The “Tale” of the Lizard

5 Sep

I’ve decided to join the blogging world, and I owe it all to a wrinkly old lizard, which I will explain directly.

This past year I had an experience that made me realize something profound about myself. Although my lifelong fantasy has always been to be a writer, for some unknown reason (fear of failure or possibly success—fear being the key word here) I haven’t seriously practiced the craft of writing since college. I’ve just spent zillions of hours writing in my head while I do other things simultaneously: like raise four kids, run a household, teach a studio of forty piano students every week, and play the piano at church on Sundays.  Other than my scintillating Christmas newsletters jammed full of all the exciting annual doings of the Mireles family, typed in the tiniest print imaginable in order for it to fit upon one page (which by the way, everyone raves about what a good read they are), I hadn’t written a word since 1985.

This all changed a few years ago when my youngest daughter, Isabella, was diagnosed with cancer.

I won’t go into that story, at least not right now, and many of you have already heard all about it already. What I will tell you is that after experiencing the possibility that my child could die, I began to prioritize my life in a new way. I decided to let go of some of the fear, and try something new for once.

After over two agonizing years of dealing with Isa’s chemotherapy treatment for leukemia (she’s now in first grade and doing beautifully, by the way), I decided it was time for me to finally get to work and do something about fulfilling my dream. I signed up for an adult education writing class and I started writing.

I was rolling along, my fingers tinkling on the computer keyboard far more than they did the piano, and I actually began to write again. After years of teaching students how to express themselves musically at the piano, I began to craft my own melodies by stringing words together on the page like musical notes.  I received positive reviews from my writing teacher and classmates about my writing—I was thrilled that they actually liked what I wrote! Some of them were even moved to tears and would come up to me after class and tell me how much they loved my writing. I wrote a short article about Isa’s illness and my love of gardening and it was published in Greenprints Magazine. I even earned $75 bucks for it. I thought: “I’m a paid, published author and “I can do this!”

I immediately started working on the story of my experience dealing with Isabella’s cancer. I even told everyone in my annual Christmas newsletter that I was writing a memoir about it—(very bad idea– I don’t recommend doing this because someone may actually expect you to write it someday.) I was so motivated that I signed up for second class with a different teacher, thinking that I’d be the star pupil and demonstrate to my new class what good writing was all about. I was so full of myself I could hardly get up the stairs.

            You can probably figure out what happened next.

This new teacher didn’t like my writing. She said it was cliché and “banal” and ordinary. She then asked me if I ever read any novels—and this took me by complete surprise because I’ve been a voracious reader my entire life and even belong to two book clubs. She said I had a good story to tell, but I just needed to go out and buy a decent Thesaurus and learn how to use it. I nodded my head enthusiastically, told her I would do the necessary revising, and then immediately stopped going to class.

My original assessment of this woman was that she was a creative and insightful teacher who hit the nail on the head every time she analyzed my classmates’ work. I would nod in agreement with her wise assessments of how each writer could improve upon their work.

After her rough critique of me though, she instantly morphed from a creative and eccentric grand dame to a bent over old crone, disheveled in her mismatched clothes two sizes too big for her. While I once thought of her as unconventional and quirky, I now viewed her as a distracted scatterbrain. Her unkempt and badly dyed orange hair bled a winding white path up her head, leading the way to a stringy nest at the nape of her neck.  She had a nasty habit of continuously licking her yellowed teeth with a wet, lizard-like tongue that darted in and out of her salivating mouth like she was just waiting for the precise moment to attack her prey. (How’s that for being descriptive?) Oh, I was furious, all right.  I did not appreciate her constructive criticism.

But in the back of my mind, I knew the truth. My new found loathing of her was basically because she was right.

Needless to say, (I know—a cliché, but I don’t give a crap), I got discouraged and stopped writing altogether. I’ve always had a problem with confidence, so I felt like a complete failure. How dare I think that I had the talent to become an actual writer—that I actually had something compelling to share? My writing friends encouraged me to keep at it. They loved my writing and told me not to become disheartened, but I was done.

The “Crone” as I referred to her in my head, even called me twice, once to apologize for being so tough on me, and once to ask me to come back to class. There’s the remote possibility that she thought I had potential after all, and just wanted to push me to be a better writer, but I honestly don’t know for sure. I do think she needs to grasp the idea that writers (just like musicians, or any other artist, for that matter) are our own worst critics. We obsess and fret about even the tiniest and most innocent comments uttered about our art. I’ve found that in my own music teaching, it’s imperative that I excessively point out the positive aspects to a student before I say anything negative, even if I’m trying to be constructive. Perhaps if this teacher had given me even a tiny bit of positive feedback first, I wouldn’t have been so devastated.

After that experience, I just couldn’t bear going back to class to share my writing knowing that she thought I was so banal.  I gave her a veiled excuse about how busy my piano teaching schedule had become, and told her I’d come back to class soon. It was a lie; I never went back.

I stewed and simmered for about six months, fighting the urge to get back on the computer,  but I’d quash any desire by telling myself I just wasn’t good enough and would never get anywhere with my writing.

Then one afternoon, while I was teaching a piano lesson, I actually heard my own words as I told student who had been neglecting a Bach prelude, “How can you expect to get anywhere if you don’t put the time in? Even the most famous concert pianists practice hours and hours each day to achieve what they have.  You can’t expect to master a piece if you don’t work at it every single day.”

“No matter now busy you get,” I insisted, “just spend 15 minutes on it every day, working measure by measure, until you learn it.” I also made a point to tell her that I wouldn’t waste my time telling her how hard she needed to work if I didn’t think she had talent and ability, and that her innate musicality was something that no teacher could ever teach a student. She came back the following week with the entire prelude learned.

Maybe the “Crone” should take a lesson: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar even if you have a long lizard tongue. My goodness, I guess I’m still not over it.

So that’s my story. I’ve decided to join the blogging world because I need to practice, and I humbly ask you to be my audience. I’ve put in my ten thousand hours practicing and performing at the piano since I was six, and I like to think I’ve become an accomplished pianist and teacher. Now it’s time to practice the writing. I’m almost 50 years old, so I’m off to a late start, but it’s never too late to live your dream (sorry—another cliché! I’m still working on that…)

My blog will mostly be about relationships between people: the meaningful and complicated ones we all share with family, friends, and others in our communities. I’ll probably write about mundane and ordinary things, too, because they make life interesting, too.  The most important thing I’ve learned since Isa was diagnosed with cancer is that everyone has a story to tell, and often, that story is fascinating. Maybe something I write will capture your imagination—maybe not—just don’t tell me if you hate it, please.

Comments and encouragement are welcome. I’ll try not to bore you. I promise to use good grammar. I’ll even take criticism, as long as you pepper me with many compliments first!

I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy the concert, but at least the admission is free.

Oh—and by the way, the lizard is not invited to attend.

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11 Responses to “The “Tale” of the Lizard”

  1. Becky Green Aaronson September 5, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    Jessica,
    ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT!!! I’m so glad the lizard has not quashed your dream of being a writer because you write more beautifully than anybody I know. Keep on going and don’t look back!!

  2. mele September 5, 2011 at 2:19 am #

    Love you, love the way you write and cant wait to keep reading 🙂

  3. kary kramer September 5, 2011 at 3:50 am #

    I too am a voracious reader, and might I say I was pleasantly surprised to read your blog tonight. I read both pieces and found them to contain a mellifluous flow that kept me rapt in your word melody. I am glad you have come back to taking your writing more seriously, and I hope you one day consider doing something substantial. You are certainly capable!

  4. PsychStudent928 September 5, 2011 at 4:25 am #

    See, mama? There is such a thing as too many scales….ba-da-bum.

    ❤ Proud of you, and I am so happy that in some minimal way I got to be part of your reinvigorated writing pursuits…. I love you so much, and I know that you have so much to share and teach – your blog is music to my ears!

    ***STARS! STARS STARS STARS!! "But, Ellie-" STAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRSSSSSSS!!!!!

  5. Eleanor Winters September 5, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    I like both of them: the lizard is very open and honest. And the overall theme of allegro non troppo is a nice connecting thread. Your philosophical i.e. spiritual message is right on! EGW

  6. Eleanor Winters September 5, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    Oops, Allegro non tanto, sorry

  7. Jen September 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    good for you. as you may know i toy with the same writing dream and even blogging is hard but so cathartic and a safe way to start creating. you can do it, you have a great story to tell, just work that thesaurus and get lizard lady out of your head, she’s a reptile!

  8. Ruth September 5, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Love it, Jessica!

  9. babyangel1213 September 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Jessie,
    Your blog is great! and I always knew you have a “writer” in you! Your story is very relatable, especially the part of dealing with tragedy & loss in life. I know you know both all too well. You know, it’s true what they say when someone offers constructive criticism of one self. We truly know it’s like looking in a mirror. I do a lot of writing myself and my dream is that great American Novel someday. You’d think at 52, I might want to get on the ball. I remember a professor I had in college. Writing 101 or something like that. He was very into Tai Chi and Eastern culture. At that time I couldn’t be bothered with such nonsense. I turned in a writing assignment, which I thought was brilliant, and he tore it apart and told me I knew nothing of writing a story. Huh!!?? So I played the game. I wrote what I thought he wanted, hating every minute of it, and he loved it. “Much better, Marilyn.”
    So keep it up my dear. As your mom said, you show symbolism and spirituality in your “blog.” Love you much,
    Marilyn

  10. Melanie September 6, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    Count me in as one of your admirers and fans, Jessica. You go, girl! Lura likes to catch lizards. I have to remind her to let them go. They are not pets. They don’t get free range over the house or our creative souls. I’m glad you’re letting her go.

  11. Pam September 19, 2011 at 3:20 am #

    Im hooked!!!

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