My literary magazine is available online now…

Word Fountain literary magazine is now available!
Posted on December 1, 2011
Issue No. 5 of Word Fountain (the literary magazine that I manage) can now be accessed on line through Word Fountain’s blog:

http://wp.me/pTXg0-2j

Hard copies are available through the library. Contact me at: wordfountain@osterhout.lib.pa.us if you would like some mailed to you.

Be well and keep writing!

Rachael

‘Round Here

This blog post should be more about a band than a location, but it is inescapably both. (Also, Snakes is my deceased cat who lived 17 years, five without me because I was in college.)

I was not looking forward to moving to Pennsylvania in 2006. To me, there was nothing better than the Blue Ridge Mountains. But my family was there, and I needed to be with them.

During the first week, Mom presented me with a generous and exciting gift: two very good seats to see the Counting Crows and the Goo Goo Dolls in concert. THE COUNTING CROWS?! She knew they were on my “must see before I die” list. I fell into her arms and cried. They were the band I fell in love with the year Snakes was born.

One of my comforts in my new situation was that Snakes and I were finally reunited. It was as though no time had ever passed. Her devotion to me never wavered. She laid on the heart rug in the kitchen when I ate, she slept right next to my head every night and greeted me at the door each day. She was on my bed the night I called Lindsey to tell her about the concert tickets.

“Yeah! And what’s that song…that really great song…Colorblind. It’s…it’s on the fish bowl album. Oh, what the hell is the name of that album?!” I exclaimed. “I always call it the fish bowl album but can never remember the title. Hang on, lemme check…Oh, my God. OW! Ow…ow…ooo…eee….” I dropped the phone and Mom came running. Somehow, I tripped backwards over a pile of clean laundry and fell to my back on the floor. There was a hot and blinding pain searing my right knee.
“Rachael. Rachael? Are you okay?” Lindsey’s distant voice crept from the receiver of our house phone.
Mom grabbed the phone as I rocked with my injured knee. “Lindsey, we’ll call you back. I think she’ll be all right.”
“Can you move it?” Mom asked.
Tears streamed down my face. “No, it hurts too bad.”
We put ice on it. I had no doctor and no insurance. In retrospect, we should have gone to the ER immediately. This physical setback, however, did not prohibit me from going to the concert. There were 17 stairs from Mom’s kitchen door to the porch, and then another five to the sidewalk. The outdoor arena, Montage Mountain, was exactly that: a steady, uphill climb up a mountain to the outdoor arena. As we neared the venue, signs burned my eyes: “The Counting Crows will not be performing due to illness.”
Tears threatened my eyes. “Illness?! I broke my goddamned knee and hobbled up here to see them and they’re cancelling due to illness?!” We stayed for the Goo Goo Dolls anyway. While I am a fan of their music, (I own three studio albums, in fact) the concert was anti-climactic. They are, unfortunately, a band that is verbatim to their albums. No surprises, no great energy. The seats were so incredible, the best I’ve ever had. And the whole time I kept trying to imagine Adam Duritz (the lead singer) crooning there in my sight, close enough that I could see his facial expressions.

The Counting Crows, much like Pearl Jam, have been a constant in my life. Though I knew I was a poet by age eight, the poetry of their lyrics as well as the somber tone of some of their music, has always spoken to me. Their first album, August and Everything After, is arguably their best. You could argue otherwise, but it would be difficult to persuade me. That was the album I danced to, sang to, lived to. It was an album that always made me think of Snakes, too. The final track is called “A Murder of One” and, when I was only 12, I made an interpretive dance to go along with it, much like my Madonna days.

It wasn’t until recently that I saw a documentary on PBS about crows that the meaning behind the title made sense to me. A group of crows is called “a murder of crows.” For some reason, my adolescent mind had always associated murder with the violent taking of one’s life. Though I knew the origin of the term “murder of crows” this refreshed look at the title was more meaningful. I’m not well-educated on the band but I do know that Adam Duritz suffers from some horrible mental instability like bipolar disorder or manic depression or something. I say horrible, because I am, what I like to call, a survivor of clinical depression.

A time after the concert, when reflecting on the disappointment of not seeing them, I softened. I was well aware that illness doesn’t always mean a cold or flu. Flashes of my college “dark” days illuminated my mind. I was able to forgive them, but I vowed then and there that I would see them before I left Pennsylvania. In 2006, I never fathomed I’d be here in 2011, but life does some strange things. Sometimes you just have to let things happen. Maybe one day I’ll be able to tell them the story of how I trekked up a mountain with an injured knee for them.

A recurring theme in the band’s lyrics is rain. “Raining in Baltimore” and “Rain King” are two of the most well-known, but there is a mention of rain on almost every album. Now, when it rains, my right knee aches. But I can walk and drive and dance, still. Sometimes, I think on that. I’ve used music to make sense of my life. It is fitting that even my injuries are music-related.

Be good to one another.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

The Letter

This post is all about songs that involve the mention of something near and dear to me, in this time of rampant technology. Please note: the author of this post is aware of the irony of using technology to rave about old-fashioned communication.

Who doesn’t love getting personal “snail mail?” Handwritten expressions carry more weight because they mean that you took the time to sit down, relax and invest thought in someone you care about.

My friend, Cathy, writes at least seven of her friends one and sometimes two cards each every week, even when she is under the weather. We’ve decided to celebrate National Letter Writing Day (Monday, November 28, 2011) with a program about postal mail at our work place.

Thinking of mail, of course, I’ve been singing the Box Tops “The Letter” for a matter of days now, when it occurred to me to ask for feedback from my readers. I will leave a few examples here but please feel free to post your own. It is my hope that, before the program, Cathy and I will create a mixed CD of songs relating to the value of postal communication.

Here are a few of my favorites, followed by a list of suggestions. I’d like to see yours.

And off we go:

The Box Tops “The Letter.” This was Alex Chilton’s (God rest his spirit) first debut with his rough and rich vocals.

“Please Read the Letter” Robert Plant and Alison Kraus,

“Letter to Elise” The Cure

“The Letter” Natalie Merchant

Take a Letter Maria R. B. Greaves

Love Letters in the Sand (Patsy Cline or Pat Boone or Gene Austin.)

Sealed with a Kiss The Four Voices

Just a Song Before I Go Crosby Still and Nash

Rock and write on!

“Postally” yours,

Rachael

P.S. By the way, I really, really love The Cure.

PJ20: From “Who Are You?” to “Who You Are.”

First, I have to plug a bit about 92.1 FM WFUZ. Thanks for the free tickets to PJ20!

The show was fantastic. I drummed on my lap, rocked in the rocking seats in the super-sweet IMAX theater, and yes, cried. There’s something about the magnitude of watching the last two decades of my life, through Pearl Jam, flash before my eyes.

Much of my life has been owned by this band yet I never really thought it was something others would take seriously, so I never truly celebrated it. Certain things are just a part of who you are (<–were you singing the song just then? I was) and are so ingrained in our natures that we often don’t realize it.

My abiding and undying love for Pearl Jam defines me, and always will. It started when I was ten years old and jumped out of my skin the day I earned enough allowance to purchase Ten on cassette.

I’ll share a bit of my memoir here:

[Jeremy’s] influence led up to one of the most exciting days in my adolescence. By late summer 1992, I’d saved up enough allowance to purchase Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, on cassette. Mom promised to take me to Hill’s Department Store that evening for my purchase. I’d been in love 12 days. It all started with my brother annoying me while I was writing.

Rewind about two weeks. I was sprawled across my bed writing in a three-subject spiral bound notebook with one of my favorite blue pens when Jeremy yelled for me. “Rachael! Come here, dude!” I stopped, pen poised in hand.

“What do you want?” I complained over my shoulder. I hated when people interrupted my daydreaming and writing time.

“Just come the fuck here, all right? You gotta see this!” I heard the volume increase on our television. MTV was already a staple in Jeremy’s world. I let the pen fall out of my hand as I leapt up from the bed and made the short trip up our hallway, my waist-length golden blonde hair trailing behind me. The living room was adjacent to my bedroom and the TV was located against the wall where I laid my head at night. I pushed my bifocals up my nose as I rounded the corner into the living room.

“What is—” I started, but Jeremy impatiently waved me into silence and pointed adamantly at the TV. I saw a tall man with wavy brown hair and a wild look in his eye clutching his elbows. He was clad in a brown corduroy jacket and he had the most intense blue eyes I’d ever seen. The screen flashed from him to a black-haired boy coloring pictures of elementary school expertise. The man sang, “Daddy didn’t give affection, oh; and the boy was somethin’ that mommy wouldn’t wear…King Jeremy the wicked, oh, ruled his world…Jeremy spoke in claaaaaaass today.” I glanced at my Jeremy. He nodded to the beat with excited green eyes, still pointing at the screen. He still acts this very same way when he’s excited about music today. His eyes take on an eerie energy, and he always has to look at you for approval. Sometimes I feel like we’re the only two who appreciate music with the same intensity.

I smiled at him briefly but my eyes followed his pointing finger back to the 19-inch Magnavox frame that caged in this divine and yet troubled human being. I felt like I was looking into a mirror. When the man glanced toward the camera lens I felt his blue orbs hit me like an icy tidal wave. Damnable pane of glass! I wanted to reach right into the screen and tell him I knew his pain. I felt such strong feelings course through my ten-year-old body that I was uncomfortable standing in the room with my brother.

The song progressed into something wild with distorted guitars all the while this beautiful man was emanating a haunting wail in the background, “Whooooooooo-ooooh-oh-oh-oh-oh….spoke in…Jeremy spoke in claaass today…” There was a strobe-light head banging scene—flashes of wild, wavy brown hair flew like streamers across the screen. The video ended with cardboard cutouts of the boy’s classmates covered in blood. The story of the song is true, too. A neglected boy blew his brains out in front of his classmates.

I was disturbed by the video. It didn’t feel right to stand there feeling attracted to a man who just went crazy in a video about a violent suicide. The song ends by slowing down until it finishes with one haunting clang on the electric guitar. The video jockey (VJ), Steve Isaacs, came on with a cheerfulness that trumped the devastation we just witnessed. Steve was so adorable. He would become my favorite VJ. “That was Pearl Jam!” He announced, “With their hit single, ‘Jeremy’…kids don’t try that at home. Or school…” but Steve faded into the background as I looked to my Jeremy.

“Don’t try that at school, all right, Bubby?” Yes, I still called him Bubby. To this day I call him Moey, even. Mom will still call him “Moe” on occasion. When I was a toddler I called him “Me-Moe” and it got shortened to Moey or Moe by later adolescence. We have a history of strange nicknames. Mom even calls me “Sis” to this day, which I know is weird but I like to think of it as her way of trying to keep the three of us close together. Jeremy always called me “Rae-Rae” or “Sissy.” These days, he calls me “Rach” or “Sis,” so I guess Mom’s chosen nickname has worked.

“Yeah, well if I was gonna have the balls to do it, I wouldn’t waste it on those bastards,” Jeremy retorted.

“They can’t all be bastards. You don’t even know them yet.” He was about to start seventh grade in a new middle school, one town away from where we grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia.

“Whatever dude, I’m not gonna off myself.” He nervously chewed on his thumb cuticle. Just when I thought this was my cue for dismissal, he looked back to me. “Well? What the fuck was that? What’d you think? Crazy shit, huh?”

“Um, yeah. Those guys rule.” He had no idea. Jeremy and I have always shared a similar love of music. We love almost all the same music to this day, in fact, but I could never share this moment with him the way I could have with a girlfriend. He’d never understand the way I felt when I saw Eddie staring at me with those haunting blue eyes.

“You can say that again—yeah. And he’s all ‘hoo—hoo—hoo-whooooaaaaaa…’” Jeremy re-enacted the head-banging scene until I laughed. “And Jeremy’s like ‘fuck it, man! I’m gonna off myself on you bastards!’ How sick is that?” He sat back up on the couch and looked at me, completely composed. For a boy who’d been reading Stephen King since the third grade, this was mild for him. I rolled my eyes at his delight in gore.

“S’pretty sick, man. But Pearl Jam? Righteous, brother.” I turned to go.

“No doubt,” he said, pulling on his cuticles with his teeth again.

“Thanks, man. I’ll be writing. Call me if another one comes on,” I told him.

“’K, Sis. Rock on.” That day changed the entire course of my life. It’s funny how you hear stories about how a split-second decision saves a train from de-railing or how one person saves another’s life by leaping out in front of a bus…or about how some impoverished family wins the lottery and uses the funding for good (it was never us, but we were always hopeful.) My pivotal moment occurred there in the living room of our small, ranch-style house staring at the 19-inch Magnavox TV Mom won in the divorce settlement. I never realized then that this band would become my life, my salve, my path to healing. While Jeremy was often the reason for most of my adolescent heartache, he is redeemed because he lead me to a way to heal from it.

***

It would have been in no way right for me to take anyone other than my brother to the showing. He is responsible for passing on all the cool music of my entire life. Passion for music in innate, I think, but it takes someone or something to direct you to that pivotal moment when you realize that it is your entire world. For me, that moment was when Jeremy disturbed me from my writing to show me the disturbing “Jeremy” video on MTV that hot August day in 1992.

Eddie was everything to me that all my male role models should have been. I identified with his ability to heal through music. Though Eddie may have been the captain of the ship, my love ran deeper still. Jeff Ament helped lead me to a lifelong love of the bass guitar. Mike McCready owns a style that, the documentary said, comes from something inhuman inside him because of its power.

There’s a sound I’ve never been able to describe but I could recognize if I were deaf: Pearl Jam guitar. It’s a mix of Page, Hendrix and some special endorphin that seeps from their fingers onto the strings and into your soul. (Check out: “Inside Job,” Pearl Jam, 2005.)

But we can’t forget Stone Gossard on rhythm guitar, of whom I had such an incredible fascination with that I decided, at age ten, that my son would be called Stone, after him. (I did abide by calling my main fiction character Stone, complete with physical likeness–in my head, anyway.) It is perhaps the blend and harmonies with Gossard and McCready that make the perfect ingredient for Pearl Jam guitar.

But it all stems back to the achingly beautiful and short-lived unit, Mother Love Bone. I had a black stained-glass music note that I had someone professionally script “Andy” onto in memory of the musician I never even knew until he passed. Yet I mourned his passing even so.

This blog post could go on and on (20 years worth!) but is going to be a part of a much larger Pearl Jam tribute, alongside my own memoir. I’ll leave you with a few bits of advice:

Check out PJ20 and everything before it. 🙂
Get acquainted with Mother Love Bone.
Recognize that Matt Cameron is the man. Wait, that needs capitals: MATT CAMERON IS THE MAN. (I’m so glad he’s the drummer now!)
Let me know what you think of this post/the band, etc.
And check this out:

and this:

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

“Sing me a real song…sing me a real, real soooong…”

Well, the subject line comes from Mother Love Bone. In my opinion, one of the greatest but sadly, short-lived bands of the early 90s. What I really wanted to talk about was songs that are like friends. You know what I mean. There’s one artist to whom you, while at a stoplight, say, “That’s damn right!” Or “Sing it to me, Paul.” Or, “I understand, Thom Yorke.”

For me, this is usually…Paul Westerberg. Yep. I bet you swore your piggy bank savings I’d say Eddie Vedder. Eddie has healed me, defined my life, etc. But whenever I’m in a funk, or just feel like some raw, good old-fashioned truth-telling, it’s to Mr. Westerberg that I turn. My induction to the Replacements was actually MORE than a decade after I was taken with Paul Westerberg. I fell in love with his solo stuff first, and it is, though I love the Replacements, my favorite.

Whenever he’s in the car next to me, I feel like there’s a friend there, telling me all about his bad day or crazy musings. I know it sounds corny but lately the lyrics have been speaking great volumes to me. Perhaps it is time to join the land of the living more. It always happens like this. I go through phases were all I do is write, work, read for school and sleep. Sometimes I can’t even keep my house clean. I forget what people’s voices sound like. But Paul brought me out of that this week and I actually went to see a good friend who served me a cup of tea. In my “I have to do it all myself” world, that was hella nice. (Thanks, Jenny.) Or maybe it’s when Amy says she’s working on a new work of fiction.

And I think, wow, that’s great. And damn, I miss fiction. But what I need to do more is create the chapbook. It is here where I stumble when I’m “achin’ to be.” Now that I’ve put my poet pants back on (with a lot of help from my creative community) I think, busy as I am, that I should write a poem a week at least. I can do more than that, but I want to let it sit, edit it, and make it good. Keep me honest. And, enjoy some Paul Westerberg on the house. I hear he’s looking for some new friends, too…

And a song, that I LOVE, written and recorded while there was, in fact, a frozen pizza in the oven…on a Friday night…
But this is the live version. Go buy Besterberg, the best of Paul Westerberg to hear the original…

And, if you’re feeling down, Paul understands. “Just add water I’m disappointed.”

But I hope you’re not disappointed tonight.
Be well, rock on, and cherish every moment,

Rachael

ZineFest

http://scrantonzinefest.com/

Scranton’s first-ever ZineFest is taking place this Saturday on Center Street. Trading and buying of zines will be from 12-3 and the readings, where I will read along with some other great writers, will be from 4-6 in Anthology.

Check out Brian’s ZineFest plug for more info:

http://brianfanelli.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/zinefest-follow-up/#comment-48

While that may sound like I was being lazy, I’m not. He worded it really well.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

Local creativity

Recently, I was interviewed by the Weekender for ZineFest and perhaps I rambled. One comment I made really rang true: “People take for granted what is available to them locally. Like with big bands, we love them, yes, but there is a lot of good local music. In the same way, we local writers may not be the ideal ‘great American novelists’ but there is a wealth of quality creativity in this area.”

Would I like my book to sell enough copies that I could actually pay my student loans off? Heck yes. But to me, as most writers will agree, it’s about the actual creating of the works, the process of writing itself, and the community networking that is the prize. The pay-off comes when you have even two people to listen to and appreciate what you’ve done.

My brother, finally bursting with pride for my recent degree, keeps greeting me in this manner: “Hello, great American novelist!” I laugh every time. Especially because my project hasn’t been about selling books. The important thing is not the nice parchment on my wall that announces that I have my M.A. in Creative Writing. The most important part, for me, was the journey that lead me to that.

Before I could ever write, a neighbor told my mom, “She’s going to be a writer.” Maybe it was the way I gazed at the stars, delighted in the lightning bugs (that’s what we call them in the South), or stared off into the distance for long periods of time. We had a project in first grade. We were given blank books with hard covers. We were told to write our own book. By second grade, I fell in love with poetry. In fact, I struck up a friendship merely because her dad was a local poet. To my seven-year-old self, this was bigger than my (yes, I’ll admit it) undying love for the New Kids on the Block. (Hey, I was seven, okay? Every generation will have its boy band.) A professor of poetry? Wow. He’s now the director of Virginia Tech’s Creative Writing department. If you see Ed Falco, tell him “hello” and “thanks again!” for me.

Somewhere in college (dark times) I lost sight of my inclinations to write and perform and create music. Wilkes University gave that back to me. It was like prying a metal sculpture of a fetus apart at times, I won’t lie. I’ll admit, too, that I struggled with a lot of things when I came here. I was not happy here, but the creative community reached out to me and helped me be the most successful I’ve been in all my creative days. I owe that thanks to Paper Kite Press and Book Store, Wilkes University’s Creative Writing Department and writers and friends, especially to my mentor for his patience and unyielding support.

Transplanted into the pot-holed, high-tax and “corrupt” Luzerne County, I found gemstones. There seems to be a resurgence of creativity in the area and it’s there if you seek it out. Scranton has a billion things to do, but don’t forget to look around the Wilkes-Barre area, especially now that the weather is nice.

Over the bridge into Kingston, there is a lovely bookstore called Paper Kite Books (www.paperkitepress.com). The square now has “Art Seen” Gallery. There is ArtsYOUniverse (http://www.artsyouniverse.com/7.html) There are also all the college galleries and local bands. What the area is lacking, however, is a nice independent coffee shop, like Northern Light in Scranton. Had I the financial means, I would open one in downtown W-B. The high school Rachael had dreams of having her own quaint little coffee bar and poetry venue…

Well, thanks for listening to me ramble. My point is: write, find writers, support local artists and believe in your potential to create something worthwhile.

Be well and get out to the park on this glorious return of spring, however temporary it might be. Carpe Diem, baby.

Rock and write on,

Rachael