues and greens and patterns and sparkles for approval. They all gather on the beach for their group photo, just as the sun begins its final descent into the ocean for the day. They primp. They pose. They preen. They suck in their guts. They lift their chins. All who pass on the Boardwalk admire the women who are framed by the azure bay and sapphire sky. It’s the Boardwalkers who now clap and high five with 10s the sisters who stand proud and devoted to each other for the final portrait in reverence for the Cozy Condos.

"Ten back at ya, ladies."
"You're all cute."
"That's awesome."
"Class of '72."

The sisters report two more snippets, probably uttered by someone of the male persuasion:

"He comes back, gets her pregnant, and then leaves again."
"She actually enjoys being pregnant."

The sisters clean and secure the Cozy Condos on Mission Bay in San Diego and wave fond farewell to the call of the ocean and breath of sea air. Just like the little Sandpipers, the sisters will remember strolling along the beach searching for tiny urchins, chasing the scattered seaweed, and running from the encroaching ocean foam. Their footprints in the sand will be washed away, until they again return to worship the sea.