Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aussie Amy and the Quest for cheap Tex-Mex: a letter to Dean Koontz

Amy came from Australia. Much like their boomerangs, her life had curved around Oklahoma, across the sea, through Europe, and into the Outback looking for identity. Instead she found Simon and a love for Cadbury chocolate.
She worked as one of my writers while temporarily living in Oklahoma, her birthplace and a rock in her shoe. We became great friends because I had rarely been out of the state and loved it dearly. She was the wind. I was the earth.
It was a night much like this one, much like any other, much like others to come. We were bopping around in my Jeep, a term I use because the shocks are bad. She was chasing a story, I was chasing a warm burrito. We took one vehicle believing fate would take us to both destinations.
Fate often multi-tasks.
I pulled into the driveway of a typical Continental house, stark white in the darkness, like hair freshly bleached. It smelled like it too. The lights weren’t on. No need for additional illumination with that house color.
Amy climbed out, grabbing her pad and pen, draping her canvas purse across her chest like Captain Jack Sparrow’s sword holder. In modern times and to a modern community newspaper reporter, one’s bag was one’s sword holder, a place to rest one’s pen while stretching the cramped muscles in one’s hand.
She turned back to throw a smile over her shoulder (excess UK chocolate creates joyful dispositions) and noticed the book in my lap.
“Dean Koontz?” She said it like you had broken a past engagement three days before the ceremony leaving her with seven toasters, three sets of Ginsu knives, and a waffle maker to return.
“Uh yep,” I said, lifting the book from my lap. If I was going to be sitting in the car, excuse me, superior SUV of humble birth and beginning, while she was inside working, by golly, I was going to be reading. Besides, it was a dang good book.
“YOU read Dean Koontz?” she asked, standing outside the vehicle.
“Appears that way,” I said.
“I don’t believe it.”
I started to feel like I wasn’t being a very good friend, like I had broken the cardinal rule of friendship, like I had dated an ex-boyfriend while simultaneously losing weight.
“What’s wrong with Dean Koontz?” I said, turning the book from front to back, looking for anything icky stuck on it.
“YOU Tara? You read Koontz,” she said, more to herself than me. What the heck had you done to the girl?
“What’s wrong with Koontz?” I said.
“I don’t like him.”
“Have you read him before?”
“What made you read him now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going to read him again?”
“Anything’s possible.”
She shook her head.
“Why don’t you read Koontz?” I asked, still looking for something sinister on the jacket cover.
“He scares me.”
Seriously? Scary? We’re talking about world-traveler Amy, Miss Adventure, Miss I-love-staying-in-scary-hostels-and-sleeping-in-rooms-with-perfect
-strangers-all-by-myself Amy. I had barely traveled outside my own time zone. I had never been on a plane. I thought people still spoke English on the east coast. How could I be doing something, anything, she was too scared to do?
“I think he’s funny,” I said, defending your honor.
“Funny? Are you joking?”
Yeah, that wasn’t a joke. If I was going to tell a joke, it’d be a whole lot funnier than that, something about a priest and a rabbi. Maybe I’d throw in Paris Hilton too because it’s my joke and I can.
“I don’t get you. But I don’t have to. Aren’t you supposed to be interviewing someone?” I reminded her, ready to open this book and get this party started.
“Wow Tara. You really surprise me,” and with that she closed the door, off to her interview so we could move on to my destiny – a bean and cheese burrito.
That was years ago. I’ve been reading you ever since, mostly because you’re just good but also because you smile big in your jacket photo. And I like Trixie. She’s got a mauvais ane presence. That’s “bad ass” in French (it just sounds classier and my mom doesn’t pick up on the profanity).
I wrote this lengthy explanation because…well…hmmm…because I wanted to show how much I love your writing. And because I got home early tonight and am wired from a coffee enema.
You are my favorite, like the color green and the actor Cary Grant. And I thought you should know.
I wrote a book. I know, who hasn’t? Well, not me. I have. Much like my neighbor, my favorite grocer and my dog. We’ve all written. It’s a long story and trust me, the Amy story is short, so I won’t go into it. But I did it.
This isn’t an inquiry for you to read it or endorse it or use it for paper mache. But I wrote this thing, this beast, this quirky organism, and now it’s being read by others. It’s a book about single life as an adult female who has been saved by Jesus Christ. Or you could call it Christian, but I prefer the former.
It wasn’t even my idea. It was the spawn of a suggestion by a writer friend of mine, Jim Stovall (who doesn’t mind when I spill drinks in nice restaurants, gotta love that guy), and it’s matriculated from there.
He said write about single life. I said, “Seriously? What have I got to say?” But as you can see, it doesn’t take much to get me talking. Besides, I love my life. I laugh at my life. I decided it was time we all got a chuckle.
There is a group reading it now. We’re meeting in a few days for me to receive feedback. And I suddenly realized how naked I feel with something so personal riding around in cars, sitting next to toilets and on coffee tables, left on desks and used as coasters, there for anyone to gawk and gander.
Anyway, my point. A little round by now but here it is.
Positive feedback is important. I need it, hope to get it. And despite your success and wide appeal (except for Amy), I bet you need it sometimes too. I’ve been reading you for years but never said a word about it. That’s unacceptable. If we can’t be bothered to express positive things in life, perhaps we should shut-up.
So here it is:
Your writing speaks to me. I marvel at it. I laugh heartily. I even giggle. I shake my head in awe. I jump up and down in libraries and bookstores, even in my living room when I’m surfing Amazon and find a Koontz book. You make me think, you puzzle me. I’ve sat there, wherever you are – a desk, a couch, a diner, a park bench – writing your creations, and I’ve patted you on the back. I’ve given you high fives and thumbs up. I’ve read your lines out loud and waited for the audience reaction. I’ve nodded in agreement and dropped my jaw in surprise. I’ve stayed up late, I’ve gotten up early. I’ve ignored calls and dinner and the need to pee. I’ve invited you into my home, into my little world, into my backpack and taken you everywhere. I’ve befriended you and you’ve been a friend to me.
God has given you a great gift. Thank you for sharing.
This is according to Tara Lynn Thompson of Tulsa, Oklahoma who finally got on a plane last month, who loves to eat peanut butter from the jar, who is addicted to chapstick and fuzzy blankets and who is no one important except to her family and friends.
And she’s good with that.
I just wanted you to know.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Like riding a bike

Try it. Don't ride a bike for a decade, then jump on one. It doesn't just come flooding all back. Instantaneous expertise wasn't happening. And no one talks about the soreness in your derriere the next day.
I bought a bike, my first in....let's just say awhile. And it has a basket. A white one.
Why I bought it, I can't really say. I had solid, grown-up reasons. It saves me on gas when I'm running local errands. It is a healthy exercise. It's a great stress reliever. Huffy needs my support.
Basically, I just wanted it. Biking sounded fun. That about covers it. And I'm kind of tired doing the "grown-up" thing anyway. Why must I justify everything reasonably?
So I carpe diemed over to Academy and got me one last week. The first night my roommate and I (she got a bike too because spending frivolous money with friends is twice the pleasure) took our bikes out for a spin as soon as we got home.
It was awesome. My chain came off. Her bike wouldn't change gears correctly. A parked vehicle jumped out at me. She was wearing out. I was wearing out. We couldn't figure what gear to be in. And neither of us remembered it being so hard to pedal.
We walked back into the house, I sat on my couch, and my neck went out.
"Great," I said. Or maybe it was "ow."
Since I came back from my recent travels (Colorado, St. Louis, Boston), I've been trying to get back into life. I've been doing laundry, getting my mail, stocking my refrigerator, buying milk and eggs because I'll be around to eat them before they expire.
So much has been happening, so many unexpected twists and turns since my unemployment began (4 months, 10 days ago), feeling any form of normalcy has been a struggle. And for some reason, I have no idea why, I kept thinking these suddenly, unexplainable, divinely appointed trips would change things. I mean REALLY change things.
God was moving. Things were happening. I had finally reached that time, you know what time I'm talking about, when everything just works effortlessly. You are in the right place. This is your moment. It's destiny. Your purpose is right around the corner. No more obstacles. It's downhill all the way.
I honestly expected to come back home to cooler weather, easy money, and less body fat. I expected life to stop being life, stop being hard. I never said it out loud. I never even purposefully thought it. But God and I knew, this was it. We had a silent understanding. At some point in life, everything would just start working out.
Hello point.
But my neck went out. That hasn't happened in two years. How could that be part of God's plan? Now of all times? During MY TIME. Oh well, I won't worry about it.
A freelance article I was working on wasn't going right. I couldn't get a good, printable quote from anybody. No problem. It's all part of the plan.
My hairstylist, who's been my faithful hairstylist for the better part of 15 years, who always does an incredible job, gave me a look resembling a rock star, circa 1986. This, somehow, is part of God's plan.
A friend told me today perhaps I should think about waitressing, maybe it would be a good career move for me. Sure. Excellent. I'll start my food service career at 30.
I worked on an email for nearly two hours for my service group, one of those inspired little ditties full of charm and sarcasm and necessary details. Then I sent it. And it was blank. Completely blank. No copy in my sent folder. No copy anywhere. God, okay. So these things happen. I understand. Just give me an hour or so to yank all the hair out of my head.
Then I cut my finger, got a pimple, had to do MORE laundry, realized my bathroom needs cleaned, the dishes are dirty, my Jeep hasn't had her oil changed, the bills are due, and my hair still looks horrible.
I got on my bike tonight and went for a ride in my neighborhood. The temperature was mild, almost cool, the nighttime tempo had settled, and it was only me and a few nocturnal neighbors silently moving in the darkness.
Heading south, I went uphill first. And it wasn't easy. I pumped my legs, switched gears, and pumped some more. I had to concentrate, keeping my arms steady, my back more straight, and watch out for those parked vehicles.
After a block I wasn't so sure this bike thing was a good idea. It was a lot of work. I was breathing fairly steady, a heavy inhale and timed exhale, never easing my pressure on the pedals. I swerved onto the sidewalk and back to the road, moving from ground to ground, wobbling terribly as I went. I had to hold on with both hands or my body and the bike stopped working together.
But I never stopped. The pain in my legs increased but I never stopped. I ached, but I never stopped.
I refused to quite because I knew what was coming.
It only took a few minutes, just a few meager blocks, and I rounded the corner. From here on out, it was all downhill. I'd made it.
My legs stilled and my breathing calmed. I coasted, feeling the wind brush my ears and slide under my neck. The air turned from cool to peppermint, a tantalizing sweetness I could almost taste.
The homes moved past at a heartbeat rhythm. Gagunk. Gagunk. Gagunk. Each one leaving a scent on the air - wood burning, dryer sheets, fresh grass, pumpkin. It was like sampling every entree on the menu, and each flavor complimented the next.
Silence was dominate. The only sound was the soft lull of my bike wheels, the seamless hum of an air conditioner, cadence of a grasshopper, and the undetectable yet audible hymn of the darkening sky.
It seemed as if I coasted forever, much longer than I had pedaled. But it was the same distance. In those exhilarating moments of free fall, everything seemed worth it. The strain up the hill seemed minor, though I knew it wasn't.
The effort may have been draining, but I know it's necessary. It will strength my legs, increase my endurance, and when the time is right for me to ride further, to coast longer, to experience another landscape, I'll have the experience and stamina to do it.
I'll be prepared.
Life, as I'm learning, isn't much different than an evening bike ride. There will always be work. It must be done, not only for our physical strength, also for our character. But there will always be times of coasting too, sweet moments of freedom and long pedaless rides.
And in all honesty, every push up that hill made coming down so much sweeter.
When I reached the end of the neighborhood, I turned around and pedaled up again. Who cares about a sore butt and aching legs anyway? I just wanted to ride.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane

Never before. Not even once. Not even briefly. In my 30 years of life, I had never flown. My feet, literally though not always proverbially, have remained on the ground. Until recently.
Seven planes in 10 days. Weird, huh? Events had happened, opportunities opened, the path cleared, for me to head to St. Louis for the Joyce Meyer Women's Conference and then on to Boston for a week long freelance job. In between, I'd have layovers in Kansas City, Memphis, and Detroit. All together it meant seven planes in 10 days.
When God decides to move you, YOU MOVE.
People have asked me forever, "How is that possible you've never flown?" How? Oh it's easy. Don't go anywhere you can't walk, run, bike or drive. Tada. No plane.
You must understand, I'm a small-town country girl. My mother hates flying. And besides, we never had money for plane tickets. If we traveled, it meant saving and saving some more, cutting expenditures, working extra hours, and then going economy.
My father worked in construction. My mother was a homemaker. My brother, in his formative years, could eat Bill Gates out of house and home. My charm wasn't worth a dime. We were a working class family. My father always said, "We may not have anything nice, but that doesn't mean we can't take care of what we have. And be clean and neat."
That, in it's entirety, describes my childhood lifestyle. Clean and neat.
Flying was an extravagance for other people in other stations of life. We were the great American family with a station wagon or mini-van, hitting the national highways with "Holiday Road" as our theme song.
As I got older, I've attempted to fly. I really have. But every time I was scheduled to fly somewhere, it went wrong. EVERY TIME. The trip got canceled. The plans changed. I even attempted to sneak a ride onto a helicopter once, just to say I'd been off the ground other than on a trampoline. Let's just say it didn't work out.
My time had come. I was flying. Was I nervous about it? Of course I was. Are you kidding me? I was getting ready to say my goodbyes. Tara doesn't fly. It's just something she has never done. It's predestined for me never to fly. Me in a plane was a sign of the Apocalypse.
It seems silly, I'm sure. In moments of mental clarity, it was a little silly to me too. But those moments didn't last long.
On a Thursday morning, I gathered my luggage and rolled through security. I sat at the gate and prepared.
Airports, by the way, are an entirely different world, a foreign country with books and t-shirts in plenty and people moving from one line to stand in another. I just tuned it all out and focused on this mission.
I had prayed for lack of fear. I had prayed for courage. It wasn't until the day earlier, I prayed for something different. I prayed to remember God.
In the midst of this milestone, this unconquerable unknown, this silent fear, I began to doubt everything, even God's character. Why was I getting on a plane NOW? Of all the years I've tried, all the many attempts I've made, all the failed energy, He had literally handed every detail to me. I was meant to do this, no doubt. He wanted me to go. Yet I was restless with anxiety.
Why? Because I had forgotten Him. I really had. I had forgotten His mercy, His love, His protection, even His understanding. For many, flying is no big deal. It may seem trivial, an unsubstantiated fear. That's okay. I met a woman recently who is petrified of worms. WORMS. That seems utterly ridiculous to me. The thing is, GOD, in His deep and unyielding empathy of the human heart, cares about her fear. And He cares about mine too.
I made it through seven flights. Some were pleasant. Some were not. Some were on time. Some were not.
Each time I felt any fear or trepidation, I took a moment to remember God because I knew He was in full knowledge of me. I was talking to Him once, moments after a more unpleasant flight and minutes before taking off again. The plane was revving, the seat belt sign on, we began to taxi down the runway, and here I was again taking to the air.
'I'm not really looking forward to this God. That last flight wasn't so much fun. I don't want to be stressed out and wired. Will you help me?'
And he answered rather bluntly, as He always does, as I love it when He does, 'Tara, I'm either with you or I'm not. I'm either good or I'm not. What is your decision?'
I had no arguments for that. When God wants your fear to move, IT MOVES.
'Good point God. Nuf said. Now for my next question. What are they offering for snack options?'