New York City

POV Challenge: Week Two, Sample 2

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The POV challenge continues! Details on this week’s goal here.


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The phone dinged relentlessly in my pocket. I had been away from the office for five minutes. Clients, associates, the dry cleaner reminding me for the fifth time this week my suits were done. I hadn’t changed out of the one I was wearing in three days. Hell, I hadn’t left the office in three days. Ding, ding, ding.

Knuckling my temples, I stepped into the only empty pocket of the revolving door. It bumped me from behind, the worn rubber seals squelching across the marble floor in a lego-sized tidal wave of rain water. It spit me out under the protection of the bronzed awning.

“Afternoon, Mr. Angelo. They let you out of the cage for a bit?” Bruce tipped his hat and pulled an umbrella out of the bin. He shook it once and rain flicked off the black nylon. The umbrella popped open and Bruce held it out to me.

“Jailbreak. Keep the suits of my trail?” The glossy rosewood handle met my skin like an ice cube. I left my gloves on my desk. Again. I wasn’t going back up.

Bruce chuckled and clasped his hands behind his back, the sleeves of his rain gear bunching up at his elbow and making him look twice his size. “I never saw you, sir.”

I nodded my thanks and tucked myself under the umbrella. Once around the block. Ten minutes of fresh air. My feet sloshed through standing pools of water on the sidewalk. I didn’t try to avoid them. Every calculated detour around added a fraction of a second to the time I had already stolen. My cell phone still dinged and buzzed in my pocket. I could turn it off. Drop it down a gutter maybe? They would have a new one on my desk in an hour if I did. The effort would be a waste.

Gains, Gains and Andrews occupied an entire city block on the edge of Central Park, a cosmetic marvel on the shoulder of a tamed wilderness. Anymore, the city seemed the wild thing – unyielding, unforgiving. A spreading virus of discontent bred by suits, greed, and bitterness.

My fingers clenched around the umbrella handle as I trudged on. I had been gaining on the hunched trench coat in front of me for half a block. We had the sidewalk to ourselves, apparently the only two people in the city who hadn’t opted out of the rain. The man had seen better days. A frayed shoelace trailed behind him. The oatmeal tan of his coat barely showed through the spattered stains and the rain had soaked through. He had flipped the collar of the coat up around his ears, and with the cap pulled down to meet it, he looked not to have a head at all.

I jogged to catch up to the man and water spattered up my legs, soaking my socks. “Excuse me. Sir?” He kept walking, either ignoring me or oblivious. I reached out and tapped his shoulder and the man jerked away. “I don’t mean to bother you, sir. I just wanted you to have this.” I held out the umbrella.

He stared at me for a moment, cool grey eyes narrowed beneath heavy eyebrows dripping water onto his cheeks.

Rain dripped down the back of my neck, pooling above the collar of my shirt where the tie cinched it tight against my throat. I pushed the umbrella at the man, hoping he didn’t notice the shiver in my jaw.  “Please, take it.”

He reached forward hesitantly and I slid my hand up from the handle so he could grab it. Rain raced up my jacket sleeve and I shook it out as the man took the umbrella.

“Thank you.” A flicker a smile ticked the corner of the man’s lips and I nodded.

Rounding the corner to the front of the building, I smoothed out my sodden suit jacket, readjusting it on my shoulders in a half-assed attempt to make it presentable. I would have to send Julie to pick up my dry cleaning.

“Ah. Back already, Mr. Angelo?” Bruce cocked his head to the side as I approached. “Your umbrella, sir?”

I smiled and shrugged. “Wind turned it inside out half way around the block. Dropped it in a bin.”

“You have terrible luck with the wind, Mr. Angelo.”

“Indeed.”

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POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 3

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Hot on the heals of NaNoWriMo and determined to keep the energy flowing, a group of writers and I have decided to take up a 4-week writing challenge. After a month of spewing words out as fast as possible, we are taking a step back and focusing on craft, specifically looking at point of view through flash fiction. If you are interested in how the challenge works and want to follow along, check out the details here.


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© Katie Rene Johnson, 2016

Wind lashed against Brant’s cheeks jetting pellets of river water into his skin with needle pricks. He hated the wind, especially in the city, though the way it thrashed the Brooklyn bridge edged its way up for a close second. Brant looped his thumb through the keyring in his pocket, flipping the two small keys around each other. Top to bottom. Bottom to top. A chill spidered down his neck. Nerves or wind – he couldn’t tell the difference.

A shoulder bucked into him from the left, and Brant’s toe caught on an uneven plank as he stumbled. His eyelid twitched. Safety hazard. Priority seven. His free hand flicked to the railing and he steadied himself. The wind choked out his calming breath and he exhaled in a sputtering cough. The planks might as well have been wet concrete. Each step sucked him down, heavier and heavier. Impossible to move. He inched his hand further up the rail, dragging his feet forward. The rail held his weight without a tremor. Satisfactory. The keys in his pocket tumbled over one another. Bottom to top. Top to bottom.

The wind kicked an empty water bottle along the walkway barrier. It skittered to a stop against an overflowing garbage bin. Health violation. Priority three. Brant tipped the water bottle into the less full recycle tub and skirted around them both. A paper bag made its escape on a gust of wind and Brant clenched his teeth. Not my problem. Not my responsibility. Not anymore. Almost there.

Tucked against the brick of the support tower, the wind seemed less belligerent, and Brant rolled the tension out of his shoulders. A dozen paces away, chains of padlocks encased the bridge support cables. The keys in his pocket bit into palm of his hand. The lock pushed against his leg, suddenly heavy and unwieldy. Pulling his feet out of the concrete, Brant stepped forward.

Up close, Brant could read the names drawn onto the locks with paint or marker: Danny, Joe, Sharon, Casey. Ribbons tied to various shackles clipped back and forth in the wind, edges frayed and disintegrating. He couldn’t count how many locks there were. Dozens? Hundreds? Enough that the weight had built up for sure. Safety hazard. Level four. Priority five. Brant traced his fingers up and down the cables, reaching, testing. The higher the stack, the more solid the the stands of locks. They gripped one another, locked together by downward force. One cable, two.

The third was shorter, newer. Colors hadn’t faded yet in the sunlight. The ribbons less frayed. Brant could almost reach the top of the stack. He pushed up on the one of the locks and it gave, opening a small gap on the cable. He let it fall back into place, taking a step back. The wind raced against his ears, blurring out the traffic below, the hum of passersby. His own breathing cut in and out, catching on the rise and fall of the wind. Reaching into the heavy pocket, Brant pulled out the lock. Candy apple red. Gold shackle. One name.

One of the keys slid easily into the lock, and he heard it click, even over the drone of the wind. The body rotated to the side as the shackle pulled free. Brant pulled the key from the mechanism, and reached back up the stack, pushing the same forgiving lock out of the way. The gold shackle looped around the cable, and Brant twisted the body back into place. The lock snapped shut and he exhaled sharply. The sounds of the city wedged their way into the place over the breath he had been holding, and he took a step back from the rail.

Brant glanced over his shoulder, first right, then left. No one seemed to have noticed what he had done. Easing the keyring from his finger, Brant let the keys rest on his palm, holding his hand up to eye level. He closed his eyes, drew in another breath.

His fingers wrenched shut and he pulled his arm back. Swing, release. The keys flipped through the air and over the edge of the bridge.

Inspection passed.

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Solo Travel: Expectations vs. Reality

2016-04-18_232314723_1DBA3_iOSBooking a one way ticket to New York City at the end of February is probably one if the biggest leaps I have ever taken in my life. Clicking “buy” on that first ticket was both exhilarating and absolutely terrifying. I think my heart skipped around in a my throat for at least two hours afterwards.

A couple years ago, when I first toyed around with the idea of traveling solo, I picked Edinburgh, Scotland as my first destination. It seemed like a no-brainer given my fascination with castles, medieval times, and fairy tales. Planning a trip to Scotland felt like dipping my toes into the warm, inviting waters of the solo travel world. Booking the ticket to New York felt like diving into an icy lake naked and blindfolded.

When I started telling people about traveling to New York City, I usually received one of three responses: You are so brave; the city is dirty and smells horrible; the people are rude. I should point out that I was not completely oblivious to the ways of the city when I booked this trip – I did spend eight whole hours there last year – but these responses still had their way of eking their influence into my expectations of my first real experience in New York.

Expectations Vs. Reality

  • Expectation: The city smells.
    • When every person you talk to tells you that the city reeks of urine and garbage, you can’t help but wait for your senses to be accosted the most terrible of smells.
  • Reality: Only a little bit.
    • When you have that many people crammed into such a small land area, there are going to be smells. However, there most certainly was not a constant barrage of horrible assaulting my nostrils. I actually remember one corner specifically that had a gross odor to it right in Times Square. Unfortunately, I had to walk by it often, but other than that I don’t really remember anything smelling that bad. The thing most jarring to me was the piles of trash on the sidewalks waiting for pickup when I rolled into the city on a shuttle about 11:30 at night.
  • Expectation: The people are rude.
    • In the city that never sleeps, people don’t have time for tourists or anyone who gets in their way to wherever they are going in a crazy hurry.
  • Reality: Just the tourists.
    • Seriously, the worst people I encountered were the tourists – hands down.  I tried very hard to fit in as I wandered the streets, and I think that it worked 2016-04-22_000855683_BEDC0_iOSfor the most part. I was hyper aware of common courtesy and even researched a few of the things that people in New York find annoying so I could avoid being one of THOSE people. Maybe that helped my case. But honestly, if tourists tried half as hard as I did, there would be a lot less rudeness in the city. The New Yorkers that I interacted with were all friendly (with the exception of the homeless man who turned nasty when I wouldn’t give him a dollar.) The tourists, however, were another story entirely. I really tried to immerse myself in the New York culture while I was there, avoiding for the most part some of the more touristy attractions. My venture to the top of the Rockefeller Center was probably the most touristy thing I did, and I came away from it appreciating the view, but hesitant to ever visit such a touristy spot again. As the sun set, the Top of the Rock became exceptionally busy and every single person vied for the best view of the city at night – regardless of who they stepped in front of or pushed out of the way. Attempting the apply the concept of common courtesy was completely moot, because the second you stepped back from the person in front of you so you weren’t breathing down their neck, someone else squeezed right in front of you. The idea of waiting patiently for your turn at the edge might has well have been a pipe dream. If you weren’t on your toes and ready to jump in the second the person in front of you left, you completely missed your shot. I honestly started to wonder if any of them were really taking it in or if they were part of some greater scavenger hunt where they just needed one crappy snapshot to prove they were there before racing off to the next location. I mean, really, once the sun went down it wasn’t going to matter if you waited 2 minutes or 10 – the picture of the city was going to look just the same.
  • Expectation: There are people everywhere.
    • Back to the idea of so many people being crammed into such a small space, you expect there to always be somebody around, especially 2016-04-20_125804900_9FA3F_iOScoming from somewhere where you can hop in a car and drive for twenty miles on a dirt road without seeing anybody.
  • Reality: Yes, there are a lot of people. 
    • Being based in Times Square, there were a ton of people. But, there are still moments when you are almost alone. I think this became one of my biggest fascinations with the city. Even the the middle of the hustle and bustle of a million people, moments stand out where there was no one around. Even half of a subway car captured in a photograph can suggest solitude. There may have been a dozen people behind me, but in the photograph there are none. Wandering through central park was really no different than hiking on a trail in the mountains back home. People were around, but not in the mobs and swarms you might expect, unless you were in Times Square.
  • Expectation: It is always loud.
    • Oh the infamous taxi horn. The sound of traffic, the constant swarms of people.
  • Reality: The City is loud.
    • I had barely been in the city for ten minutes before horns were sounding car to car like some bizarre symphony. I expected it and had to giggle because the horns for the most part are completely pointless. Honking at the person in front of you when the one holding up traffic is ten cars away really isn’t helping anybody. Aside from the incessant honking, the city also has a drone – a low, industrial hum that never breaks. I didn’t mind either sound, accepting it immediately as the ambiance of the city, kind of like crickets when you live in the country by the river.
  • Expectation: I will have the time and energy to write in the evenings.
    • Wasn’t the whole point of this trip to focus on my creativity, in particular my writing? And since I planned on being back at my hotel room fairly early in the evenings, I should have plenty of time and energy.
  • Reality: Travel is EXHAUSTING.
    • I really really kicked myself for not investing in a pedometer before I headed to New York. I know that I walked miles upon miles every day, even with my unlimited subway pass. I also didn’t account for the sensory overload that comes with traveling, not only in general, but alone. Without a second pair of eyes, my sense were constantly on high alert, keeping track of my surroundings, belongings, and whereabouts while still taking in the sights and sounds of the things around me. Even though I made a point to take my time going wherever I was going, I still had a checklist of things I wanted to see. By the time I returned to my hotel each night, I could barely stay awake long enough for a quick phone call to my husband back home. The couple of nights I did set to writing, I experienced technical difficulties on my iPad that caused me to lose nearly all of what little writing I did get done,  so I came back from traveling with negative writing accomplished. It’s a month later and I am just getting around to this post – which I decided to write on about my third day in NYC.

Expectation: Solo travel will be an incredible, eye-opening and confidence building adventure.

REALITY:  Absolutely.

There is a certain amount of pride that comes with pushing one’s boundaries and levels of confidence. I has always been easy for me to make excuses not to do things, but once a plan like this is in motion, there is no room for excuses. Stepping off the plane at JFK put me in an instant independent mindset knowing that I had no one but to myself to rely on, both in points of adventure and (if there should be any) trouble. It was kind of like flipping a switch. While having that switch flipped proved exhausting, it was also freeing. The ability to plan each day on a whim and take as much or as little time here or there led me from Times Square to The Cloisters in the northern corner of Manhattan to the2016-04-21_162527143_50737_iOS Staten Island Ferry all the way south, across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset and even to a castle in the middle of Central Park.  This trip as a whole went off without a hitch, and though I didn’t have a set schedule, I did do a lot of research ahead of time which allowed for me to skip around the city and group together points of interest as needed. My unlimited metro card became my personal tour guide, dropping me here or there and leading me down streets or through areas I wouldn’t have ventured without the need for the next closest subway station. And mostly, this first solo travel opened my eyes to how much there is to see in the world.

I started this venture thinking that New York was a crazy place to go on my first solo trip, when in reality it was probably one of the best places I could have gone. Part of that came from dipping my toes into the city for a few hours last year. Even though we weren’t there for long, it was enough to get me my bearings and avoid being completely overwhelmed when I went there on my own. The city forced me to test myself. There was a definite moment of “take a deep breath and just do it” when I dropped into the first subway station and purchased my metro card. By opening myself up to the city and the experience, I found the most difficult thing do was decide where and what to eat. And if I am honest, I was pretty okay with living on coffee, granola bars and some kind of egg concoction for breakfast. When I splurged on my last day in the city, the waitress did look at me a little weird as I ordered Gnocchi with a side of onion rings and a lemon drop martini at this little Irish pub. But hey, you only live once, right?

 


A note of perspective:

I am not typically one to put a lot of hype into my Montana roots, but it plays into the intimidation factor of taking my first solo venture to somewhere like New York City. Aside from maneuvering between the airport and my hotel, I spent approximately 5 days in Manhattan with my hotel base just off of Times Square. Manhattan is just about 23 square miles of land and home to about 1.6 million people. I live in Montana, which has a total land area of about 147,000 square miles. That makes my home state 6,391 times bigger than the city of Manhattan. And Montana only has a population of just over a million. The “city” I live in has about 40,000 people in a slightly smaller land area than Manhattan (roughly 19 square miles). We drive everywhere and have a public transportation system less than a decade old that I have never used. I grew up in the country on 5 acres where spare time was passed riding bikes with my best friend (now husband) up and down the 1/2 mile road to our neighboring houses.

Experience: Metal Rock Opera, Part II

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Have you ever had an experience where even though a plan is in motion, it doesn’t seem real? Like, you are sitting on an airplane and it feels like you could just as easily be sitting back at your desk in the office and not flying to New York City for your first solo travel endeavor? That’s exactly how I felt two Thursdays ago. In fact, I didn’t even get that little feeling of excitement and anticipation in my stomach that I always get on the edge of something exciting until I looked out my window as we started the descent into JFK.

And seriously, who wouldn’t feel a little giddy if this was the view from the window?!

Once the plane landed, things transpired as a normal person would expect them to. Get off the plane, find the shuttle, and go to the hotel. I realized about ten minutes after I checked into my room (which got a free upgrade from a closet with a twin bed to a legit room with a window and a queen size bed!) that I really hadn’t eaten anything all day besides airplane pretzels and Taco Bell before my first flight out of Bozeman. Food was essential, and a minor sleep sacrifice seemed reasonable in exchange for a couple chicken nuggets, my first view of Times Square at night and a glimpse of the marquee for probably my most anticipated concert of all time.

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Here is the thing about Avantasia: obviously I think they are amazing, but they are not very well known in the US. Leading up to this trip, any time someone asked me what was doing in New York City, I responded simply with, “a concert.” That, apparently, is not a good enough answer and I would then preface my lame explanation with, “You haven’t heard of them.” I have yet to meet someone aside from the people standing under the marquee with me that actually recognized the name of band.

So, even though this concert was in New York City I knew that the people going to this show would be the die hard fans. I already had an idea that people were flying in from all over the country to see  Avantasia. Some people even came from other countries. I assumed that such devotion would lead to a pretty early queue to make it into the venue. I set myself up front, alone, at about 8:15am determined to be the first in line and on the rail for the concert.

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I remained alone for a while, save the people that used that particular entryway  to smoke cigarettes and make phone calls without getting run over by those passing through Times Square. A few people gave me strange looks, most completely ignored me. Part of me felt a little crazy and strange, to be honest. Even though I was sitting in Times Square in New York City, outside THE concert venue, the whole thing still didn’t seem quite real. Having resisted the urge to put in my headphones and jam out to Avantasia all day for the sake of preserving my phone battery and being camped out under the marquee, literally nothing acted as a persistent reminder as to why I was setting myself up in Times Square for 11 hours. If I paid close attention, I could occasionally see the reflection of the marquee in the windows across the street, but there wasn’t really much point in staring at that.

An hour and half alone gave me enough to make friends with the street cleaner that passed by five or six times sweeping up garbage and cigarette butts. And by friends, I mean a quick nod of acknowledgment that yes, he was still making rounds cleaning the street and yes, I was still sitting on the sidewalk just off Times Square.

My first concert going acquaintance came in a Venezuelan man who flew in from Florida. We greeted each other with a high-five and a “fuck yeah” for our determination to be first into the venue. Lucky for this guy, he had already seen Avantasia at Wacken Open Air, the biggest heavy metal festival in the world. I acknowledged that he had a leg up on me in fandom status and had 13006675_10156830666435287_7432879613658605274_ncome equipped with a special edition album prepped for autographs from the band which he was determined to acquire. He didn’t even have a hotel room for the night. He literally came from the airport to the venue and would head from the venue straight back to the airport. That is some crazy devotion.

A third devotee showed up not long after that, and we spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon bantering about the bands we had seen and music we liked. It was a good way to pass the time, but things still didn’t get real for me until half the band showed up. With little risk of losing my first-in-line status, I followed my comrades down the sidewalk.

Here’s the thing: I am not prone to fan-girling. I have never met anyone famous. I don’t even know how to handle a situation like that, because one has never been presented. As we approached the band it was immediately clear that the stars of the group were not present. I recognized one person in the group of 6 or 7 that had shown up. As my line companions posed for pictures and collected autographs, I hovered on the edge for a few minutes and then retreated back to the queue. I realized that I couldn’t justify bugging somebody for a picture or an autograph when I didn’t know their name.  It only seemed fair.

However, if I had been standing in the vicinity when Tobias Sammet walked up to the venue, it might be a different story. As I explained this realization to another line-mate who had also returned to the queue, we both agreed that Tobi (we had been waiting in line long enough at this point to consider ourselves on first name basis with the mastermind) was the one to meet. Without him, Avantasia wouldn’t exist. If he showed up soon, I just might get a little fan-girly.

The band’s arrival set the venue into action, and barriers appeared to separate the concert goers from the masses of people wandering Times Square. Honestly, this is when I really really decided things were real. With barriers in place, I was officially without question the first person in line for the concert of a lifetime. Also, being female, I was severely outnumbered by those lined up at that point for the concert.

I tend to get a little rambunctious when I am excited for something, and it became a subject of entertainment and even respect that I would be the first one in the door. Being my first experience of waiting in line for hours to get into a concert venue, I really enjoyed the camaraderie that grew between the small group of us that had been there all day. Strangely enough, time didn’t start to crawl until we were within a couple hours of the concert. I started to get antsy.

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As the line grew, we passed the final hours discussing music – favorite bands, past experiences, anything we could come up with to keep us distracted, including fending off those looking for the line for The Lion King. This was a minor source of irritation as The Lion King on Broadway is kind of hard to miss.

As the number of questions about our reason for lining up grew, I was consoled to know I wasn’t the only one who got frustrated trying to explain what band we had flown across the country to see. I had a good laugh when the street cleaner from earlier walked back and realized why I had been waiting outside on the sidewalk all morning. Even he didn’t connect the giant marquee over our heads to the reason we were lined up on the sidewalk. Though I suppose if you spend a lot of time in that area you problem get a little numb to the different events and venues.

The last hour waiting for the doors to open was brutal. Nearing the 11 hour mark of the day, the energy of the crowd was palpable. More of the band trickled in and when Michael Kiske (of Helloween) arrived, fans returned to the line in ecstasy having just acquired a photo or autograph. I still waited for Tobi, but with the line nearly at capacity and having been moved around the corner to create more room on the street, I wouldn’t be able to see when he appeared. Not to mention he would be swarmed. I resigned myself to not getting a photo or autograph, but I was completely okay with it. I knew I would be standing feet from him for the next 3 or more hours.

My earliest line companion returned to the queue not long before the doors opened having successfully acquired all but three of his desired signatures. I was impressed with is persistence, and his excitement for entering the venue equaled mine as he would be second in the door.

When the doors finally opened, my heart jumped into my throat and I floated through the door on a cloud of excitement and disbelief. First down the escalator (the venue is underground), I rounded the corner to a completely empty venue and had to resist with every ounce of will to not run at top sprint across the floor to the stage. My feet settled into a weird gate somewhere between speed walking and skipping as I knew the crowd was not far behind me, and when my hand touched the rail front row center, the entire 11 hours of standing outside became 150 percent worth it.

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Did I mention the band planned to play for 3 hours? Without any openers? I had set myself up perfectly for the concert experience of a lifetime and I could hardly contain my excitement. Those of us that had made the rail exchanged similar excited sentiments and chatted up the photographers that were filling up the photo pit right in front of us. If nothing else it made the time go faster than staring at the giant red clock I could see behind the curtain stage left. The damn thing was like a beacon crawling time.

As the lights finally dimmed and the intro began, deep guitar riffs and heavy drums vibrated in my chest, tension and anticipation building like a thunderhead. From behind me, a few voices yelled A-VAN-TAS-IA, clap clap, clap clap clap. More people joined on each syllable and the chant overpowered the throbbing intro. A-VAN-TAS-IA. A-VAN-TAS-IA.

Drummer, keyboards, base guitar, lead guitars, backup vocals, each took their places on the stage as they brought the opening riffs of Mystery of a Blood Red Rose to life. The screaming, chanting, jumping, fist pumping excitement quadrupled as Tobias Sammet appeared center the stage… “We’ve played our roles in our passion plays…” I could have died at that moment and been content. Every plane, van, midnight chicken nugget, hour of lost sleep and hours waiting in Time Square had culminated in that very moment and I was on top of the world.

This show marked the second time (the first being Anaheim, CA a few days earlier) that Avantasia had ever played on American soil, and I was there – front row center. It was the first and potentially last time I would ever see them live. It was most definitely one the the absolute best moments in my life.

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Avantasia Mastermind Tobias Sammet.

The energy of the band and the love with which they performed outdid any band I have ever seen live – and I have seen many. Tobi spent a lot of time chatting with the audience, cracking jokes and telling stories about the band and the songs. He treated us like old friends, teasing the seated concert-goers in the back of the venue about mistaking the show for a Broadway production and asking if those on the balconies to the sides would be handling the follow spots. He shamelessly promoted their newest album, even snatching up my line-mate’s signed special edition to show the crowd.

As the night progressed to the 2 hour mark, Tobi commented on how most bands would be on the way back to their hotels at that point. Not Avantasia. They committed to playing a three hour set, and they weren’t even beginning to look tired. Tobi’s awe with the crowd’s enthusiasm became more apparent as the night wore on, and the band admitted they hadn’t known what to expect from the crowd in New York City. Before the end they promised they would absolutely be back on the next tour. If that was the impression we left on their second ever show in the USA, I’ll take it, though I would travel the world to see them perform again.

I tried to ignore the giant red clock off stage left counting down the time until the show might end, trading it’s time slowing abilities for time travel. After an interlude of metal lead by the guest artists, Tobi returned to the stage with bad news. Apparently the venue had a very strict curfew and they were pushing their time limit, but they hadn’t finished their set yet and they were determined to give us what we came to see. Without delay, they launched into “The Story Ain’t Over”, which is not only one of my favorite songs, but so true. The story of this concert will never be over for me or the people in the crowd who came from all over to see them.

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Tobias Sammet and Oliver Hartmann

As soon as the band left the stage, the crowd erupted in chants of A-VAN-TAS-IA. I screamed for their return, voice cracked and throat sore, both fists in the air. The end had come too soon, but they still had an encore. The enthusiasm of the crowd guaranteed an encore, time constraints or no. When the band returned, the crowd lost it. Even as they took up their instruments, Tobi kept glancing backstage before finally turning to us to announce their finale. He explained that if they don’t meet curfew, the band would be fined. And he would pay the fines, because they were sure as hell going to finish their show. As the music picked up Tobi turned off stage, animatedly check the time on his watch and flashed a middle finger to the giant red clock and the man pointing furiously at it. That, friends, is devotion to your art and your fans.

The encore brought all 12 members of the band forward as encores do, showcasing their talents and bringing them all together for the final song of the night. As the lights came up in the venue and the band hustled off stage, Jorn Lande made his way from one end of the stage to the other, grasping hands of his and the band’s fans. I even succumbed to temptation and stretched my short little self up there too. Why not?

Stage empty, crew in full swing of tear down, I lingered in disbelief. I had just experienced the best concert of my life. The people around me were already reliving their favorite moments from the show and raving about its awesomeness. I raved to myself, because I’m just not that social of a person. My first line-mate and I did have a moment of joint revelry though. Even having seen them before, he was blown away by this show.

As I stepped onto the escalator and rose from the depths of the Playstation Theater in New York City, I knew that that show and experience would be with me for the rest of my life. Neck sore, ears ringing, voice nearly toast, arms bruised from hanging on the rail, I made my way slowly back to my hotel. I have never connected to a band as much as I connect to Avantasia, and to have seen them live – something I NEVER thought would happen in a thousand years – was beyond a dream come true.

PS. My line mate successfully acquired the remaining three autographs after the show!!

 

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Michael Kiske and Tobias Sammet

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Amanda Somerville

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Sacha Paeth

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Eric Martin

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Ronnie Atkins

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Herbie Langhans

 

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Jorn Lande

 

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Tobias Sammet

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I’m there! Front row center!!! Photo Credit: Avantasia via Facebook

 

Inspiration: Fate

I have always believed that things happen for a reason. Some people might call it fate, others serendipity. Maybe even luck. I accept things as they were meant to be or not.

In January, I began preparing a selection of Solidity for submission to a writer’s workshop at an event called MisCon, which is Montana’s largest “Comic Con” type event. I have had my eye on this event for years and grudgingly missed the year that George R. R. Martin attended as a guest speaker accompanied by the Iron Throne. Last year, Terry Brooks attended as a speaker. I had to miss that one too.  This year, Jim Butcher is the author feature. I haven’t read his books, though I know a lot of people that highly recommend them. Regardless, I am looking forward to finally sitting in on a panel by a New York Times best selling author.

But that is besides the point. When the first of the year hit, I decided that I was going to MisCon this year, no matter what. To enter the writing workshop, you have to submit a piece of writing for evaluation. I set to work refining my favorite 10 pages of Solidity to date. Not a week after making that decision, I received an email from The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Alumni Council. They were sponsoring a writing residency in New York City, and I just happened to meet the requirements for submission. Having already started a 10 page writing sample, I adjusted my focus to reflect the expectations for the residency, which I had to apply for. Who wouldn’t want a week of distraction free writing in a nice, historic hotel in the middle of New York City? From the beginning, I imagined my chances were fairly slim for acceptance. After all, they were only taking two writers and they had decades worth of writing alumni from their awards program eligible for submission.

I am an obsessive planner. Once I decided I was going to submit, I started researching details – just in case. The dates of the residency turned out to coincide with the week of vacation I had already reserved earlier in the month. How handy was that? I checked one box on the list of Fate-related circumstances. Then I looked at plane tickets to NYC. I have a dear friend who lives in Maryland whom I have been planning to visit this year. Knowing that, I started checking plane tickets to the east coast before Christmas and no matter what dates I looked at, tickets were sitting between $400 and $600. I figured NYC wouldn’t be much different. Turns out, plane tickets for that exact week were only $250, round trip. I checked another box on the circumstance list. Add up the fact that I already had a 10 page submission in the works, the fact that I am a Writing Award alumni, and the fact that I have never done a residency before (which pushed me up on the list for consideration), three more checks made their way onto the list.

At this point, I was feeling pretty good. Everything pointed to the idea that I at least had to try, and I submitted my proposal a week ahead of the deadline. A problem I struggle with on a daily basis is that I hate waiting. I am an instant gratification type of person. Once the waiting stage sets in, I obsess over possibilities, potential, plans – pretty much anything that in some way can pertain to the idea of whatever thing I am obsessing about. I end up searching for a lot of distractions. One such thing came in the mail about a week later – an autographed copy of the newest album just released by my favorite band, Avantasia. Not only are they my favorite band, but they serve as a partial muse for Better to Pretend, inspiring the band that main character Jenna obsesses over. I follow the band on social media, and accompanying the release of the new album, they announced a world tour – something that is rare for this band. For something to do, I looked it up knowing I wouldn’t be able to make it to any of the concerts as they most definitely wouldn’t be coming anywhere close to Montana. My hunch was right. They had two shows in the USA: one in NYC, the other in Los Angeles. Then, I looked at the dates.

Considering I have resigned myself to the idea I will NEVER see them live, what were the chances they would be performing somewhere I had the slightest chance of being? I figured nonexistent. Turns out they were going to be in New York City the literal day I would fly in should I be accepted for the residency. I am not going to lie. I had a minor (okay, major) freak out session. Add about 20 checks to the fate circumstance list for good measure. At this point, waiting for news on the residency became almost painful – especially since the deadline for submission was still a few days away. I waited and waited and waited and weighed my options.

I started seriously considering going to NYC regardless of the residency. Doing so would be my first official solo travel venture. Solo travel is something I have always wanted to do, and something I have continually put off for any number or reasons (excuses). I had also figured my first solo trip would be over seas, particularly to Scotland and a town pretty close in size to my hometown in Montana. It seemed like the logical step. Now, I was considering my first solo venture to Manhattan, where the island is home to more people than live in the entire state of Montana. Somehow, it seemed infinitely more intimidating.

More waiting. More obsessing. More driving myself and those around me crazy. The deadline finally passed. It was only a matter of time. I did something I never do – I checked my horoscope. If I do look at a horoscope, it is because it happens to be there, say on the sidebar of the Yahoo homepage. Sometimes they are vaguely fitting, most of the time they are way off. They are never specific. I looked at the February horoscope. It started with that day, which had nothing remotely relevant. The weekly look wasn’t any better. I flipped over to the overview for the entire month.

As the month begins, it’ll soon become clear to you that a writing project…will take up the majority of your time and energy. Fortunately, this is something you not only want to do, but it’s something you’re talented at doing…

…There’s no doubt you’re working on something significant. Perhaps that book you’ve always wanted to write is finally ready to come out of you. Go for it!…

…Expect an honor, award or other type of recognition… You’ll feel validated…

Reasonably, I kind of lost my shit.

I stewed on this for a few days, then I did something else I never do. I bought a one-way plane ticket, two nights in a hotel room, and a concert ticket. By this point I was pretty sure the universe was trying to tell me something. Everything I did seemed to point to me being in New York City that specific week in April. My stress level multiplied by about a thousand. The planner in me could barely handle not having a finite plan. I waited some more.

.

.

.

I didn’t get the residency.

By the time I found out, I had mostly decided that it wasn’t going to happen. And I was okay with it. I really, really wanted to be accepted. It was an incredible opportunity. But as much as I wanted it, it didn’t matter. I am going to New York City. The planner in me rejoiced as I booked the remainder of my trip.

I still believe that things happen for a reason. The series of events that lead me to booking that first plane ticket were the only reason I did it. The domino effect of fate, or serendipity or whatever you want to call it made me take a leap that I have been putting off for ages. Had the residency not come up, I wouldn’t have looked at plane tickets to New York. I wouldn’t have cared about the Avantasia world tour, because I knew they wouldn’t be anywhere I could get to easily. I never would have spent a week scouring over Solidity for 10 pages of perfection that in the end led to revelations about the story. You get the idea. I really do believe this was meant to be.

You can tell yourself a million times how much you want something. You can dream about it, talk about it, write about it, and obsess about it for days, months or even years. The fact of the matter is, if all you ever do is talk about it, it is never going to happen. You can’t make something happen unless you commit to it.

Writing has always been my dream – my passion. I have had successes. I have had validation that it is something I am meant to do. However, if you look at the reality of it, I have been calling myself a writer for years and I have yet to finish one of my three novels. The only thing I have completed since I was a freshman in college was a poem. I always have an excuse: I don’t have time; I am too busy; I am too tired. I want to travel, but I don’t have the money. I want to see the world but I am afraid to do it alone. There has always been one reason or another that something doesn’t happen. And I have nobody to blame but myself. That is kind of a hard pill to swallow. As much as I want to put the blame somewhere else, the only thing really stopping me is myself.

In two weeks, I am going to New York City. I am going to spend a week visiting locations that are relevant to Solidity. I am going to spend a week focusing on my writing and photography. I am going to see my favorite band by myself – a nearly once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t say that I won’t lose track of my writing again when I get home and go months without putting words to a page. It might be a few years before I am able to take another solo adventure. The thing is, now I know I can do it. I am capable of taking a leap of faith. No more excuses.

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” ~ Paulo Coelho

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Inspiration: Travel

I have always loved to travel. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do near enough of it in my life. Sure, there are the short weekend trips, but I want to explore the world – venture into new places, wander the remnants of past times that have been so hugely inspirational to my writing. Someday, I want to travel for the sole purpose of finding things to write about. Someday.

In the meantime, I will settle for whichever opportunities arise to take me somewhere new and I recently had such an opportunity. Last year, my dear friend Lindsey moved from the West coast to the East coast – quite literally, Washington State to Washington DC…ish. I have never really thought about traveling to the East coast save the obvious New York City venture, but with Lindsey stationed there and knowing that she herself had not had much of an opportunity to explore, I thought it would be a great chance to have a real beans, explore the world adventure with a good friend. So we did.

Over the course of a week, we dipped our toes into the plethora of wonderful things to explore between Washington DC, Baltimore and New York City. I am not much for museums or zoos, or aquariums, or even guided tours of anything. I like to get out and walk, discover things that you might not see from the window of a bus. I like to be immersed in a new place, taking in the sights, smells and sounds so different from my home in Montana. We planned our trip as kind of an introduction to all of these great places, and now when I go back, we can explore those we liked the best in greater depth. We did a lot of walking. A lot. Just exploring the National Mall in DC we walked at least 7 miles in one day and still didn’t see everything. New York City much the same. I could write about this trip all day, but instead I will show you a little of what we saw.

Washington DC

We spent two days in Washington DC. The first we wandered the National Mall to take in as many monuments as we could. We only missed out on a couple as we wanted to beat rush hour getting home – something that can turn a 20 minute drive into 3 hours. The second day we visited Arlington Cemetery and the National Cathedral. I would love to go back to DC and explore more of the monuments and get off the beaten path a bit and away from the tourist. I am pretty sure there were as many tour buses as there were cars.

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Walking up to the Capital Building. Unfortunately, the rotunda was under construction, but still impressive.

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The statue of Lincoln is impressive. I honestly didn’t realize how huge this monument actually was. I also wondered how many people take the time to look away from his giant figure to take in the stained glass windows on the ceiling.

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One thing I loved about DC was how it could make you feel like you were not in the middle of a modern city. Yes, this is a monument, but it looks like something from another time. The beauty of these structures truly left me in awe.

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Speaking of stepping back in time, probably one of my favorite places was the National Cathedral. It reminded me much of Notre Dame, both in its size and grandeur. The attention to design and detail in the architecture of churches has always drawn me in.

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And if an epic church in the middle of DC wasn’t enough, we stepped back into the gardens which truly could have existed in another world. It is amazing the things you find in the city when you take the time to look.

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The Memorial Amphitheater near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is another impressive beauty. It’s presence, however, was dwarfed by the vigil of the guards at the tomb. We witnessed a changing of the guard, and it was a truly beautiful, humbling experience.

Baltimore

We had grand plans for Baltimore. Both Lindsey and I love to read and had hoped to visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum as well as his grave site. Another point of interest was the George Peabody Library. We didn’t make it to any of them. Baltimore has been in the news a lot lately for not-so-great things… but we figured we would give it a shot. The Edgar Allen Poe destinations aren’t far from the Inner Harbor and the Library is on a college campus. We both figured things would be peachy, but after trying somewhere to park near the E.A.P. grave and circling around the block multiple times through some rather unsavory neighborhoods and by more than a couple people who seemed highly entertained while talking to themselves and wandering in circles on the sidewalks, Lindsey and I high-fived ourselves for our decision to head out to Ft. McHenry, the only place on our venture where she had been before and somewhere that she knew to be safe. Who knows, we probably would have been fine, but we just had that super uncomfortable feeling that things weren’t totally chill. Ft. McHenry was great though, and we strolled around the Inner Harbor Area for a while too. I can’t deny that Baltimore wasn’t my favorite place. But we gave it a shot. And I have a soft spot for boats… especially old piratey looking ones, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

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New York City

I am not going to lie. I could gush about New York City for days, and we were only there for 8 hours. I absolutely loved it. I would go back in a heart beat. I could spend a month there and never get bored. Of everywhere we went, the Big Apple definitely had that culture shock  aspect to it. In Montana we don’t have cities. We don’t have skyscrapers. There are less people in the state than Manhattan Island by itself. And it was incredible, even if 90% of the things that we wanted to see were hidden behind scaffolding. It just gives me an excuse (not that I would ever need one) to venture back there again. It was a whirlwind trip that started and ended with a 3 hour train ride, included trips on the subway, a stroll through central park and down 5th Ave. We were rained on, terrorized by a homeless man and Lindsey was pooped on by a pigeon (the latter two in the first hour we were there). We tried some good ol’ New York Pizza, ate dinner at the top of the tallest building in the Western hemisphere  – on floor 102! – and I had the two of the most disappointing lattes I have ever tasted. There was no excuse for the one beneath the Rockefeller Center, though the one in Penn Station wasn’t terribly surprising. Regardless, it was a day to remember and a fabulous finale to a week of epic adventures. (I apologize for the weird order of the pictures. For some reason the ones I captioned decided to sit somewhere other than where I told them to… )

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It rained the entire time we were in the city. By the time we reached the top of One World Trade center, I wasn’t sure we would be able to see anything at all. We timed it just right, though. Clouds moved in and out. Sometimes you could barely see the buildings right below us and then there were moments like these where you could see all the way to Times Square.

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Lindsey and I grew up listening to the Beatles. We spent hours listening to their music. It only made sense that we would visit the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park. Our teenage selves would never have forgiven us if we didn’t.

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A perfect way to top off the day. Sweeping views of the city, a fancy dinner and a glass of wine.

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We survived. It was an epic week long adventure and much needed reunion between friends. I can’t wait until next time!