Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late afternoon here in Lithia, Florida, on Monday, May 15, 2023. It’s the first hot early wet season day this year; outside, the temperature is 91°F/33°C under mostly sunny conditions. I have not stepped out – not even to check the curbside mailbox – so I can’t vouch for how steamy it is beyond the front door, but the onset of the “mean season” is undeniably near, folks.
Yesterday was a so-so day for me. It was Mother’s Day, so of course I spent most of my Sunday morning in a deep funk. Her death in July 2015 set in motion a chain of events – some of which were foreseen by those who know my half-sister and me well, and others that came out of the blue – that resulted in my leaving Miami and moving to the Tampa Bay area. Whether or not this was a good or bad thing is – and probably always will be – a matter of debate. It seemed like a good move at the time, and even after some soul-searching I’ve done recently, it was really the only one I could take without ending up on the street or in a nursing home. It is what it is, I suppose.
Yesterday, though, was the first time in many years that I truly felt overcome by grief. I rarely ever shed tears, but on Mother’s Day 2023, much of my morning was spent listening to songs I remembered that my mom had liked, especially when I was little. She favored songs that most of my readers probably don’t like – sentimental songs like “Theme from A Summer Place,” “The Sweetheart Tree,” and “Moon River.” Schmaltzy stuff, I know, but I think Mom listened to that because those songs were written and released when Dad (Mom’s second and most-loved husband) was still alive, and they reminded her of how happy they had been before that night in February of 1965 when he went to work – he was a pilot who flew cargo planes from Miami to El Salvador – and never came home as a result of a plane crash near Miami International Airport.
I didn’t bawl like a baby; I’m too old and too self-conscious to cry that way, but I did shed occasional tears and sniffles whilst listening to those songs. And I desperately missed my mother, even though I understood that she was, as are we all, mortal, and that her last five years on Earth were not good ones – dementia, combined with the effects of surgery to repair her spine, and the toll that old age takes on a body even under normal conditions, certainly did a number on Mom and made her end crueler and slower than she deserved.
I did “snap out of it,” eventually, mainly because I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition out on the family room TV set, the one with the huge HDTV screen and is connected to a home theater sound system. Star Trek I is not my favorite movie – it’s not even my favorite Star Trek movie – but it’s decent enough, and the 2022 Director’s Edition is so much better than the one I saw when it opened in Miami on Friday, December 7, 1979.
Since it’s a leisurely-paced, high concept science fiction story, Star Trek: The Motion Picture often makes me sleepy if I watch it at night, so this time around I started the movie sometime in the early afternoon. It’s still not as fun to watch as 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but it does not suck, either, so I had a pleasant Sunday afternoon – thus counteracting the sadness of my Mother’s Day morning.
Because the movie filled the otherwise empty hours of a Sunday spent in solitude, I resisted the temptation to tinker with The New Story on my day off. I did think about it, because I have made it my mission in life to self-publish it this year, perhaps by mid-summer, and of course if I had worked on it yesterday, maybe I would be one day closer to reaching that goal.
However, I did need the break, and even though I probably didn’t go to bed early enough to get the necessary amount of sleep last night, not writing yesterday paid off well.
Despite a glacially slow start this morning – I was up by 7 AM but didn’t have a clear head until past 9:30 AM – I wrote 874 words (and finished one scene in Chapter 7) before midday, then added over 950 words in the early afternoon shift, adding the fifth and final scene to Chapter 7. And, thankfully, aside from a few bloopers – which I’ve fixed since I first read through the scenes – the material looks good. At least to me, anyway.
I didn’t, in all honesty, believe I’d write more than 1,000 words today. In fact, I started my day believing I’d be lucky to end today’s story writing with a word count of between 500 and 900 words. Happily, when I stopped work for the day – at least on The New Story, I had Word check my two scenes; it said I wrote 1,818 words (four pages) today – nearly 2,000 words. And, best of all, Chapter Seven is now complete – at least in first draft mode.
In fact, I think the scenes I wrote today were decent, so I’ll share one of them here today.
A Tale of Two Solos: Part One
The Mixed Chorus sang “The Little Drummer Boy” with gusto, followed by the Women’s Ensemble with a lovely rendition of “Carol of the Bells.” I watched them from backstage, feeling a knot in my stomach. I knew I was next. The solo spot. The moment of truth.
I glanced at Bruce, who was standing next to me. He looked nervous too, but he gave me a thumbs up and a reassuring smile. “You got this, Jim,” he whispered. “You’re gonna rock the house.”
I nodded at him, but I didn’t feel as confident as he sounded. I had never sung by myself in front of such a large crowd before. Sure, I had sung with the Boys’ Chorus in 10th grade, but as a member of a larger group. As for this number, I’d practiced “Jingle Bell Rocks” after school with Mrs. Quincy for a week, and she had praised my voice and my style. But what if I messed up? What if I forgot the lyrics? What if I hit a wrong note?
I tried to calm myself down by looking for my mom in the audience. She had promised to come and see me perform. She knew how much this meant to me. I scanned the rows of seats, hoping to spot her familiar face. And there she was, in the third row, smiling and waving at me. She looked so proud and happy. I felt a surge of love and gratitude for her. She had always supported me in everything I did. She was my rock.
I waved back at her, feeling a bit more relaxed. Maybe I could do this after all. Maybe I could make her proud.
I also remembered Mrs. Quincy’s advice to imagine that the audience was clad only in its underwear. She said it would help me overcome my stage fright. I wasn’t sure about that. Somehow, the idea of seeing some of the more attractive girls in school in their underwear didn’t necessarily ease my mind. But I did it anyway. I looked at the crowd and imagined them in their bras and panties, or boxers and briefs. It was a weird and funny sight. I felt a smile tugging at my lips.
I heard Mrs. Quincy playing the intro to “Jingle Bell Rock” on the piano. It was my cue. I took a deep breath and walked to the center of the stage, taking up the singer’s stance we all had been taught in class. I felt a blast of heat as the spotlight landed on me. I blinked and squinted, trying to adjust to the brightness. I felt a momentary panic. What was I doing here? Why did I agree to this?
I nodded to myself and opened my mouth. I sang the first line of the song: “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock.” My voice sounded shaky and nervous. I could hear it echoing in the auditorium. I wondered what the audience thought of me. Did they like me? Did they laugh at me? Did they care at all?
I sang the second line: “Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring.” My voice sounded a bit stronger and clearer. I felt a surge of confidence. I could do this. I had practiced this song at least fifty times in the brief time we’d had before today’s performance. I knew it by heart. I just had to enjoy it.
I sang the third line: “Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun.” My voice sounded loud and cheerful. I felt a wave of joy and – dare I say it? – relief. I liked this song. It was catchy and fun. It made me happy. I wanted to share that happiness with the audience.
I sang the chorus: “What a bright time, it’s the right time, to rock the night away.” My voice sounded confident and powerful. I felt a blast of energy. I projected my voice like a seasoned performer. I moved around the stage like a pro. I smiled at the audience like a friend.
I sang the rest of the song with ease and flair. I got through the verses and the chorus just fine. Then, as if prompted by a signal from Mrs. Quincy, the entire Mixed Chorus class, which I was standing in front of, joined in. They sang along with me, adding harmony and volume to my voice. They clapped their hands and stomped their feet, creating a festive rhythm. They cheered me on and supported me, making me feel like part of a team.
The song ended with a flourish. The audience erupted in applause. They stood up from their seats and whistled and shouted. They gave me a standing ovation, which totally floored me. I couldn’t believe it. They loved me. They loved my performance. They loved my song.
I bowed and thanked them, feeling overwhelmed and grateful. I looked for my mom in the crowd and saw her smiling and clapping proudly. She looked so happy and proud of me. I felt a surge of love and gratitude for her. She was my rock.
I walked off the stage, feeling exhilarated and relieved. I had done it. I had sung a solo in front of hundreds of people. And I had rocked it.
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