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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Inspiration: Opium Dollars

I have worked in a coin store for about 4 1/2 years. The job came about after I jokingly mentioned to a friend, “Hey, you need someone to photograph all those coins, right?” A couple weeks later I was offered the position. For the first few years, my sole mission was to photograph various coins for our eBay store and then ship out said coins. Last year, I started working the retail side in front of the store as well. It has been an interesting experience, and there are days I come across something I never even knew existed.

The first jarring experience came from holding a roman coin from AD 330 in my hand. Yes, you read that right. AD 330. The second most jarring was how inexpensive a 1,686 year old coin actually was to buy. Aside from that, I have discovered that from a collector’s perspective I prefer old currency, though I loath it from an imaging/sales perspective. Same goes for foreign coinage. I came across some coins from Norway once that were made from iron. I thought they were pretty neat, so I bought them from my husband. Still, I am not a huge fan of coins in general. I may or may not feel a slight animosity towards specific USA coin types due to the difficulties that arise when trying to photograph them efficiently and attractively. My favorite coins are Franklin halves, which are universally accepted as probably most lame coin variety to have an interest in. I like them because they almost always photograph beautifully. The way a coin photographs is about as complex as my interest in numismatics gets. It photographs nicely? Cool, I like it. It’s a pain to photograph? Burn in a fire. 

That being said, every once in a while something truly interesting comes into the store. We buy a lot off the public, and you never know what you are going to get when a customer pulls a little felt bag out of their pocket with a handful of coins they inherited. Most of the time the coins are common, worth a few cents or even a few dollars. Most of them come in with a story: a father fought in this war and brought these home from overseas; a grandmother has been collecting since she was a child; grandparents lived during the Great Depression, etc. etc.  Usually, whoever brings in the coins has no idea what they have inherited which leads to low, or occasionally very high expectations.

A gentleman came in recently with the usual, “These were my dad’s, I have no idea what they are, etc.” leading into a small felt bag with a handful of assorted coins. At this point, I can’t even remember what else he had save two particular items of curiosity. First, he had a small handful of sales tax tokens. These were interesting because I had never seen them before, but as tokens they fell quickly into the “these are neat but they aren’t worthy anything” category. Next, he pulled out what looked like an old trade dollar. Trade dollars are the predecessors to the silver dollars that most people are familiar with today, and also a type a coin I know very little about, aside from having some numismatic value. More interesting than the type of coin itself, however, was what had been done to it. In my experience, when coins are used for something other than a coin, it typically involves turning said coin into a piece of jewelry – often necklaces or bolo ties, occasionally rings. In other cases, people turn the coin into art such as hobo nickels or recently discovered (for me) some beautiful engraved coins like these.

This particular dollar had been cut open, hollowed out, hinged and made into a box that with a little compartment just big enough to fit a quarter. When closed up, the thing looked just like a normal trade dollar, which was the entire point. My analysis immediately gravitated to, “This is fake.” But as I looked at the coin itself, there were no immediate giveaways to an untrained eye to signify that this was not a genuine coin, despite it being able to open up like a box. Having never seen or heard of such a thing, I showed it to my co-worker who said we would have to wait for Boss-man to take a look at it before we could buy it. I took down the man’s phone number and sent him away with the coin and a promise to let him know what we found out about it, though not before taking a few pictures.

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While waiting for Boss-Man to return from lunch I started googling this strange little coin that had come across the counter. It turned out that it used to be common practice for people to hollow out the insides of old silver dollars and turn them into boxes. Today, they are known most commonly as “Opium Dollars,” an alleged smuggling device for small stashes of opium. I was immediately intrigued. It turned out that the “Opium” part of the history was mostly false, as the pocket inside the coin would barely hold enough opium to do any good. Instead, the coins were most often used to hide away a trinket of picture of a loved one. Like a locket hidden in your pocket. The stories instantly started brewing.

Unfortunately, the coin them man brought in turned out to be a fake. Which saddened me because I wanted to buy it, fake or not, but my measly personal offer wasn’t enough to bring the coin back to the store. However, Boss-man happened to have the real deal.

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While I had a hard time picking up the differences between the two, the interior of the coin sold me on the lack of authenticity on the first coin. In the end, despite that fact that I didn’t own even a fake one, I still found myself daydreaming about such a piece’s history. I still think about it, honestly.

I suppose that is one great thing about working in a coin store: you never know what you are going to find and what stories may lie hidden inside it.

 

 

POV Challenge: Week 2, Sample 1

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

 


 

 

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Rain crawled down my skin like sweat, warm and salty, vile with the city’s acidic stench. I pulled the collar of my trench closer around my face, but the damage had already been done. Piss water. That’s all the rain was. I had been pissed on by every agent in the city, and now the city itself was pissing on me too. I didn’t have what it took. I had played a hundred shows back home. Sure, it was the same 50 people in the same shitty bar,  but I couldn’t even get ten minutes on a stage in the city. 

No. I had it wrong. The city was my stage.  

 

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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POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 2

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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

Attempt #2

The Brooklyn Bridge steeped history into those that cared to look for it, a handful of the millions of feet that crossed its planks reveling in the grandness of it all. Its dual arches dwarfed the ambling procession below. Couples peeled off to the side where the walkway widened, snapping photos and posing for the city in the background. Evan Thomas stepped off to the side, eyes tracing along the spiderweb of cables and hangers that gave the bridge its strength.  

A woman’s laughter lilted over the wordless drone of the crowd, as her boyfriend dangled one-handed from a hanger cable, feet dangling inches from the ground. The boyfriend flashed her a grin and swung forward as he let go of the cable. A small velvet box pressed into his shin as he dropped, and he thought for a second it might tumble out of his sock and spoil the surprise. Only half convinced it would remain, the man swept his girlfriend up in twirl, her feet lifted off the walk, hair flipping around at the spinning breeze.

The woman’s laughter tingled against Evan’s heart, and he stepped further down the into the arch’s shadow, leaving the couple behind. A bronzed nameplate at the base of the bridge tower caught his eye, and he traced a finger along its edges, reading the inscription. The bridge spoke to him, sharing its knowledge and history with him in waves of goosebumps, and he closed his eyes.

A few yards away, Sarah Ray wedged her way through the crowd. She had wanted to be home an hour ago, but her boss kept her late again. If she had left on time, she wouldn’t have been caught in the pedestrian rush heading over the river, but things never seemed to go her way anymore. The tower congestion cut off her path and a the young man bumped into her as he put his girlfriend back on the ground.  Sara spun around to give him a piece of her mind, but the mob propelled her straight into Evan.

Evan’s eyes shot open as Sarah’s briefcase collided with him and fell out of her hand. It broke open on the slats of the walkway, spewing its contents in all directions. Directing her anger at Evan instead of the young couple, Sarah shrieked, “What is wrong with you!” and fell to her knees, fingers chasing papers and dodging footsteps. The swelled migration of feet split around the two of them as Evan dropped to his knees after her, sweeping up errant pages.

The two reached for a blueprint at the same time and their hands brushed. Sarah pulled away as heat rose up her cheeks, and Evan hesitated with eyes only for the plan laid bare on the wooden plank. He moved it carefully into the suitcase as Sarah watched with incredulity. If that piece had been ruined, she would have been ruined.

Evan looked up, eyes catching Sarah’s gaze and he cocked an apprehensive smile. He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. The crowd behind them cheered as the young man behind them dropped to a knee, velvet box in hand and Evan pulled Sarah out of the way as the group swelled beyond the pedestrian lane. He hadn’t let go of her hand, and she didn’t pull it away.

“Let me make it up to you?”


Attempt #1

133 years of foot-tracked history seeped into Evan’s veins the moment he stepped foot on the Brooklyn Bridge. Millions, maybe billions of footsteps had walked there before him. He wondered over each past step’s intention: commuting, touring, exercising, escaping. How many laborers had left a trail of sweat and blood over the monument’s worn wooden slats? Evan hummed to himself as the flow of traffic pushed him along the pathway. He had dreamed for nearly a decade of crossing the bridge, and he savored each step.

Beneath the first tower, its dual arches dwarfing the ambling procession, the pathway widened and couples peeled off to the side, taking in the view of the city from vacant pockets along the cement barrier. A young man stirred nervous laughter from his girlfriend as he hung one handed from a sweeping hanger cable, feet dangling mere inches from the ground. Behind them, a man with a speckled mustache tilted his camera to the side to better catch the performance.

Evan chuckled to himself as the young man dropped down and swept his girlfriend into a gallant, dipping kiss. A small crowd cheered as he spun her around like no one was watching. It was not unlike something Evan would have done, when he was younger.

The spiderweb of cables converged on chapel peaked arches framed in a perfectly lain stacks of towering brick and mortar. A bronzed nameplate had been set into the base of the tower, and he traced his finger along its edges as he walked by.  He would have given anything to be part of the team that designed the bridge in a time without modern technology – all numbers and angles from a hand-drawn dream. Goosebumps spread up his arm and he closed his eyes for a moment, letting the the resonance of the image overtake him.

A harried woman crashed into Evan from behind. Her briefcase caught on his hip and slipped out her hand, cracking open as it landed on the walk. Papers scattered under passing feet and a week’s worth of late nights and headaches crumpled and tore apart.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked, dropping to her knees and reaching frantically for the papers that evaded her at every turn.

“Oh! I am so sorry!” Evan dropped down beside her, turning the briefcase over and scrambling after papers himself. The woman scowled at him and dropped a tattered sheet into the open case. They reached at the same time for the next sheet, and her heat rose up her neck as her hand brushed across Evan’s.  He barely noticed the touch, eyes focused on the blueprint laid bare on the wood plank.

The woman pulled her hand away, and Evan picked up the plan, setting it carefully into the briefcase before finally looking up into cyanotype eyes. He held out a hand and helped her to her feet. “Let me make it up to you.”

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POV Writing Challenge: Week 1, Sample 1

challeng-banner-pov

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

 

Cara’s feet ached. Miles in the city tallied up quickly, and despite her month of preparation, she regretted the decision to cross the bridge after a day of exploring. The inherent stubbornness kicked in the moment she stepped foot on the first plank, and she wouldn’t turn back until she had made it all the way across. But then I have to come back.

Sighing, she hitched her satchel up on her shoulder and moved on. Pain twinged in her left heel and her shoulder ached under the weight of half a dozen notebooks and her roll of charcoal pencils. Cara never went out for the day without them. Her obsession with notebooks, pens and pencils bordered on the edge of crazy cat lady, minus the fur balls. Tomorrow, I am picking one. The rest can stay home. She smiled to herself, tracing a finger along the smooth metal railing as she walked.

“On your left!” a voice snapped from behind her, and Cara jumped aside. A man in a business suit rushed past her on a bicycle, the flap of his leather bag flapping behind him. Well excuse me! Cara’s heart raced and she gripped the railing with both hands, grounding herself in its solidity. People in the city moved to fast for her country girl roots. She hadn’t even made it to the first of the two towers on the bridge before she had been nearly flattened. I don’t know if the city and I are going to get along. Readjusting her satchel, she slipped back into the pedestrian flow of traffic.

Cara had picked the bridge as the best vantage point for her first drawing. She wanted to start broad and narrow her focus over the next two days in the city. Now, she wasn’t sure she would be able to pull if off without getting run over. At least if she found a good place to stop, her feet might not hurt as bad when she started walking again.

Bike bells chimed and angry yells joined the blur of car horns stopped in the rush hour traffic below as the walkway congested. Someone bumped into Cara’s shoulder and she glanced back. She couldn’t tell who had bumped her and she let herself be pushed along in the throng of impatient travelers. For no reason at all, the line loosened up again, and Cara stepped off to the side, using an empty bench as a shield.

Then, for the first time since she stepped onto the bridge, she looked back at the city. The setting sun had turned it into a back lit silhouette of rectangles, square and triangles bunched together in one geometrical shadow.

A couple stopped at the opposite corner of the bench to snap a selfie with the city in the background. Cara cringed. How many people had stopped at this bench to take in the same exact view? It doesn’t matter. I just have to make the image my own. She set set her satchel on the bench and sifted through her notebooks. Black cover, blue cover, marble cover. Her fingers fell across a plain cardboard cover. Decided, she reached past it to her pencil roll and pulled the them out together.

Biting her bottom lift, Cara plucked her favorite pencil from the case without unrolling it and dropped the case back in her bag for safe keeping. Chewing on the end of her pencil, she looked back at the city. Her drawings always started at the bottom of the page, but here it was only shadow. I could pull in the riverbank. Texture the buildings. No. Outline them. A line sketch. Cara frowned. Lines aren’t enough. Turning her back on the city, leaned into the barrier. Maybe lines are everything. The support cables of the bridge checkered the fading sky, dividing the distant skyline like stained glass. Half way up one of the vertical cables, three balloons had tangled themselves into the hard lines, breaking up the rigidity of the scene.

That’s it! Cara plopped down onto the bench, tucking her satchel between her knees and wrapping the strap around her ankle. With a satisfied smile, she flipped open the sketchbook and lowered her pencil to the page.

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NaNoWriMo Relflections: In The End

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I have known about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for several years. For those of you who don’t know, it is a thing that happens every November where writers try and write 50,000 words in a month. A couple of years ago, I even signed up on the website, but each year I have made an excuse for not jumping on the bandwagon and getting some words down. Usually, the excuse was – I don’t have enough time. Which is a total load of crap. There is always time, some moment to put some words on the page. Even one sentence is better than no words at all.

This year, after a crazy summer that destroyed my writing groove, plans for finishing my novel Solidity by November 1st were quite thoroughly thwarted. As the end of October barreled into view, I found myself lamenting over another failed attempt to finish just one story. Even as my writing fell to the wayside, these characters still made appearances in my thoughts almost daily, sometimes even to the point I had to spend hours repeating what had transpired just to make sure I remembered it well enough to write it down when I had the chance.  Owen, Lucian and Jera are certainly persistent. In fact, they are the most persistent characters I have ever written.

In the last week of October, a post about NaNoWriMo came across my Facebook feed. Or maybe a friend mentioned it. I honestly can’t remember. I have been in a slump lately, and for whatever reason, NaNoWriMo woke me up. I decided that I needed to do this for ME. Step back and focus on myself and my goals for a month. So, on the 27th, I logged on to NaNoWriMo and announced my novel. We have a pretty active group in Bozeman, and I jumped in head first, attending a weekend of Pre-Nano events where I met and several of the locals who had all been down this road several if not many times before. I can’t remember the last time I felt so alive and inspired.

I have never considered writing as a social experience. After all, it is mostly hanging out in your own head with characters no one else can see or hear. NaNoWriMo forever changed that perception. Even during the first couple of meetings where we just sat around (and talked a bit about cats – turns out that’s a pretty good ice breaker) I went home feeling like I could tackle the universe. On the first day of the month, I wrote 1,800 words.  Which was more than I had written in probably the last three writing sessions combined. That in itself felt pretty good.

As the month drew on and I met with other local writers – people who are just as passionate about story telling as I am, people in all stages of their writing careers – I realized that I am not so alone in this dream. Surrounding myself with those who share my dream was inspiring in itself and as we moved through the month together, our stories grew.  We held each other accountable, challenging one another to word-sprints and meeting at coffee shops for write-ins. We left trails of messages on Facebook as we we coordinated and participated in home-based write-ins. Because we all have  a story (or two or three) to tell, and we all had that elusive goal to meet.

Once I committed to doing NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t difficult to keep going. The support system and inspiration from the other writers kept me as excited as the story I was writing. This project was the first time that I sat down and said, “I am doing this, no matter what. Writing first, everything else later.” I experienced waves of excitement, inspiration, dread, and guilt, all mixed together in a giant stew-pot of words and real life.

I only missed one day of writing out of 30 (I might have been achievement hunting a little bit… I blame the video games). That one day had set itself up to be a close one in the first place, and then it blew all possibility out of the water. Before NaNoWriMo, that one day and the associated disaster would have prevented me for writing for days, maybe weeks. But I didn’t stop. I got up the next morning and kept writing. I proved to myself that I can still do this, no matter what life throws at me.

November finished out at 56,000 words. I didn’t quite finish the story, but I met that goal and it felt amazing. I am so close to the end of Solidity. It will be the first novel manuscript I have ever finished – finally wrapping up a nearly twenty-year-old goal. The idea is frightening and invigorating. And I have NaNoWriMo to thank for it. I was blown away by the experience. I find myself excited to be writing again, and absolutely determined to keep going, to live my dream.

NaNoWriMo woke something in me I haven’t seen or felt in years. Combined with the friends I made during the month – who I much look forward to continuing this journey with outside of November – it was an amazing experience. I can’t wait for next year.

 

 

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

 

Experience: Metal Rock Opera, Part 1

… A somewhat long-winded introduction to my love of Avantasia and the once-in-a-lifetime concert experience of the first leg of my NYC 2016 #writinginspirationvacation…

 


 

When I found out that Avantasia was going to be in New York City the weekend that I would potentially be in New York, I could barely contain my excitement. It is also the one thing that made me seriously consider making the trip if I didn’t get the writing residency I had applied for. I have been following the band for about 8 years, and knowing that they originate in Germany and have very little following in America, I assumed (and resigned myself to the fact) that I would NEVER see them live. When you make a list of bucket list bands, there are just some that will always remain on that bucket list.

Eight years ago I stumbled across the video “Dying for an Angel” by a group I had never heard of featuring the lead singer of The Scorpions. I love The Scorpions and moreso the uniqueness of  Klaus Meine’s voice, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.

The video blew my mind. It had a solid rock vibe, a good beat, harmony – I couldn’t help but tap my foot and try to sing along. Avantasia became my new obsession. After listening to a few more videos, I realized that this band, founded by Tobias Sammet in 1999 encompassed essentially everything I loved about music from the epic soundtrack type orchestrations to 80’s hard rock. They had ballads, rock epics, radio tunes. I couldn’t find a song I didn’t like.

I am pretty sure I have subconsciously decided they have to be played enough to make up for the time lost the first 21 years of my life not knowing them, to have them so engrained that they were to me another Beatles or Eagles. My husband can attest to that amount of obsessive listening.

Avantasia is a project band, meaning the majority of the songs are collaborations with other artists. Even Tobias Sammet has his own band Edguy (who I also love), so when Avantasia comes together for a new album, it is quite a feat, and you can guarantee it is going to be epic. Tobias Sammet is a musical genius. He writes all of the music for Avantasia (by the way, the Avantasia playlist on my phone is nearing the 8 hour mark). He sings, orchestrates, organizes – he is by far the mastermind of this incredible project. Songs have included guest artists Klaus Meine, Dee Snider, Alice Cooper, members of Warrant, KISS, Twisted Sister, Queensryque, Within Temptation, Nightwish, and many many others. From early on, Helloween front runner Michael Kiske has been a regular as well as Ronnie Atkins and Jorn Lande.

Just the list of guest artists is impressive. Then you start listening to the music. I still find myself closing my eyes when certain songs start to play and sinking myself into the melodies. The music pulls me in, sparks my imagination, warms my soul.

When I started expanding Better to Pretend from a short story to a full length novel, the addition of music to the story surprised me. I didn’t realize until I started working on that piece how much of myself could translate into a character. Jenna is not me, by any means, but parts of my own life and personality definitely shine through her character. When the idea of creating this connection of music I between her and the male lead transpired, I pictured her similar to me – classic rock roots and a stubborn aversion to new and modern bands and genres. I decided she would have a band obsession, straight down to the giddiness of being close to the stage and making eye contact with the lead singer. I created a band called Love and Lace, and they became my creative interpretation of Avantasia and Edguy mixed with my favorite 80’s hair metal.

At first, I thought it was a fun, minor detail of the story that I would enjoy because I knew the secret. Then Jenna’s love of music became her solace, the thing she could turn to when the world came crashing down. Certain songs could keep her afloat in a sea of desolation, disappointment and misery. My connection to the music of Avantasia seeped from my soul onto the page and into my characters.

I believe things happen for a reason (see Inspiration: Fate) and it was undeniably a crazy, fateful, serendipitous string of events that led me to New York City last Thursday, not only on my first solo travel endeavor, but my first solo concert and first trip (hopefully of many)  geared towards research and working on my novels so long postponed by irrelevant excuses.

After a whirlwind 36-ish hours in NYC, I hopped a train down to Marlyand to visit a dear friend of mine for a couple of days. As I settled in for the 3 hour train ride, I put my headphones in and shuffled my Avantasia playlist, the previous night’s concert still so fresh in my mind that I could have been there all over again. Now, two days later, I still feel the buzz of the experience (and I’m still listening to the playlist on repeat). But after two days of good company, good food and good booze, I have spent a good deal of time reflecting on the experience adjusting my mindset into creative mode for the remainder of the trip.  Now, as I sit on the return train to NYC, I can’t wait to share in more detail the concert experience. Look for it in the next post (since this one is already over 900 words….).