I have written twelve novels. This is the space where I share my stories with the world. There is so much to say in this life, and so little time...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wings




She calls me from inside a closet. Only within the confines of this dark, hidden space is she able to truly open up. Let loose. Express her feelings.

Which, at the moment, are a toxic blend of exhaustion and devastation. With some regret thrown in the mix.

I collapse onto my leopard-print bedspread and listen. Eventually, my eyes fill with tears. I'd hoped to avoid this type of unwanted waterfall, yet I can't stop it any more than the lady on the other end of the phone can stop her life from unraveling.

"Thirty-three years..." she murmurs.

I exhale slowly.

Lyrics flash across my mind: take these broken wings and learn to fly. Sometimes the music playing in my head is random, but other times it's eerily appropriate.

Tonight, the soundtrack and the featured film align perfectly.

"You are strong," I assure her. Although her wings are bent, she was born to fly.  That much is clear.

She sighs, then tells me I am an angel.

This makes me laugh. I misplaced my halo several years ago. In my younger days, all major decisions were made with care and concern. Now, I sometimes choose the path of greatest destruction...almost without remorse.

Almost.

"Hardly!" I respond. "I'm just a girl who cares about you and refuses to let you go through this alone."

She continues talking, her sweet Southern accent pouring through the phone. I roll over on my bed, wondering why life is so cruel to those who don't deserve it.

When we hang up an hour later, "Blackbird" is still floating through my mind. I want to take a paintbrush and splash the words across my wall. Or a nearby basketball court. Or perhaps the brick facade of this apartment building.

I promise myself I will call her tomorrow. And the next day, and the one after that.

I'll keep calling until she learns to navigate the skies with a new set of wings. And a singing voice loud enough, lovely enough to be heard even as she soars toward the sun.

Love,
Lisa


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Soundtrack of Stardust

 

It’s May of 2010, and I’ve been at flight attendant training here in Atlanta for a few weeks.

But I’ve reached my breaking point.

See, jet-setting was never my dream; my true dream lies several hundred miles West. I feel as though I am giving up on the very thing that defines me, the thing that’s sustained me during my 25 years on this big blue planet.

So I'm planning to leave Atlanta and drive straight through the night. I won't stop until I reach Nashville.

I dart through the hotel’s massive double doors, mascara blurring my vision. Clouds swirl overhead, dancing with each other as the moon watches from a distance. Wind whips past me. It lifts my wild curls, wiping some of the tears away. But many remain.

I spot my Saturn in the fourth row of the parking lot.

Please return my car keys, I text Emma as I approach the vehicle. Please.

Oh honey, Emma responds instantly. Don’t hate me. I’m keeping the keys until you’ve calmed down.

I crumble against the side of the car. Tears fall faster now, smacking the pavement rhythmically.

Just think it through, she continues. Give yourself a moment

By morning, I realize that driving straight to Nashville isn’t what I truly desire. While I yearn for a life in the spotlight, belting my songs out to a listening audience, I also want to fly. I want freedom from geographical boundaries and societal pressure. I want stories with a thousand different endings.

I want melodies and harmonies and emotionally-charged lyrics, for sure. But I want them to be the soundtrack of my stardust-infused life. Not my life itself.

Five years later, I believe I made the right choice that evening.

Since then, I’ve soaked up every moment of this avian lifestyle. I have danced in the late-summer Kansas City rain, attended NCAA track meets in Oregon, and sipped coffee during an Austin sunrise. I’ve made new friends, reunited with old buddies, and followed my heart more often than a girl ought to.

Yet I haven’t tabled my musical aspirations.

Sure, the details have changed. Drastically. But I still use music as an outlet and a means of connecting with others. I still write every single day.

Over the years, I’ve composed thousands of songs. Some have been played in dimly-lit bars downtown. Some have never left the confines of my apartment. However, they all hold sentimental value. There are songs I wrote while walking back from work, hauling all my suitcases, in the early morning hours. Others were penned on an airplane. Some were written in my living room, with rush-hour traffic serving as the drumline.

This morning I stumbled across a song I wrote a few years ago. It captures the essence of that emotional Atlanta night. This song accurately conveys the doubts and fears I faced while choosing between a life chasing dreams and an actual Dreamlife.

I’d like to think I chose option B.  Although option A can certainly weave itself into that, and I wouldn’t mind one bit.

 
Love,
Lisa

 
Fistful of Right Now

Seems like the easy road
The one that everyone said would lead me straight home
Was never enough for me
See where’s the beauty in that, I’m dying to know

If I wanted something simple
Would’ve given up years ago, years ago…

I’ve got plans for where I’m going
Though the details are unclear
Took a chance, then took a flight
Somehow I ended up right here
No one promised us tomorrow
Just a fistful of right now
And if there’s time to flip the ending,
I refuse to turn around…



Wednesday, February 4, 2015

City Kids


In a transient city like San Francisco, goodbyes are frequent.

This isn't suburbia, where people are locked into 30-year-mortgages. No, this is arguably the most dynamic urban hub in America. For every hopeful young adult who thrives in the city, there are hundreds who fail. And give up. And eventually leave.

My current novel, "Cocoa or Nothing," addresses this issue.

During Callie Schneider's five-year stint in SF, she watched countless friends come and go. Her own presence in the city seemed immutable, however...until certain circumstances forced her to relocate to the East Coast.

What followed was a flood of emotion she couldn't stop, slow, or ignore. No matter how badly she wanted to do so.

The excerpt below captures Callie in one of her goodbyes. It's more sentimental than Callie would like, and far more difficult as well.

Love,
Lisa





My stomach rumbles. A small Asian waitress floats gracefully between the tables, pouring water and sliding through nearly-invisible gaps between seats. She looks like she weighs about eighty pounds. Dripping wet.

                “I’m starving,” Giovanna groans.

                “Ditto,” I agree. When I shift my weight, I accidentally knock over my shopping bag. I reach down to pick up the secondhand clothing that’s spilled out of the bag. Giovanna and I managed to find the craziest, most obscene tourist attire; my party outfit is officially complete. After only thirty minutes’ worth of rummaging through thrift store shelves.

                We order quickly, without even looking at the menu. Giovanna reaches across the table and grabs my hand. She’s always been the sentimental kind, but this time her grip feels different.

                “Ok I have to say something. We’ve had the best afternoon, and I can’t hold it in anymore. I hate this, Cal. I absolutely hate it,” she tells me, her voice soft.

                “Me too, Giovanna,” I say. I know exactly what she’s referring to.

                “Your apartment rocks. Seriously. I can’t wait to move in…but, to be honest, I would rather you stay. Please just stay,” she whispers.

                The lights overhead grow dim, as though on a timer. Behind us, someone opens the door, jingling a bell at the top of the doorframe. Even amid all the background noise and chatter in this clustered space, the bell echoes loudly.

                “I’m scared,” I finally admit. The entire restaurant grows fuzzy, until all I see is Giovanna’s wide eyes. They latch onto mine, steady and unwavering. She doesn’t even blink.

                “Are you really coming back at the end of the year?”

                “I don’t know. Maybe? I think so? That’s the plan, anyway.”

                “Then why bother leaving for a year? It doesn’t make any sense,” she reflects. “Just stay, Cal. Stay here.”

                “I have to do this,” I tell her. “It’s a great opportunity. In terms of my career, I need to be in the Orlando base. Trust me, Giovanna. This is the right thing to do. I need to be smart about this. For once in my life.”

“The city won’t be the same without you,” she says. “Who will be my comic relief? Who will say the wacky things that we are all thinking but don’t have the balls to actually say aloud? You’re the token jokester around here, Cal. You’re the free spirit and the one with no cares. We are all secretly jealous of you.”

                “Because I’m broke and lonely?” I chuckle.

                Giovanna releases her firm grip on my fingers. She places her hands on her lap, moving the tablecloth half an inch by accident. “Because you’re an adventurer. Plus, you don’t get your heart ripped apart like the rest of us. You’re independent, wild, free.”

                “Independence isn’t always a good thing,” I argue. “And my wild side has gotten me into trouble lately.”

                The waitress appears instantly; we never even noticed her approaching our table. She sets two steaming plates in front of us. Giovanna and I dive in greedily, as though we haven’t eaten in a week. In the midst of our frenzied feasting session, my phone buzzes from the center of the table. It’s a text from Ray.

                Thinking of you...since I just got to your city, he writes. How’s your night, so far?

                Bittersweet, I write back with a mouth full of Pad Thai.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Light the Match


In January 2013, my childhood dream died a quiet, unexciting death.

A single e-mail ripped my aspirations to shreds. Five short sentences affirmed my biggest fear: I didn't have the talent to compete with the greats.

Shortly after my 30th birthday, something shifted inside of me. I decided, with unwavering faith and firm resolve, to reignite the fire.

What's the worst that can happen? I asked myself, fully aware that I'd already experienced the most debilitating rejection of my literary career. I couldn't possibly be more disappointed than I'd been in early 2013. Therefore, I had nothing to lose.

I recently began my 13th novel.

This new novel differs from the others in many ways. For starters, this one appeals to an older audience. Additionally, there are no supernatural elements. In fact, it's surprisingly realistic. Although the storyline is pure fiction, many of the characters are real. They are modeled after people I've worked with, befriended, and even loved.

Below is an excerpt from the second chapter. Callie is nothing if not strong-willed. But when she sets aside her pride, she allows miracles to rise up around (and within) her.

Love,
Lisa

Cocoa or Nothing
Chapter 2

I stand up, pulling my jacket from the coat rack. “I have to go.”

“Callie, can I pray for you? Would that be ok?”

“Not now, Mackie. Sorry. I gotta go home, think this over. Clear my head.”
She hops to her feet. “I’ll call you an Uber! You shouldn’t walk home this late.”

“I’m fine,” I say with a wave of my hand. “I need the fresh air. I’ll text you when I’m home safe. Deal?”

Mackenzie places a hand on her hip. She stares at me for a second, concern radiating from her hazel eyes. “Ok. But you better text me, or I’m calling the cops.”

“Cross my heart,” I say as I open the door. “Mack, I’m so sorry this happened on your special day. You should be planning your cute little announcement shit that people always post on Facebook. You should not be worrying about my crazy life. I’m sorry, love.”

She throws her arms around my neck. “Don’t apologize! Don’t you dare! You’re my best friend and whatever we get into, we get into together. I’m by your side. No matter what.”
“Thank you,” I say softly. Then I pry myself from her embrace. “Love ya. I’ll text later.”

I step through the door and into the chilly night.

***
My apartment is one block away. I can see the “One-Stop Travel” sign that rests directly below my window, can hear the creaking of our gate as the wind whips through it. I walk past the apartment building and toward Van Ness Street.

I’m home safe, I text Mackenzie. Goodnight, love.

The lights on Polk Street beckon me. Restaurants, bars and clubs line the street on both sides.  This section of town is always busy, and tonight is no exception. Music blares from Lush, while several people linger outside of FlyBar. The distinct smell of whisky hangs in the air. I can also smell roasted chicken and curry sauce.

A line has formed in front of The Pour House. I weave around well-dressed men and women, careful not to look anyone in the eye.

I can’t stay here, I reflect as I pass these strangers. Not anymore.

My phone rings from inside my pocket. It’s my dad, calling from Chicago.
“Sorry,” I murmur aloud. “Can’t talk now.”

I tuck the phone back into my coat pocket and continue toward Sacramento Street. A homeless man staggers past me, nearly knocking me over. I step aside just as he nearly grazes my arm. The man reeks of dried-up booze and weed.

This is no city for children, I reflect. My throat closes up. I know what has to be done.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Passing Out


  
             
Brenda is probably sixty years old.


Her hands tremble below the weight of the tray, which is understandable. These trays hold six plates apiece and each plate is piled high with beans, rice, and carnitas. We give hearty portions here at 24th and Valencia.

I rush to Brenda’s side.

These dishes feel light in my hands.

As I pass out the plates of food, I receive various thank-you’s. They’re mostly in Spanish. I respond in my typical incoherent Spanglish, wondering whether these men can understand me. It almost doesn’t matter; the sentiment is clear, with or without words to accompany it.

Once all the plates have been delivered, I retreat to the kitchen.

While I’m washing dishes, Brenda tells me I am strong. She says I lifted those plates like they weighed nothing at all. I laugh at her commentary; she’s easily impressed. With a half-smile, I tell her I’m happy to help. It’s the truth.

But I can’t help thinking these ladies have mistaken me for someone else.

All the volunteers are older than me by about thirty years. They are kind women, with grown children and grandchildren they adore. For various reasons, they each take time out of their day on Tuesdays to serve lunch to homeless men in the Mission District. They pray together and prepare food together. They share stories, hugs and (mostly-clean) jokes.

Every now and then, they will tell me I am a sweetheart. Or selfless. Or strong.

If only you knew, I often think.

In some ways, I’m no different than the city of San Francisco: with its gorgeous skyline and iconic bridges, it seems like an urban dream. Everything appears shiny and new. The city is highly-desired and often-photographed.

But look closely, and you’ll notice the dirt on the streets. You’ll smell the rotting food and human excrement. Sure, there are some clean areas…but they are far outnumbered by the filthy sections.

A few years ago, after a string of poor choices and ill-fated indiscretions, my friend Jeff informed me that I had finally received my “human card.” I politely told him to take it back; I didn’t want it.
The Tuesday-afternoon ladies don’t know I’ve attained my human card.

In their eyes, I am an agile young thing with a heart of gold. And I sure wish this was true; I spent many years upholding that standard of perfection. I became quite good at convincing the world (and myself) that I was innocent.

But when I fell, I fell hard. Skid-marks and bruises and all.

Which is part of life, I suppose. And makes me more real. Without flaws, we are all just holograms. The pristine San Francisco in tour books and post-cards is nothing more than a glossy image on a page; the real San Francisco is gritty. Graphic. Stained.

Which adds to its character.

I cannot take back my past mistakes, nor can I justify certain actions. But I can continue to pass out plates. I can keep my heart open enough to offer love to those who seek it. I can acknowledge my flaws and allow them to bring me closer to others. Which is exactly what I plan to do.

Love,
Lisa

               

                               

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hot Tamale


Sometimes, after six days on the road (er...six days among the clouds), a girl just wants a hot meal.

If, however, this girl is attempting to save money due to the fact that she lives in the most expensive city in the US, she may opt for the perfectly fine--although far less appetizing-- dry goods in her suitcase.

This was my life last week.

Somewhere between Denver and San Diego, I removed a package of tortillas from my duffel bag. I set it on the galley counter and ripped open the seal.

"Unacceptable!" my coworker declared with a laugh, prying the package from my fingers. "I brought an extra tamale. You need to try this! It's got roasted veggies in it."

Despite my protests, she handed me a steaming tamale. After one bite, I was certain I'd discovered my new favorite food. Yes, it was my first time eating one of the delectable corn concoctions. And yes, it was heavenly.

My coworker didn't have to be so generous. She sensed my need and rushed to meet it.

This small incident made me think.

I often ask God for huge "lightning bolt" signs. I seek dazzling, overt miracles because these are the ones which make for great anecdotes/blog posts/novel storylines.

But, in the aviation industry, every day is an endless stream of miracles.

My fellow flight attendants and I travel hundreds of miles per hour. We zip across the nation at lightning speed, yet somehow manage to cultivate (and maintain) bonds with coworkers around the country/world. Our lives are ever-changing. But our hearts are steady.

Someone we meet on a Tuesday can transform into a lifelong friend by Thursday. Our jumpseat is only a few feet wide, so we are forced to get close to (and comfortable with) each other very quickly.

Which is a beautiful thing.

The Christmas season may be vastly approaching, but I still have a Thanksgiving frame of mind! I'm swimming in gratitude. These people are truly incredible; I'm one lucky girl, to call them my colleagues and friends.

The love & support they continually offer me is nothing short of miraculous.

To everyone kind enough to share warm words, warm wishes and warm tamales: keep doing what you're doing. You are true miracle-workers.

Love,

Lisa

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dream-Chaser


Remember the kid in elementary school who did everything right? The one who waited patiently, worked diligently and followed all the rules? That kid grew up to be a successful, stable adult.

I was never that kid.

Throughout the years, I listened to my heart even when my head screamed that it was pure foolishness. I selected the messy, colorful route time and time again...much to my parents' dismay.

Spoiler alert: I hosed myself. Repeatedly.

But I managed to brush off the dirt (and/or paint chips, muddy leaves, cupcake crumbs) each time. I just continued trekking along. Sure, some of my impulse decisions left deep scars. I don't regret them, though. Taking a year off college to serve in AmeriCorps, living abroad when I should've been establishing a career, waiting tables for years so I could focus on writing novels/song lyrics during the day...nope. I wouldn't change any of it.

This summer, I was faced with yet another "head vs. heart" decision. Unsurprisingly, my heart won; in September, I packed my bags and moved to San Francisco. A.k.a. the most unaffordable city in the US.

Brilliant move, huh?

Sometimes I walk home after a work trip and get lost amid the city lights. They're mesmerizing, inspiring, and totally blinding. Which sums up city life in general. Living in the heart of San Francisco means I'm surrounded by rich, raw talent and an endless array of artistic/philanthropic endeavors. Of course, this kind of brilliance comes at a high emotional and financial cost.

My bank account and sleep schedule can attest to that.

Then again, I took this risk knowing that failure was extremely likely. I left the simple comforts of Florida in pursuit of a wild, terrifying California dream.

And here I am.

Making it work...barely.

I don't know if I'll stay in California a year, a decade or a lifetime. I don't even know if I'll stay 'til spring.

Yet I stand behind my impractical, frivolous decision to chase after what I wanted. With reckless abandon (emphasis on the word "reckless").

Life is meant to be lived, right?

We get one long, bittersweet ride on this giant carousel of life. And I might fall off my pony but at least I know I chose the biggest, brightest, craziest one. Basically, the unicorn.

Love,

Lisa