At what age did you realize you loved music?
I started taking piano lessons when I was six. It was tough to get really good at that age because I would rather be outside with my brother and his friends than practicing. I took-up sax when I was 13. I played in a school stage band and a jazz band that ended up going to Europe one summer and playing in the Montreux International Jazz Festival. I kind of stopped with the instruments when I went to college. I refused to play in a marching band and that is what you would have had to do to be able to play in the school jazz program; it wasn’t for me.
What events in your life do you think shaped you as a musician?
After my freshman year at college, my brother and I were in a car accident. My brother died two weeks after the accident, and I had a head injury that put me in a coma for 6 weeks. It was, and still is very tough because he was my best friend. A few years later I started to get back into playing the guitar. I then did a little banjo, bought a drum set, and learned a little bass. I started to write my own music and that has been really fun.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I have really loved Pink Floyd most of my life. Melissa Ethridge and Sheryl Crow are the ladies I prefer to listen to now. Dave Matthews is a great artist. I really love the alternative folk sound. But, I also love to give all types of music a chance. There is so much out there and you really can miss out if you limit yourself.
Is there any music you won’t listen to and why?
I try to be open-minded about a lot of stuff out there, but sometimes it’s hard. I find a lot of the Hip Hop very degrading to women and find it difficult to think about the young girls listening to it and thinking that they have to do or be involved in some of the crazy junk that they are singing about. I believe it also teaches young boys that this is what girls like and that those things are normal. I can’t believe some of the stuff I hear. I sound like my parents!
What do you want your songs to be about?
I like for people to hear things they need to hear when they need to hear it, to be inspired, something that can give them hope.
Two weeks have passed since the quake first hit. Our neighborhood of forty houses was brought down to ten in a matter of minutes. Then came the volcanic eruptions. Lava rocks raining from the sky torched another eight, leaving just two houses standing: The O’Connor’s house and ours. Both made of brick, it made it harder for the lava rocks to burn. Our neighbors were living on the streets, or in cars, fighting each other for food. Mother told us to barricade the doors and not to let anyone in. I didn’t understand; if they were starving then why couldn’t we help them?
“We don’t know how long we are going to be in this situation. If we share what we have, we might run out and then we’ll be the ones dying in the streets,” she explained.
Staring out of the crack in the blinds, I see Timmy; a friend of mine who lives a few houses up. He’s crying and looks hungry and alone. His parents are probably dead by now. It seems wrong to not help. I have to do something. Sneaking downstairs, I fill my bag with canned food and bottled water from the cabinet. It seems odd that we have so much still. We haven’t left the house in weeks, yet we’re feeding four mouths and never seem to run out.
Slipping out a nearby window, I crouch down behind one of the few trees in our yard still standing and whistle to get Timmy’s attention. He looks around and finally spots me. Running in my direction as fast as his little legs can carry him, a smile crosses my face as I feel a sense of elation in knowing that I might be able to ease his suffering. Walking out from behind the tree I extend my arm to hand him the bag, when a shot blasts out of nowhere. Blood splatters on my shirt and face, Timmy’s eyes roll back into his head and his legs collapse beneath him. A bellow of screams by my mother ring through the air as she bursts out of our house towards me with my father close behind.
Paralyzed with fear I stand staring at my parents running towards me when I hear two more shots ring out. My father falls instantly and I feel my chest cave with uneasy breath. Mother has also been hit and now I can see the shooter. It’s our postman, Mr. Conlin from up the street. Reloading his gun and walking at the same time, he quickly moves towards us. My mother manages to crawl to me. Throwing myself on top of her I start screaming in agony.
“Ssh! Listen, you need to protect Toby,” she squeezes me. “Take this,” she whispers, handing me a pistol.
Mr. Conlin’s gun is at his side. He reaches out his arm signaling for me to hand over the bag of food I had packed for Timmy. Mother closes her eyes and lays very still, but I can still feel her breath on my hands.
“Give me that food kid and show me to the shelter. I know your parents have one. I guess they weren’t crazy after all! Ha ha, the joke is on us!”
I don’t know what he is talking about, but I know what I have to do. I can’t let him inside. I have to protect my little brother Toby at all costs. Slowly I stand up, knees shaking, heart pounding and throw the bag of food in the air. Mr. Conlin raises his head to look as I fire my pistol. Ripping through his skull, he falls backwards, water bottles smashing on the ground around him. Looking down at my mother now, her eyes barely open, I see her arm slide out from underneath her body and she opens her hand. Inside her palm is a key.
“In the basement. There’s a door in the floor. Save yourself. Save…Toby,” she said, exhaling her last breath.
Panic sets in and I sprint inside the house in search of Toby. Luckily, he’s still sleeping and didn’t witness the recent neighborhood horror. He’s small for a seven year-old, so I just pick him up and carry him down into the basement. As I search frantically for a secret door in the floor of the basement, Toby begins to stir.
“Is the storm over? Can I go out and play yet?” he asks, rubbing his eyes.
Too overwhelmed to answer, I ignore him.
“Where are mom and dad?” he asks, tears forming.
“Mom and Dad…they went to help some of the other families. They gave us a mission to find a door in the floor. Can you help me look?” I said.
“Okay!” he says excited.
In the corner of the basement, I see part of the carpet rolled up and walk over to examine what might be underneath. Pulling it back, I see a steel door with a heavy chain through the handles and a lock. Twelve years I’ve lived in this house and played in this basement, how did I not know this was here? Opening the lock I release the chains, pull it open and descend a staircase with Toby behind me. There’s a long hallway and then another steel door. As I approach the second door, a light above me comes on, a sensor light I can only guess, and the door opens automatically. Unprepared for what is inside, I fall to my knees in pure awe.
Mr. Conlin was right. My parents did have a shelter. A very large, underground bomb shelter filled from ceiling to floor with enough food to feed hundreds of people for weeks. Or four people for a year. Or two people for even longer. My parents were preparing. They were like…doomsday preppers! There’s food, water, and clothing to the left; to the right shelves of toys, books and games. In the back there’s at least a dozen commercial generators. Instructions hang on the wall on how to use everything, when to use it, and when not to in order to survive as long as we can.
“We’re going to make it,” I breathe a sigh of relief.
Suddenly a surge of pain bursts through me. Grabbing my side, I fall to my knees.
“Why are you bleeding Jenna?” asks Toby.
Soaking through my sweatshirt is blood from the bullet that must have grazed my side after it went through Timmy. Quickly I pour water on it to wash out the wound, find a first aid kit and begin placing gauze and bandages on it. While choking down painkillers and antibiotics, I hear something above us.
“Stay here and don’t make a sound,” I warn Toby. I run up the stairs and peak around the wall in the hallway.
Out of the corner of my eye I see someone sneaking around the kitchen searching for food. Holding onto my side, I realize that I still have the gun in the front pouch of my sweatshirt. Slowly I watched as the shadowy figure opens cabinets, grabbing
food and water out of them. Stepping slowly behind him I pull out the gun and point it at his head.
“Don’t move or you’re dead,” I said.
“Jenna? Is that you?” said a shaky voice.
Backing up, I lower the gun and spin the boy around. It’s Brian O’Connor. He lives in the other brick house still standing in the neighborhood.
“What are you doing here?” I said.
“They killed my parents. I’m alone. I have no food. Please don’t kill me!” he pleads.
Brian O’Connor, biggest bully in school pleading for his life. He and his friends would tease me about my weight because I was heavier than the other girls. His parents were the neighborhood snobs- so much better than us ‘cause they were doctors.
“Why should I help you?” I said, gun still pointing at his head.
“Because…we’re friends,” he said hesitantly.
“Friends! What a crock! You have never been my friend. I should kill you right now!”
“Then kill me! I’m going to starve to death anyway. If you don’t shoot me someone else will. There’s nowhere to go, we won’t survive this, none of us!” he cried.
“I will survive. Toby and I are going to be just fine. Can’t say the same for you,” I laughed.
Brian slid down onto the floor and began to cry. He rocked back and forth holding his belly, hungry, tired and fed up.
“I want my mom and dad,” he cried.
Then a little voice spoke out from behind me.
“Jenna, what’s wrong with Brian?” said Toby.
“Toby go back to the shelter now, I’m busy,” I yell.
“Why do you have a gun Jenna? Why are you being mean to Brian?” he said.
“Because he’s a bully!” I scream.
“You’re a bully!” Toby screams back.
He stars crying. He’s scared and confused, I thought.
But he was right.
Lowering the gun I look at my reflection in the microwave.
“What have I become?”
“That looks bad,” said Brian pointing to my bloodied side.
“My parents have books and tools at the house. They are…they were surgeons. I…I could stitch you up,” he offers.
“We have a bomb shelter,” I shout out suddenly. “You can stay with us, it will save us all, keep us alive for at least a year until the storms stop.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Okay,” I replied back.
“Go to your house and pack up any medical tools and books you can find then meet me back here in twenty minutes. Take this gun to protect yourself,” I said.
After handing him the gun, he holds it in his hands for a minute and instantly a horrible thought runs through my mind. Did I just seal my own fate? Can he be trusted? Will he kill me now and save himself? He puts the gun in the pocket of his coat and looks back up at me.
“See you in twenty,” he said.
Watching through the window I hold my breath as Brian sprints down the road towards his house, avoiding lava rocks, burning cars and hungry stray animals. Now feeling the effects of the painkillers, my legs give out from under me.
“We should get you in the shelter now,” said Toby.
“Not without Brian. Without him, I’ll bleed out and die,” I said.
“Mom and Dad will be home soon, they can take care of you,” said Toby.
Tears roll down my face as I realize for the first time that they are never coming back. They were dead, I had seen it, I just hadn’t accepted it yet, not until now.
“Mom and Dad are…dead,” I said.
Toby begins to cry as I rock him gently in my arms, drifting in and out of consciousness. The sound of music causes me to stir and when I open my eyes, I’m inside of the bomb shelter laying on a bed with a blanket over me. Too my right I see Brian and Toby playing a card game. Pulling up my shirt and pulling back the bandage I look at the stitches where my wound was once before. Running my fingers over the stitches I’m in awe at the precision that came out of a mere twelve year-old boy.
“You’ve been out for almost six hours. I figured you must be starving, so I made you some soup,” said Brian.
“Thank you,” I said.
To think I almost shot him. He saved my life even after I was ready to take his. This world we live in now, what had we become? We’re so violent. Maybe we deserve the wrath of the quake and the fires. Maybe we’re being sorted out, tested to see who’s worth saving.
“I’m really glad you are here,” I said to Brian.
“Just for the record, I never thought you were fat. I always thought you were, um…are…beautiful.”
Dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
Walking to the mailbox, a gust of wind passed by
Three little voices giggled and then whispered to me, “Hi”
Their names were Charlotte, Olivia and Jessica;
they were making the wind blow
“Make sure you wear your hat and gloves to work,
we are going to make it snow!”
As the snow picked up so did traffic, and I hoped I would not be late
Then I saw two more little angels, throwing snowballs by the lake
I pulled over and watched them play in the snow with a smile on my face
Three little boys started a snowball fight with me, Dylan, James and Chase
Now an hour late, I noticed ahead a truck had hit a pole
Would that have been my fate, had these angels not touched my soul?
Standing in line to pay for breakfast I heard some chatter at the tables
I looked around and before my eyes sat six more of those little angels
They sat with me as I ate blueberry pancakes, two eggs, and a banana
Their names were Emelie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Avielle and Anna
We laughed and laughed all morning and on our way back outside to play
We noticed a woman at the breakfast line who had no money to pay
“She forgot her wallet” said an older voice, so I stood up and said, “It’s on me”
It felt good to help, so I thanked the angel, her name was Anne Marie.
In the parking lot an older man had lost the keys to his car
A few others walked by, not offering help, as the man looked near and far
Then I saw more little angels whisper into the old man’s ear
“They’re inside your jacket pocket, remember you put them there?”
“I remember now,” exclaimed the old man, with a smile on his face
Those angels were named Daniel, Madeleine, Josephine and Grace
“Come on kids, its snack time!” called out Victoria, Lauren and Rachel
The kids lined up behind them and disappeared into a snow squall
Deep inside my heart grew heavy, wondering if I’d ever see them again
Those beautiful angels who had lifted my spirits and grew to be my friends
Night came fast as I tucked myself in, but my mind was still awake
Tears rolled down, my stomach turned, and my heart began to ache
Four more appeared at the edge of my bed, and began to sing to me
Their names were Benjamin, Allison, Catherine and Jesse.
Then they kissed my head and giggled as they floated towards the sky
Selfishly I begged them all to stay, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye
Then two more appeared, older ones, who came to ease my pain
“You can find them in the snowflakes and in the wind and rain
The angels will always be by your side in the stars, your heart, your breath
Their love is stronger than ever now, they are more powerful after death
They are behind every act of kindness to help the living move along”
Then the angels blew a kiss and floated away, their names were Mary and Dawn.
The world can be so scary and the struggles awfully tough,
And sometimes just believing isn’t quite enough
But for me I rest more easily now, knowing the little angels are in place
To teach the living what it is we need to become a better human race.
Olivia Engel, 7/18/06, Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/06, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 04/04/06, Dylan Hockley, 3/8/06, James Mattioli , 3/22/06, Chase Kowalski, 10/31/05, Emilie Parker, 5/12/06, Jack Pinto, 5/06/06, Noah Pozner, 11/20/06, Caroline Previdi, 9/07/06, Jessica Rekos, 5/10/06, Avielle Richman, 10/17/06, Anne Marie Murphy, 07/25/60, Daniel Barden, 9/25/05, Josephine Gay, 12/11/05, Grace McDonnell, 12/04/05, Madeleine F. Hsu, 7/10/06, Lauren Rousseau, 6/1982, Victoria Soto, 11/04/85, Rachel Davino, 7/17/83, Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/06, Allison N. Wyatt, 7/03/06, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6/08/06, -Jesse Lewis, 6/30/06, Mary Sherlach, 2/11/56, – Dawn Hochsprung, 06/28/65- RIP Angels
In a general sense, anything that increases the rate of a process is a “catalyst”. I’ve come to accept over the years that this is one of my main purposes in life. My job, my contribution to the world. I noticed at a very early age that I would be put in the path of a certain person for reasons I didn’t understand, just to realize later that I was there to help facilitate some change in their life. Whether it be advice, inspiration, or warning; I knew once it happened that it was the sole reason.
Every once is a while I would be surprised to find out that a person who’s path I crossed would be a permanent fixture; a friend for life. Those are the ones that ended up being catalysts for me.
Have you ever found people drifting in and out of your life and wondered how you ever came to meet them? I think of certain people that I would spend days, weeks, months at a time with and then somewhere out of the blue POOF, its over. We aren’t fighting or anything, its just as if the energy in the room that bound us to each other had suddenly left. Then you never seem to be able to find time to visit or get together and you almost NEVER run into each other accidentally. Strange that you wouldn’t keep bumping into someone that you use to see all the time? You’d think having so much in common they’d be everywhere…but somehow they aren’t.
You see, I believe everything happens for a reason and everyone in your life is there on purpose. There are no accidents. Sometimes you have a boss that you can’t stand and you realize that every job you take you have the same boss (so to speak) until one day you wake up and realize that that same boss is also that parent that you never saw eye to eye with. So are you working at that job because you miss that parent? Do you keep taking those jobs to try to win over affection with said parent?
The universe to me is not as much of a mystery as it use to be because I listen very carefully. I know when I meet someone exactly why they are in my life and I am in there’s. I never tell them of course; they’d think I was nuts! But, is it really crazy to be able to foretell an outcome of a situation? I think 80% of the time the outcomes almost always obvious and the other 20% of the time it is luck or error.
So look around you often. Sometimes those people in your life that may seem annoying or needy are there for a reason and they might not be around long, so enjoy it and help them while you can; after all it is your job.
The thing about the seesaw is trying to get it to balance. Sometimes it seems no matter how hard you try, or how great you exert your effort, you can’t seem to find it. There are days when you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and you just can’t get up from it, which leaves you stuck in the mud.
Emotions are the same way. I imagine every emotion is like a seesaw. Love and hate are tied together. When you love someone it hurts a lot. If you were hurt by someone you didn’t love or even really care about, it wouldn’t hurt as much, you would be indifferent. A complete stranger could say the same thing to me as a dear friend but if its hurtful, I would be hurt by what my friend said, not what the stranger said.
Failure and success share a seesaw too. The closer you get to achieving success the more afraid you are of failing. Sometimes we need to fail in order to recognize success. If you don’t attempt the impossible once in a while and get kicked in the face with disappointment, it wouldn’t really matter to you when one day you achieve success because it wouldn’t mean anything. You wouldn’t have felt the joy of moving from the mud to the air.
So what’s my point? My point is that life is a playground full of seesaws that we are forever needing to find balance with. You have to take the good with the bad; the love with the hate; the failure with the success because it is what gives us balance and knowledge. After all, how would you know you were happy if you’ve never been sad? You wouldn’t. You would just be indifferent all the time. You need to stay on the seesaw. Hold on with both hands. Celebrate the joys of flying through the air and watch your ass if you see that you are getting close to crashing into the mud. But no matter what, don’t be afraid of what’s on the other end, because sooner or later what goes up, must come down.
“I think it is unnatural to think that there is such a thing as a blue-sky, white-clouded happy childhood for anybody. Childhood is a very, very tricky business of surviving it. Because if one thing goes wrong or anything goes wrong, and usually something goes wrong, then you are compromised as a human being. You’re going to trip over that for a good part of your life.”
― Maurice Sendak Author of several books including:
In the famous children’s book “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss there’s a section of the book that he calls the waiting place. We’ve all been there. Waiting to be next in line at the grocery store or waiting for traffic to move so we can get home. Or perhaps we are waiting for a check in the mail, or to hear back from a job interview. We often squander our time during this waiting period as if it doesn’t matter. As if this chunk of time is useless space being taken up between two real events. Something happens and then we wait….and then something else happens.
Personally, I think the greatest stuff happens during the waiting period. This is the time when we have our best thoughts, our best ideas. The time we need to reflect on past achievements or future endeavors. The time we remember to call an old friend, catch up on a good book or remember to do something we had forgotten to do. So many great things happen during that time where we feel life is stagnant. So don’t waste that time. Every moment in your life occurs for a reason; so if you are waiting for something to come, stop! You are in that stagnant period of your life for a reason. Perhaps you will have an epiphany because you have slowed yourself down just long enough to think.
In the words of Aerosmith, “Life’s a journey not a destination”. Enjoy the entire journey, not just the parts where there are fireworks and marching bands. Enjoy the slow and steady, it’s there for a reason.
*Picture courtesy of Dr. Seuss
Everyone, at one time or another thinks to themselves, “I don’t belong”. It is a natural fear that occurs when you feel off your game or you feel as though everyone else, “gets it” but you. Even the ones that always seem to “get it” feel lost in the shuffle some days.
To me, life is one enormous puzzle. Some of us like to be in the middle of everything surrounded by everything and everyone because it makes us feel less alone. Some of us like to stay out on the edge of life with minimal contact so that we don’t feel as overwhelmed or under a microscope.
Wherever your comfort zone may be, you are still a part of the puzzle. We can’t survive without you. We need you to help us keep the rhythm of the universe. You don’t have to be a famous celebrity or billionaire to be a part of the bigger picture. We are all connected and your puzzle piece is just as important as anyone elses.
Remember that during those days were you might feel small or insignificant.
Without you, we are not whole.
Have you ever felt like were stuck in the middle of the ocean treading water, looking around for a land worthy of swimming too? I felt like that for years. YEARS. I would leave the middle and take a risk towards a shore that seemed to offer a promising direction for me, only to find out that the land was barren; or full of pirates, traders and undesirables. Some places gave me inspiration but lacked direction. Some places pointed me into a million directions but there was no inspiration. So, I’d wade myself back into the water and begin to tread again until I got the strength back to swim to another shore.
This is what it feels like when you are lost and unaware of your purpose in life. I think a lot of people feel this way and it goes back to what I wrote about before regarding finding your inner voice. We don’t know who we are or what we are, so we listen to others for advice on what to do. “You should be a therapist”, “You should go to real estate school”, “sales is a rewarding career”, “have you ever tried nursing, you are so good with people”.
What I’ve learned over the years is simple. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you should do it. I’d probably be a great politician, it doesn’t mean its my calling. We get so caught up in what we CAN do, that we lose sight of what we SHOULD do or even more, what we ARE HERE TO DO. I believe everyone knows what they want to do and are here to do but are afraid to admit it to themselves or to others for fear of being judged.
I don’t need to know what color my parachute is. I am aware what I can do. What I’d like to know is the color of my soul. The color of my heart. I truly believe that EVERYONE has a purpose. Even someone awful, mean and cruel has a purpose for being here even if there only purpose is to serve as a warning to others.
Stop treading water and swim to the shore that calls to your heart. I did and after all these years, I have finally caught my breath.
For the first 36 years of my life I had been competing with outside voices telling me who I am, what I am, and what I will do with my life. It starts with parents, then siblings, friends, teachers, bosses and before you know it, you have lost yourself in the shuffle.
For the last year I have finally started to listen to myself. My inner voice had been quieted by the dreams other people had for me. I woke up one day and thought to myself, “I don’t remember dreaming about working in a cubicle in a building with bad lighting?”
Nobody grows up and dreams about being a salesperson or a truck driver. We grow up wanting to be artists, doctors, superhero’s and ballerina’s. Somewhere along the way our voices our silenced, why?
I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to hold a pen. I’d leave scrap paper with scribbled thoughts all over the house. I typed up poems on typewriters, and printed out short stories on computers back when all we had for programs was Dos 2.0 and the paper would get stuck and you’d have to crank it to get it out. I took creative writing in college, wrote plays, screenplays, musicals and even published a poem in the National Library of Poetry’s Anthology, River of Dreams.
Yet, this is the first year of my life that I’ve ever considered myself a true writer. I think my inner voice fell silent on my own ears. I’ve spent so much time believing what others thought I should be, or what I believed to be the more responsible avenue, that I ignored my calling.
Today I take my voice back. I am a writer. I don’t care that I’m not a best-selling author. Maybe I will be one day, maybe I won’t. Either way, it doesn’t define me. I define me. I don’t care if I’m not a millionaire or that I don’t have a 401k. I will survive, I will find a way and I will do it as a writer and nothing else.