<![CDATA[Dawn Downey's Blog - Home]]>Sun, 15 Apr 2018 07:50:28 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Resonance]]>Sat, 14 Apr 2018 12:50:48 GMThttp://dawndowneyblog.com/home/resonanceMy voice was strained as I narrated my audio book, so I took up singing.

At my first lesson, the teacher reported that in normal conversation, I was breathy. Not breathy as in Marilyn Monroe in a skin-tight flesh-colored gown singing "Happy birthday, Mr. President." Breathy as in choking on an olive pit.

However, she said my reading voice was resonant. I don't know what that means, but it sounds like something that will make my jokes wittier and my observations pithier.

At my book readings, I read into a microphone wirelessly connected to a portable speaker. This set-up will provide the solution to my breathy conversations.

From now on, I will wheel a speaker around every day, much like a portable oxygen tank. Instead of oxygen, the cordless mike that curls under my nose will drip resonance. Wit. Pith.

I'll buy this fancy orange speaker, so you'll be able to see me coming.
Then I'll decorate it. On top, my logo—Teresa Mandala's rowboat,  which reminds me it's bad form to look down on other people, but good to view my own life from above.
I'll plaster on pictures of the Happy Trails Hiking Club. At some point during every Sunday hike, Kelli Austin (fearless leader, orange pants) poses us looking like a rock band at a photo shoot. Serious album cover art will make it legit that I'm lugging around a bass guitar amp.
And I'll have Melissa Dehner add her drawing of the one-legged cardinal that lives in her backyard. This will give me inspiration in my quest for a beautiful voice. As an ancient guru once said, even a one-legged cardinal sings purty.

When I'm squeezing through a coffee shop, please forgive me if my thirty-pound speaker rolls over your toes or knocks over your latte. No more breathy conversations for me. With friends alongside and a speaker giving me voice, I will have resonance.

<![CDATA[Popcorn]]>Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:27:24 GMThttp://dawndowneyblog.com/home/popcornPopcorn. Check.

Blankey. Check.

Fire. Check.

DVD popped in place, I settle in to watch Liza with a Z, Liza Minnelli’s 1972 television special, choreographed by Bob Fosse. The only thing better than sexy Bob Fosse choreography—Cabaret, Chicago—is Liza Minnelli dancing it. The competition to be a back-up dancer on this show must have been fierce.  

When I was twelve, I took tap at the mall down the street. Modern dance in high school and college. Ballet in my twenties. African dance in my thirties—my big brother taught the class. A brief fling with tango in in my fifties and fox trot in my sixties. Sometimes in yoga, I daydream I’m striking a pose in the chorus line of a Broadway show.

When Liza talks to the audience between songs, she sounds so much like her mother I expect her to start calling for Auntie Em. A Dorothy-esque expression flashes across her face, and gives me the gushy feeling of girl, I knew your mama back she was younger than you. This makes me weepy, like when Uncle Al tells me I look like Mama. "The spittin' image of Catherine," he says.

Liza springs across the stage, singing, dancing, without ever losing her breath. And I want to leap up and get to my writing, because she makes it seem like everything’s possible, if I’m willing to work my butt off. But I can’t get to my writing just yet, because I’m mesmerized, high on the smells of grease paint and freshly popped popcorn.

Liza’s changed out of a red spangly mini-dress into black knickers and tights, straight out of Charles Dickens. It’s a weird outfit, but hey, it was the seventies, and she pulls it off. Her expression softens, her eyes go misty. Wow, the acting chops. How she captures a mood in a fleeting glance, rearranging the molecules in her face. She oozes into a ballad about homesickness, low and wistful. I snuggle under my blankey and grab a fistful of popcorn.

The words “my mammy” drip from Liza’s tongue.

What the —?

No. She. Didn’t.

A sucker punch.

I’ve got no breath for the obscenities I want to scream.

Liza Minnelli—New York City, Hollywood—waxing on about the sun shining on her mammy in alabammy.

I need to smash the television, but I’m seized up.

The song’s tempo speeds toward conclusion. Liza drops to one knee, belting out the final chords, arms spread wide. “… my ma - a- me-ee!” I’m seeing Liza Minnelli in black knickers. I’m feeling Al Jolson in blackface.

She looks right into the camera, right at me, a more direct and sustaining look than my own mama ever gave me. The look says, yeah, little colored gal, you forgot your place. And the look, and the spread arms, and the joy in her voice are shrieking.

My only place is being some white lady’s mammy.

No. Wait. This isn’t personal. My thoughts are whirring. My Pomona-College-trained analytical mind begins to sort things out. Right, she’s not deliberately trying to obliterate my feelings. Her goal is simply entertainment. She’s entertaining the world. But that makes it worse, because I’m not included in her world, a world in which alabammy sounds like a cartoon gunshot, instead of a real one.

There’s a thunderous ovation for Liza. My fist sags open, and the popcorn falls through my fingers.

<![CDATA[Where Is Your Attention?]]>Sat, 31 Mar 2018 21:58:13 GMThttp://dawndowneyblog.com/home/where-is-your-attentionI was afraid to open the email from Marcia, the developmental editor who had reviewed my manuscript. I knew Searching for My Heart contained the best writing of my career, but I needed the validation of a professional unbiased assessment. On the other hand, my stinginess demanded services on the cheap. What if the praise was less than my neediness could bear? What if the bill was more than my stinginess could handle?

I drummed my fingers on the keyboard, hovered the pointer over the inbox list, and then slammed the laptop shut.

When I was ready to face the email, I first turned my attention to the invoice. I scrolled past the hourly calculations, down to the the end, to find the total.

Twice the amount I’d expected. I sucked in a mouthful of air. I hyper-ventilated. I ate six cookies.

After lunch, I opened the invoice again. The total was still the same. I took a nap.

I opened it once more, this time studying the calculations. Marcia had charged me less than the industry standard. The number of hours she’d worked on the manuscript was on par with my own editing practices. Her math added up. My math had been based on a sense of lack.

My sense of lack had forgotten that I trusted Marcia. I had known all along what the charge would be, and there was enough money in our checking account to cover it, but the facts had no influence over deeply ingrained patterns. There's never enough, and that's that.

I made a cup of tea.

I turned to her critique summary, skimming. "… beautiful turns of phrase … lovely, contemplative, and moving …”

I leaped from my chair. Fists pumping the air, I hopped and stomped a wild-woman dance around the house. The world opened to me, a golden doorway into opportunity and joy.

A thought began to form, trying to take the joy away. There’s not enough. It’s selfish, ego-maniacal to feel this way.

I opened the invoice and was immediately miserable.

Back to the critique. “… seems to levitate with grace and confidence.”

I felt transcendent. The voice of lack was wrong. There was enough joy on the other side of that doorway to enfold the entire earth. There was grace.

I wanted everyone to feel this way.

Back to the invoice. Misery.  

Back to the critique. Joy.

To signal the start of a thirty-minute meditation, the teacher rang a bell. “Focus on the breath. When your attention wanders, bring it back to the breath.”

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. One breath. Another. Dumb movie. In real life, that guy would never …

“Where is your attention?” the teacher asked.

Back to breathing. One breath. Another. This is nice. So quiet. Was that a cardinal? Wait, no.

“Where is your attention?”

One breath. Another. Need to cook the salmon before it spoils. With rice?

“Where is your attention?”


I played around with misery and joy. Opening the email was unnecessary. Merely thinking about either the critique or the invoice brought on shifting energies.

Critique in mind: I was driving Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible, sun on my shoulders, ocean spray against my face, and no particular place to be. Invoice: I was stuck in a traffic jam behind an eighteen-wheeler … in a downpour … late for a doctor’s appointment.

Where is your attention?

I wrote Marcia a check, enclosing a note of thanks. As the envelope slid into the mailbox at the post office, I levitated with grace and confidence.