It seems so obvious, and frankly, it is a piece of advice that everyone loves to share with writers: “Write what you know.” It just isn’t quite that simple. There are things you know – and then there are things you know – the gut-wrenching realities that no one wants to truly admit. I’m beginning to see the difference. For me, that is passion. There has to be a lot of enthusiasm behind whatever it is that I’m sharing if it is going to be any good. I have to love what I am about to write.
Early last week, I found myself writing an article outlining different tips for writers regarding their reading lives. In short order, I had nearly 2,000 words. It is something I know and perfected over the years. I take reading seriously. It simply amazes me how I tend to have almost too much content when I write about certain subjects. If it involves reading, books, music, or education, I could keep going for hours.
Why, then, haven’t I been focusing on just those topics all these long years? The simple answer is I don’t know. The full answer is a bit more complex. WIth music, copyright laws surrounding song lyrics are tricky. I needed to come up with a unique way of sharing the music I love. I think I may have finally accomplished that. When it comes to books and reading, I spend so much time reading and discussing books in person that it seems silly to write about it much, book reviews aside. In essence, I need to get over myself.
Then there is education. As at least a 5th generation teacher (yes, I’ve traced the teaching tradition in my family back at least that far), I have definite opinions and insight – far more than my actual experience in the classroom would suggest. I have to be extremely careful. Sometimes when a writer is a little too close to the subject, it is easy to get burned. In private conversations, I’m content to know that I am not alone. One day, once I’ve made some definitive decisions regarding my teaching career, it is going to get interesting.
It may have taken me quite some time to find my voice, niche, and style, but I am just getting started. In spite of the fact that I am 42 and a certain TV “personality” – I refuse to use his name here or mention the network – stated that women reach their peak in their 20s-40s, declining once they hit 50, I have so much more to accomplish that it isn’t even funny. It will take me well beyond 50. Stay tuned!
Where do I begin? First, if you are or were a fan of The Little House on the Prairie TV show in the 70s and 80s, I can’t recommend this book enough. Be aware: This isn’t saccharine. Far from it. If you are easily offended, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you loved to hate Nellie as a little girl and wished each week for Laura to give Nellie exactly what she deserved – in spades – this book is for you. If you ever thought that playing the most outrageous villain possible on TV would be fun, once again, this book is for you. Last but not least, if you count Nellie Oleson and her overbearing mother Harriet among the favorite TV characters from your childhood, you need to read this book.
Frankly, both The Little House on the Prairie TV show and the children’s book series were a huge part of my childhood. I can’t imagine growing up without either. I do know that by 2nd grade, I was hooked. Mrs. Butz reading Little House in the Big Woods to our 2nd grade class saw to that. In early elementary school, I would fly off the bus to make sure I didn’t miss the start of Little House on the Prairie at 4 PM, in much the same way I made sure I was home at 4 PM during my high school years to watch Oprah. It was simply what I did, and I loved every minute of it.
I know that there are still a lot of adult fans of the show out there – millions of them, in fact – but I’m not really one of them. As an adult, I couldn’t get over the increasingly bizarre storylines that strayed further and further from the books – Albert’s opium addiction, anyone? Then there was the issue of no mountains in Minnesota, where the show was supposedly set, and the fact that the Ingalls family spent a big part of Laura’s childhood in DeSmet, South Dakota. In reality, the Ingalls family didn’t live in Walnut Grove for long. Still, there was something special about the show. It might be a little too sweet for my taste now, but back then, it was the best.
Nellie and Harriet made the show, of course. The Ingalls were so wholesome and down to earth that they needed Nellie and Harriet as foils. Personally, I think the show would not have worked without their over-the-top antics. They had to be just that outrageous. In the book, Alison talks lovingly about her TV parents. Supposedly, in real life, they were similar to their TV characters, although Katherine MacGregor (Harriet) was much nicer, even if just as bold. Alison’s descriptions of Katherine alone make the book worthwhile. As fun as Harriet was to watch, the best scenes were the ones in which Nellie and Laura actually fight.
About Laura and Nellie … in real life, Alison Arngrim (Nellie) and Melissa Gilbert (Laura) were best friends. They spent a lot of time together on and off set and at each other’s homes. One of their favorite pastimes happened to be simply appearing in public together. People freaked out. I can only imagine how much fun they had playing up their “rivalry.”
Alison’s antics with Melissa Gilbert are a great part of the book, but there is so much to unpack here. First, there is that voice. I chose to listen to the audiobook version as soon as I learned that she read her own book. As soon as I started listening, I knew I had made the right choice. Regardless, the book would have hit me with a huge wave of nostalgia, but Alison reading her book in a voice that I have always associated with childhood evil personified: priceless.
In all fairness to Alison, she comes across as extremely down to earth in her book to the point that I’d actually love to meet her. She spends quite some time discussing the perils and perks of playing one of TV’s greatest child villains. Can you imagine growing up playing a character people loved to hate? Once, during a publicity event at a private school, an event that she attended with Katherine MacGregor (Harriet Oleson), both in full costume, some of the students shoved her so hard that she laid face down on the pavement for a while until her father realized what had happened to her. He ended up taking her home immediately. It was the last time she attended a publicity event in costume. How do you deal with that all before adolescence?
In the book, Alison uses the trauma she experienced as a child as a way to frame her memoir. No, her trauma isn’t exactly what comes to mind with young stars and Hollywood, but sadly, it seems all the more common – and of course, very real. I’m not going to discuss it here for many reasons; the main one being that, in a way, it is the point of her memoir. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it. She has used that trauma to try and help prevent others from experiencing the same thing. In essence, she uses her “inner b*tch” to create real legislative change in an effort to protect kids – all kids.
One of the more interesting tidbits I learned in the book is the history behind why the TV show deviated so much from the books. Michael Landon supposedly exclaimed at one time: “My God! Have you actually read the books? There are descriptions of churning butter!” In other words, they had to up the action. I get it, I do. What makes a great book doesn’t necessarily make great television.
I suppose that’s what has always bothered me about the TV show. As an aspiring writer, it sickened me to think what happened to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original work. Now, older and wiser, I can see the value of the TV show too. I am sure it inspired millions of kids to pick up the original books. All publicity is good publicity, right? For people who grew up with the TV show, I can’t recommend Confessions of a Prairie B*tch enough. There are so many great aspects to Alison Arngrim’s memoir. It is a wonderful combination of nostalgia, good story, and humor. By the way, Alison’s voice impression of Melissa Gilbert is hilarious. Several other memoirs have been written by the child stars of Little House on the Prairie. In fact, I plan on reading both of Melissa Gilbert’s books. I will be surprised if Confessions of a Prairie B*tch doesn’t remain my favorite.
What can I say about Don McLean’s American Pie that hasn’t already been said? Not much, actually. Yet, that song is so ingrained in my love of music, my childhood, and more. It can safely be called Americana at this point – a modern American folk song in the best sense of the term.
I couldn’t tell you the first time I heard the song, but I have always loved it and could deeply visualize the lyrics. For whatever reason, I imagined the high school gym as the same high school gym where I’d watched my dad play old man basketball countless times as a preschooler – his alma mater – Arenac Eastern High School in Twining, MI. I think it has something to do with how rural the setting appears to be in the song. Sadly, Arenac Eastern High School no longer exists. The building, now a community center, still sits among acres of farm land and a tiny village. When I think of the quintessential rural American high school, Arenac Eastern immediately comes to mind. It has always felt like stepping back in time and into my family history.
Whatever the case may be, I do know that I had the lyrics practically memorized by 4th grade. Mrs. Currie, my 4th grade teacher and my first teacher at Standish Elementary, used the lyrics to teach us the terms “levee” and “dirge.” In fact, at this point, I can’t listen to the song without thinking about 4th grade and Mrs. Currie. None of the kids were getting it. She then began to sing the song, basically saying “Come on! You know the song.” Except, they didn’t. As I remember it, I was the only kid who knew the song and lyrics – at least well enough for the purposes of her vocabulary lesson. It was funny, irrelevant, and frankly, kind of summed up that school year.
Years later, as a substitute teacher, I had the opportunity, with a bit of caution and specific directions from the regular classroom teacher, to show high school Spanish students the movie La Bamba. After the movie, I had just enough time to explain the term “the day the music died” and the lyrics to American Pie. They left singing Oh Donna, moved by the true story, which completely took me by surprise. It also happened to cement it in my memory.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to explain the lyrics to American Pie and help them make the connection. I may have known the song longer than I care to remember, but it wasn’t all that long ago that I learned that the lyrics referenced a true tragedy, much less the death of Buddy Holly, JP Richardson (the Big Bopper), and Ritchie Valens. I suppose that is the true tragedy of American Pie: What if they had lived?
The musical legacy of Buddy Holly, of course, is staggering. Modern pop and rock music would not have evolved in quite the same way without him and the Crickets. He inspired the Beatles to write their own music, among countless others. In fact, it could be said that Buddy Holly was one of the main influences of what became known as the British invasion. JP Richardson (the Big Bopper) and Ritchie Valens were just getting started. Again, what if?
If nothing else, American Pie taught me that lyrics can indeed be a form of poetry.
Ah, Michigan State and all of my Alternative Spring Break (ASB) memories in Mexico. Some of my best ASB memories involve W.M., and one in particular, November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. It takes me back to nothing less than the most romantic evening of my life.
I met him at the airport as we headed to Merida, Mexico for a week of working hard doing volunteer work and playing even harder. I was listening to Here Comes the Sun, ready to relax in the Yucatecan sun in the middle of a busy, crazy spring semester, and here was this guy – our site leader for the week – chatting me up. He flashed me this great smile and asked me what I was listening to at the moment. We bonded over George Harrison.
It didn’t take us long to become friends. By the end of our first day of volunteer work, we were hanging out eating pizza and drinking Mexican beer, getting lost in deep, meaningful conversations. I had lost my grandfather almost exactly a year before – at age 20, the first real loss of someone so close to me – and I was happy to find someone who understood. That was the thing – W.M. and I should have had everything in common.
A year ahead of me, he studied marketing and Spanish to my supply chain management and Spanish. No wonder we had found one another. Later, the only time I actually met up with him on campus in East Lansing – or the United States for that matter, and for lunch no less – he told me all about his semester in Quito, Ecuador. I don’t remember if I had already decided on a semester in Ecuador, but after hearing about W.M.’s experiences there, it was a forgone conclusion.
I’d love to say that this story is a college romance that ended well, but that simply wasn’t the case. Instead, it is a story of friendship spanning years, countries, cultures, and continents that didn’t end so well. It is also a story of unrequited love on my part. I fell. Hard.
The thing is that I was never going to change my plans for anyone, muchless a man who hadn’t shown the least bit interest in anything more than friendship. We left it as friends and that was it. We were both driven with much to do. That is, until Spain.
Fast forward nearly two years, and I was in the middle of my semester abroad in Caceres, Spain. I’d resigned to myself that W.M., unfortunately, wanted to remain friends, nothing more. Then I received the email. The week before Valentine’s Day, I receive an email from him stating that he had landed an internship in Madrid – an easy train ride away – did I want to meet up? Did I!
In the end, we spent a fun weekend in Madrid hanging out. He booked me a hostel near wherever he was living. We spent Saturday hanging out, eventually ending up at the Hard Rock Cafe and a beautiful park nearby. We talked for hours. Too good to be true, right? Right. When he walked me back to the hostel and didn’t even so much as kiss me goodnight, I wept.
In 2004, I returned to Mexico and ASB as a site leader myself. Now a senior, I juggled interviewing for full-time positions in Texas with classwork along with all of my extracurricular responsibilities, including ASB. As a result, I had to fly into Mexico City on my own and take a bus to Puebla to meet up with the rest of the group. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but W.M. got ahold of me once again. Would I like to meet up for dinner in Puebla one evening? He happened to be working in Mexico City at the time.
Beyond confused, I, of course, said yes. I had no idea what to expect. Why would this man take a bus at least two hours each way just to spend the evening with me? He knew no one else in the group and the plan was just for the two of us to meet up. We were friends, but seriously, what else was going on here?
I met him in the zocalo, or town square, and we quickly found an outdoor table at a local restaurant. In my mind, the only thing better than Mexican food is authentic Mexican food. The cuisine in Puebla tops them all. Pollo en salsa mole anyone?
After watching the sunset over an incredible authentic Mexican dinner, a little red wine, and the ever present great conversation, W.M. and I somehow found our way into the Mexican equivalent of a dive bar. Now, I am not much of a drinker, but I love the atmosphere in dive bars from time to time. This one happened to be perfect.
I never really did see any sign advertising the place, but I could not have had more fun. W.M. and I ended up holding court with a group of Mexican young men roughly our age. We, two gringos who spoke Spanish who happened to end up in this cool unadvertised bar, stood out. In fact, they thought we were married. So, in this ambiance, we all start singing along to November Rain – very poorly. It is still among the most romantic nights of my life – and he never even so much as kissed me. Yet, there was at least enough chemistry between us for people to think we were married.
That was the last time I ever saw W.M. In 2008, I looked him up on Facebook, and unfortunately, it ended up in a political argument that ended our friendship. I still have no idea how he could have attended the same business school as me, and yet not understand the impact government can have on business, good or bad – small business in particular. Time had not treated him well. In fact, Diego Rivera comes to mind. I recently watched Frida and it all came flooding back, much to my amusement. The passion between Frida and Diego gets me every time.
Over the years, I’ve tried and tried to capture our friendship in writing, and I’ve never been able to do it well. I once even brought an effort for critique, and the reaction of the men in my writing group still cracks me up. Every last man in our group believed him to be gay. All I have to say is this: If he is indeed gay, he didn’t know it himself at the time. The last I knew, he had a Mexican girlfriend and lived in California.
I can’t help but think of him every time I watch Casablanca, particularly the line “We’ll always have Paris.” Indeed. We’ll always have Merida, Madrid, and Puebla.
Some songs just immediately take you back to a certain time and place. Sometimes, you have to dig to learn the actual name of the song, artist, or band, especially when it is included in a soundtrack. Such as the case with Change by the Lightning Seeds.
First, a little history. My little sister Erica spent much of her early adolescence obsessed with the movie Clueless (1995). She wanted to be Cher. I have a feeling she can still recite large sections of dialog from the movie. Yes, she adored everything about Clueless.
I vaguely remember seeing it in the theater with her, and I loved it too, but it wouldn’t inspire me as Evita (1996) would a year later. Still, there was much to love in Clueless if you were a young teenage girl in the midwest – or anywhere for that matter. In addition to Cher and friends, there was Josh (the incomparable Paul Rudd) and Cher’s incredible closet. I bought the soundtrack.
The entire soundtrack fit the movie perfectly – early alternative rock smack dab in the middle of the 90s. Change always stuck out in the soundtrack, but when I sought out the song with the lyric “stuck on drive” for a piece I planned to write on learning how to drive (I have yet to write that post, and frankly, it is quite the story), I didn’t come across it right away. I finally discovered the right song, Change, and its incredible video. Seriously. Check out the official video and lyrics. It is definitely worth it.
I’ve never come across a song that summed up the high school experience in the 90s quite as well. It resonates with me in a way that makes me wish I had discovered The Lightning Seeds back catalog decades ago. It is a perfect introduction to the pop/rock perfection that was 90s “alternative.”
Ah, My Girl! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know or love the song. I think it comes with being a girl who grew up in Michigan. As much as I love the song, it is the movie My Girl (1991) that holds the most memories. Per usual, Grandma Reid took my sister Erica and me to see it in the theater.
At that point in 1991, I was 10 years old and could relate to Vada. I happen to be roughly the same age as the protagonists (Vada and Thomas J.), and frankly, I could see myself becoming fast friends with Vada. She loved to write, had a great sense of fashion, and seemed like a lot of fun. I could imagine us dishing about our crushes as only preteen girls can. I felt for her when Thomas J. died.
After the movie, we headed over to KMart where my sister and I purchased a Temptations/Four Tops CD to share. The fact that we “shared” a CD highlights just how young we were. For the record, my sister and I have never had the exact same taste in music. I can think of only one other CD that we both purchased later on in our teen years. It wasn’t so much that our musical taste varied that much, it is just that we were very different teenage girls. Some of our best arguments were over what music to play in the car on that all-important 10 minute drive to school.
My Girl is timeless. It represents my love of Motown and will always remind me of the movie and a simpler time in my life.
The King of Pop. It is difficult to explain to younger generations just how big Michael Jackson was in the early 1980s. He was everywhere. The Beatles, of course, were bigger in the 1960s, but I fail to think of anyone (or any band) bigger than Michael Jackson in the years since – with, of course, the exception of Madonna, who was just as big as the Queen of Pop during the same time period.
Similar to Madonna, Michael Jackson’s hits immediately take me back to my earliest childhood memories. My love of MJ’s music, once again, has much to do with the influence of my older cousins. I distinctly remember my mom giving my cousin Nicole a Michael Jackson doll for her birthday. As a preschooler, I was envious! There is even an adorable picture of Nicole and I sitting on Grandma’s lap, Nicole proudly hugging her new Thriller album.
Unlike the cloud that hangs over Madonna’s legacy, there is little question that Michael Jackson’s music holds up. I noticed it the summer of 2009 right after his death. All of a sudden it was cool to rediscover MJ’s hits, his questionable legacy suddenly forgotten. I can’t help but wonder if the same will happen with Madonna upon her death.
Then there is Thriller itself. The album, the song, and music video itself – in reality, almost a short film – are still fun to revisit. As a child who loved the macabre and everything to do with Halloween, I adored the video. Learning as an adult that VIncent Price lent his incredible voice to the video: Priceless. In my opinion, Thriller is one of the best music videos ever made.
In designing The Mixtapes, several things inspired me. First up, JamsBio, which I’ve discussed a little here. Back in 2006/2007, I had the opportunity to write a series of articles for JamsBio, an online magazine celebrating the love of music, outlining my favorite songs/artists and what music meant to me. I only wrote ten articles and JamsBio didn’t last, but it was the most fun I have ever had working, not to mention the easiest money I’ve ever made. While I still wish I had thought to save those original articles, with The Mixtapes, I have the opportunity to start anew and build it correctly this time.
JamsBio isn’t the only inspiration. As a teenager, I religiously watched Ali McBealwith my mom. The show began each episode with Vonda Shephard playing a song that highlighted something on Ali’s mind. It popularized the idea of a soundtrack to one’s life, and frankly, that idea never really left me. Consider this that soundtrack.
Then there is Paul McCartney. It is no secret that I am a huge Beatles, Wings, and Paul McCartney fan. Do I love everything the man has ever done? Not exactly. Yet, he (and all of the Beatles) will always be in a category of their own. Anyway, Paul McCartney published The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present in 2022. While I have yet to read it (I know, I know …), the idea is incredible to me. Essentially, Paul McCartney wrote a memoir that consists of the stories behind 154 of the songs he wrote. It covers songs from all parts of his career – Beatles, Wings, solo, etc. I can’t imagine a better gift to fans. Even better, there is a Spotify playlist that covers all of the songs in The Lyrics in the order they appear in the book (alphabetically by song title). When I finally do read it, I will be able to listen along as well.
So there you have it, the inspiration behind The Mixtapes. Enjoy and feel free to share your own memories.
Almost any early Madonna song immediately takes me back to my early childhood, thanks to several older female cousins who adored her. I fell in love right along with them and every other girl on the planet. The Queen of Pop rightfully deserves several entries here, and it is only right that I start with Material Girl.
It is easy to dismiss Material Girl as an ode to greed, a quintessentially ‘80s throwaway pop song. Personally, I think that is a bit harsh, and frankly unfair, even if I believe Madonna’s music hasn’t aged particularly well.
Yet, I keep coming back to the video. Yes, there are diamonds and countless references to Marilyn Monroe. There is also something timeless that introduced an entire younger generation to the glamor of old school Hollywood. In the music video, there are even sequences at the beginning and end of the song that make the video just a bit less outrageously materialistic. As a young girl obsessed with Disney princesses and Barbie, Madonna seemed to have it all: style, grace, and she could sing too.
As I grew older, remaining a Madonna fan became harder and harder to defend. I distinctly remember being embarrassed for her when she was photographed everywhere in a cone bra and released the book Sex. I was all of 11.
As Madonna appears to be struggling with aging gracefully (that is another topic entirely), I can only hope that we as a society don’t write off her music entirely as time goes on. For me at least, her earliest work – what made her a star, the Queen of Pop – will always be a cherished part of my childhood. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the video!
Over the last several months, I’ve given plenty of thought of where I’d like to take Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde. For years, I’ve wanted to incorporate my love of music into my writing. The issue is that quoting song lyrics, even with proper attribution, can be seen as copyright infringement. Yet, I want to share some of my favorite songs and the memories they represent.
Early childhood and dolls aside, my favorite Christmas and birthday gifts all related to music – everything from my earliest Fisher Price record player and tape player to various albums/tapes/CDs, to my last Sony Discman. They were all used and abused. In fact, there were times I had to repurchase CDs due to overuse and sand. I replaced several Sony Discman due to the same issue.
Enter the mixtape. See, I am just old enough to remember how fun it was to listen to the radio long after my parents went to bed in order to record my favorite songs. I’m thinking of creating a category here that will serve as a mix tape of sorts. On a separate Mixtape page, I will outline and categorize my favorite songs and albums. Each link to to song or album title will include a passage about that particular song/album, along with links to lyrics and official music videos. I am beyond excited about this, and I am looking forward to seeing this project take off. It will take time.
In addition, my reading life has really taken off. I’ve read so many wonderful books lately. I’ve been thinking about how to best share it all with you. I plan to start sharing book reviews again as well. Stay tuned! Right now, I am working on how best to do this. I’ve researched the tools. Now it is a matter of figuring out what works out best for me – and you, the readers.