Armies, Fighting, and Being Still

The White Stripes released “Seven Nation Army” in 2003. Somewhere in that era at Christmastime, my English teacher friend Erin gave me a mixtape including liner notes in the compact disc jewel case. According to Erin, “Seven Nation Army is a song that makes you feel cooler just for listening.”
I love Haley Reinhart of Postmodern Jukebox since her days on American Idol back in 2011. She just celebrated her 30th birthday, and the comments on this video crack me up. Luke Klein says, “I watched this video and ended up in a gray suit and a fedora, smoking a cigarette in the rain in 1939. Pls help.”

“I’m gonna fight ‘em all / A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.”

The White Stripes

I’ve heard the White Stripes in my head this past week, and their words convey my attitude. As I leave my house each day for my morning walk, my posture and stride seem to say, “Do not get in my way because I will kick your ass.” And that’s how I’ve been making my way through recent days. I carry this mixture of fury and hope, this “I will spit in your eye” mindset along with “God, please help me and most of all please help Drew.” My friends and prayers keep carrying me like a gondola up the mental health mountain I face.

Drew came by our house yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.

“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. Alone in the house, I decided to write this post.

If you happened to read my post about prayers and friends carrying me last week, you know my son Drew was in the behavioral health hospital. Hospitalization #6. After ten long years of battling paranoid schizophrenia. Drew still has good days. When he left with HPD for the hospital, I found crystal meth in his room. How long have I been finding meth in his room? Has it been two years? Did I ever find meth three years ago when we lived in the La Quinta after the hurricane? How many times have I thrown meth in the trash? Where does he get his money to buy? Is he selling it? Does he have a medication efficacy issue? Is meth or schizophrenia the larger problem? These questions beat me down. Who knows?

Anyway, Drew spent five good days at the hospital. I have no idea what they did for him because he is thirty years old, and HIPAA laws protect his privacy. Drew reports that nothing happened, which could be true or false. The hospital doctor determined he was good to go. No further treatment necessary. The problem is Drew’s behavior leading up to the hospitalization proved dangerous to himself and/or others. Over the past three years, his delusions have progressively worsened along with his reactions to what he hears and believes. His dad and I are not willing to have him in our home at this time, partly because of a police report filed by our neighbors that in part led to his hospitalization. His psychiatrist is aware and unhelpful. Hospitalization #6 was unhelpful. Drew agreed to stay in a group home following his discharge.

By the way in Texas, group homes are not accredited in any way. If I wanted to open a group home for mentally ill patients and feed them and oversee their medication, I could—TOMORROW. IF. If you want to make some money, or at least have someone else pay your mortgage, move to Texas, open a group home, call psychiatric hospitals, and let them know you are open for business. From what I understand, it doesn’t take much more than that. Also, Texas ranks near the bottom of our fifty states for mental health expenditures per capita. Go figure. Should we move?

A Mr. Taylor drove Drew from the hospital to the God’s People group home where Drew called an Uber and returned home to pick up clothes and his car. His car that he had been using as his personal trash can. The same car I had removed trash from little by little—four full kitchen trash bags of McDonald’s trash, two uneaten apple pies and an empty sardine can, seemingly unending soda bottles and cans, empty American Spirit cigarette packs and cigarette butts everywhere—all kinds of empty cardboard box recycling—from a Ryobi Variable Speed Drill to a floor lamp, a Kobalt Retractable Hose Reel with Hose, a DeWalt Heavy-Duty Electric Wheeled Portable Compressor, and sex toys. Oh, and laundry, lots of dirty laundry. Some of which went straight to the trash. Some of which I’m airing now. Again I ask, where in the world is Drew getting this money? Have I been burying my head in the sand? All I know is that I have done the best I can. There is NO REASONING with mental illness, and NO ONE seems to want to help. Oh, unless, we happened to be millionaires. We MIGHT get some help that way. By the way if you Google God’s People in Houston, you won’t find anything. When I type the address into Google maps, I see the location of this group home in a one-story house in a residential neighborhood, likely three bedrooms and two baths.

So—after being released on Thursday, Drew didn’t spend Thursday or Friday night at the group home. However, he had been in contact with me by phone, and he was okay. He said, “I’m at a friend’s.”

“Are you planning to go back to the home?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. Drew is good at telling me what I want to hear. Like when I say, “Will you take a shower?” or “Will you take a trashbag and clean all of the trash out of your room?” I repeat the same question for his car. His response—always the same. Years and years of yesses. How are we supposed to help? By telling him he can no long live with us? By towing and selling his trashed out, torn up, paid for 2010 Honda Accord? I’m tired, and I’m trying to live my own best life despite challenges. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to help himself?

Mr. Taylor says he will let me know if Drew shows up, and for my own mental health I drive to the beach on Saturday. Drew makes a Saturday group home appearance—forty-eight hours after his hospital release. Mr. Taylor texts me about his arrival, and stupidly we pay a pro-rated fee for September housing. I say stupidly because Drew is at home when I return from the beach. He has eaten the leftover pizza, and I am thankful for his nourishment. We have a peaceful conversation about his aquarium and the fish he has recently purchased for his bedroom, and I am thankful for the calm. Drew says, “Their names are Patches and Duke and Catfishy.”

I say, “I named them Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

“Those are terrible names,” he says, and I am thankful for the laughs. Then, he leaves for the night.

Do you remember where this started?

Drew came by yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.

“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.

“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. I would’ve thought the noise a buzz saw if I hadn’t found the cardboard box for the drill in his car. Alone in the house, husband out of town, I decided to write this post. Drew was gone within the hour.

Drew probably slept in his car last night. Possibly for the last four nights. If he’s lucky, he has a friend. Officially this means Drew is homeless. AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN THE GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (and exactly why I want to kick somebody’s ass).

Mid-rage, I stumbled onto Perth Girl’s Saturday post. It begins, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).

Perth Girl wraps it up by saying, “Be still, my friend, be still. Let the Lord be your shield and your sword. Let Him be your rock and your shelter. Be still and surrender to Him, leave room for God to work, let Him fight for you.”

Then I went to church at Chase Oaks online, and the service ended with this song. Do I hear God’s voice?   

“Even when my eyes can’t see, I will trust the voice that speaks peace over me.”

And so, as I attempt to re-make my own Monday, to re-make my own week, my own life, today, I choose to let the Lord fight my battles, to be still and surrender, to let go and let God. Oh, and I do have one phone call to make—to a church that can potentially help me. That might not happen today. 🙏🏻

Simple [Hu]Man

Sometimes I feel that I write these posts as advice I wish I had given my kids. You see, I had my first baby at age nineteen and my second at barely twenty-two. Looking back, I was so young and dumb, and my mother’s guilt would tell you, “I wish I had parented better.”

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

I don’t beat myself up over this anymore, but my former self was super hard on me. Now I let the past stay there, and I understand that all of my past lives have shaped me into my current self. I did the best I could at the time, I loved those babies hard, and I still love these adults fiercely.

I suppose all this draws me to the lyrics of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 “Simple Man.”

My mama told me when I was young
Said, sit beside me my only son [baby girl, too]
And listen closely to what I say
And if you do this it'll help you some sunny day…

Oh, take your time, don't live too fast
Troubles will come and they will pass
You'll find a woman [or a man] and you'll find love
And don't forget that there is a someone up above [SO IMPORTANT!!!]

And be a simple kind of [hu]man 
And be something you'll love and understand

Allow me to introduce the lovely Sierra Eagleson. I think she’s twenty-four. I feel her stripped down strength and believe you’ll love and understand.

Photo by MIRTO KON on Pexels.com

For Remake Monday today, I think I’ll try to keep it simple and love and understand and remember that troubles will pass.

Crazy

“I remember when…I lost my mind. There was something so pleasant about that place…your emotions have an echo in so much space…

And when you’re out there, without care, yeah I was out of touch, but it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough. I just knew too much. Does that make me crazy?

Does that make me crazy?

Does that make me crazy? Possibly…

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb, and all I remember is thinking I wanna be like them…”**

This is danceable.

American soul duo Gnarls Barkley released “Crazy” in 2006. The song always spoke to me, but years later the same words through Angela Ricci’s lips mesmerized me. No surprise that Nina Simone and Ray Charles influenced her jazz and blues sound, and Ricci’s voice echoes inside my head today because I’ve made a decision to do something crazy. I hate to be a vague-poster, but I’m waiting on an official word before I make any sort of announcement. Fingers crossed.

Is she gorgeous, or what?

Until then, know that I’ve lost my mind, and there’s something so pleasant about that place. My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb, and I want to be like them. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe you’re crazy. Maybe we’re crazy. Probably.

**Songwriters: Brian Burton, Gianfranco Reverberi, Thomas Callaway

When life gives you cray cray, re-make it in a good way.

Rocket Man Is a Woman

 

“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time/’Till touch down brings me round again to find/I’m not the [wo]man they think I am at home/Oh no no no I’m a rocket [wo]man…”

Today, I hear Elton John’s “Rocketman” in my head. As I launch into a new semester, I know I’ll be spending a long, long time—not in outer space—but in that space between my ears. It’s weird. To think how often I feel a disconnect between the person I am outside of my head and the person I am inside my head, or even a difference between the person I am outside of my home and the person I am inside my home. All I know for sure is that I’m on a journey to be—my best me. That’s my goal. And each day I just try to be better than the person I was yesterday. So I’m a student, with a May 2021 graduation date, advancing confidently in the direction of my dreams, endeavoring to live the life I have imagined for myself, and meeting with a success unexpected in common hours. Thanks for the inspiration, Henry David.

Speaking of inspiration, did you know that Ray Bradbury’s 1950s short story “The Rocket Man” inspired the lyrics of Elton John’s 1970s song? Both are stories of an astronaut torn between his family and his mission into space. I just love how creativity sparks creativity. How a story can be re-made into a song, which can be re-made into another song. How a person’s story can morph from elements of doubt to faith, ingratitude to thankfulness, anxiety to peace, despair to hope, selfishness to generosity, ignorance to knowledge, weakness to strength, anger to kindness, grudges to forgiveness, sadness to joy, hate to love. Need I go on? Isn’t that amazing? How we can re-make it all!!

Speaking of re-makes, here’s a fun 2013 bluegrass cover by Iron Man with some pretty awesome banjo!

Enjoy another blastoff, my friends!

Feeling Good

“Today, I want you to compare the tone of Nina Simone’s 1965 song ‘Feeling Good’ and Michael Bublé’s 2010 version,” I say. I stand at the front of my classroom, in between the projector screen with frozen images of the two artists and my computer where I have sound files cued up and ready.

(I’m thinking of my fellow educators here as the school year begins once more. I’ve used this lesson in my high school English classrooms, and I must credit Ms. Sandra Effinger for the original plan. I start with a National Public Radio segment called “Vocal Impressions: Hearing Voices” from All Things Considered. First, we discuss tone, and Ms. Effie has some nice handouts with lists of tone words. We also discuss NPR—like “Who can tell me what NPR stands for?”)

“NPR invited listeners to take part in an originality experiment to describe how different voices sound. I’m inviting you to take part in that experiment. I’ll play a clip, and you write down whatever words or phrases come to mind, and then we’ll compare yours to the NPR Responses. This first voice belongs to Morgan Freeman. Talk to people near you about who Morgan Freeman is and then raise your hand if you can tell me something about him.”

Class continues in the way. In addition to Freeman, students listen to the voices of Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote, and Patsy Cline. With each new voice, we compare student descriptions to the NPR audience responses. The class works to top their previous originality with each round.

“Great, you guys!” I say, “Now, we’re ready for Nina Simone. Do you know her? She’s a black American woman who first recorded this song in 1965. Think about her style, her tempo, and what she repeats. List words and phrases that convey her attitude. Here’s a copy you can write on. Michael Bublé’s version is on the other side.” And I press play.

Feeling Good

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
Ouh
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done, that’s what I mean
And this old world, is a new world
And a bold world for me

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me

And I’m feeling good

It’s fun to watch their little faces light up when the horns start. Afterward, we share some words. “The blues…strength…painful…broken…sadness,” they say.

“Okay, same thing for Michael Bublé. What do you know about him?” I say, and then we discuss some obvious and not so obvious differences. “He’s Canadian, and this is 2010.”

“Let’s hear some of your words,” I say.

They say, “Positive…inspired…optimistic…upbeat…smooth like silk.”

“Okay, now I want you to take your lists and combine your words into an adjective-noun phrase. You might have to play with the parts of speech to make it work. For example, optimistic and upbeat are both adjectives. How do we make optimistic a noun?”

They raise their hands. “Optimist…optimism,” they say.

“Perfect, now add upbeat to that. Upbeat optimism. That sounds sophisticated, right? Now do the same thing for Nina Simone. Do you need to hear it again?” I say.

It’s always a unanimous “YES!” They don’t even realize they’re learning. Ha! And the beauty is, this game could go on and on. Every Monday could be “Remake Monday,” and we can always start with music, and we can always think about “Feeling Good” no matter our circumstances. There is so much power in choosing our attitudes. What I’ve always loved about teaching English is the inherent opportunity to teach psychology. And they don’t even realize. Ha! (I take that back. Some do catch on when they start to know me.)

Eventually, we make it to something like the example below (which may have been written by a teacher), but then the next time around, maybe they work with a partner, and then the next time they’re on their own. After twenty years in the classroom, I’ve discovered kids need this sort of gradual release when trying something new or even when revisiting skills after a long summer. Oh, and I might have a great handout for Verbs to Use When Writing about Literature.

“Feeling Good” with Simone and Bublé

With virtually identical lyrics, Michael Bublé’s performance of “Feeling Good” conjures inspired positivity while Nina Simone’s rendition portrays bluesy strength. Elements of nature relate to each artist. Bublé sings of birds, the sun, fish, and the river knowing “how [he] feel[s]” as well as the dragonfly and butterflies knowing “what [he] mean[s].” The natural world not only influences his mood but identifies with Bublé’s upbeat optimism of each new day.

The racial injustice that ignited the civil rights movement in the U.S. underscores Simone’s broken tone. Her tangible sadness stands in stark contrast to Bublé’s zeal. Her heart-rending tenor conveys that nature knows and empathizes with her woes. When Simone sings, “It’s a new dawn/It’s a new day/It’s a new life/For me/And I’m feeling good,” her tone reveals both her suppressed pain and her resolute strength. Not only does her “new life” imply that she will overcome the past, but she “feel[s] good” and determined for a better tomorrow.

Tainted Love

 

love your life clipboard decor
Photo by Natasha Fernandez on Pexels.com

It was deep autumn of 1988, my first semester away at college, when I popped some ecstasy and danced my ass off to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” The pill-popping wasn’t a habit, just an experience. I don’t say this to be cool or convey shame. Our pasts do not define us. I often think how the sum of our parts makes up the whole of our being and how life is one continual remake. All of this goes through my mind when I hear this song. Life is tainted. No one is perfect. Everyday is a brand new start, and I just try to be better than I was yesterday.

In the ‘80s, I had no clue the song was a remake. News to me in recent years, Gloria Jones first recorded “Tainted Love” in 1964. 

 

 

The English synthesizer and vocal duo Soft Cell slowed the “Tainted Love” tempo in 1981 and made it famous. It was the bestselling single in the UK that year, and the song spent a record-breaking 43 weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100. But, oh my, this video. So ’80s.

There are quite a few versions out there, like the notable Marilyn Manson’s take in 2001 and Imelda May’s twist in 2010. My personal favorite is the 2008 remake by My Brightest Diamond, a project of singer-songwriter-instrumentalist and University of North Texas alumna Shara Nova. 

 

And sometimes I still dance my ass off. (Re)make it a fantastic (Mon)day, everybody!

Hit the Road Jack

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

The Ray Charles version of “Hit the Road Jack” takes me back. On most of the family vacations of my youth, we hit the road, and I eventually made it through the entire lower forty-eight via car. As for Ray Charles, blindness and heroin addiction aside, he revolutionized American music. “Hit the Road Jack” topped the Billboard Hot 100 on October 9, 1961 and won a Grammy award for the Best Rhythm and Blues recording.

And Becca Krueger, well, she has some balls to remake this one. She recorded in 2013, and I love the way she pulls it off.

It’s another Monday, my friends. Do you have what it takes to Remake it?

Unknown Legend

Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young (of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) penned “Unknown Legend” and released it on his solo album Harvest Moon in 1992.

I was 22 and not listening. Somehow it seems songs, like other messages and people, appear when we need them.

The first time I heard the song was in the 2008 movie Rachel Getting Married with Anne Hathaway. I haven’t seen every Anne Hathaway movie, but her performance in this one is legendary. She plays a drug addict who has been released from her current treatment program on a day pass to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding.

During the ceremony the groom (Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of TV on the Radio featured on last week’s Remake Monday) serenades Rachel in a performance that moves me every time.

[Verse 1]
She used to work in a diner
Never saw a woman look finer
I used to order just to watch her float across the floor
She grew up in a small town
Never put her roots down
Daddy always kept moving so she did too

[Chorus]
Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair flying in the wind
She’s been running half her life
The chrome and steel she rides
Colliding with the very air she breathes
The air she breathes

[Verse 2]
You know it ain’t easy
You got to hold on
She was an unknown legend in her time
Now she’s dressing two kids
Looking for a magic kiss
She gets the faraway look in her eyes

It’s Remake Monday! Remake it amazing!

Wolf Like Me

I believe this song was first released in 2006 by TV on the Radio, an American art rock band. (I found this info. on Wikipedia. Art rock makes use of modernist, experimental elements, elevating rock to an artistic statement).

I guess it was about a week ago when I heard Lera Lynn’s folk version. I dig the stripped-down sound of the acoustic guitar and banjo. What some can do with two instruments and their voices! Anyway, you can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia. They say Lera Lynn released her version in 2003. Independent Music Awards calls it a cover, and the YouTube video was posted in 2011. Disputed information aside, I love both, but I have to give it to Lera Lynn.

And I’m calling today Remake Monday. 1) Because I love a great remake. And 2) Because every Monday deserves a reimagined look. Make yours mighty good.

Seize it!