Monday, August 24, 2009


My husband and I celebrated the seventh anniversary of our first date this past weekend. Just as we did seven years ago, we saw the Old 97s, an alt-country band that started out right here in Dallas-Fort Worth. You might have seen them in the concert scene in The Breakup or caught a mention of them in the first season of Friday Night Lights when Matt and Julie were supposed to see them, but football prevailed as always.

Last weekend's concert was held at the Bass Performance Hall, Tarrant County's premier concert venue and home of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera, and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. We collected our tickets, the uniformed ushers pointed us toward the right section, and we passed through a private anteroom where we could leave an intermission drinks order, then settled into our plush first balcony box seats.

I gazed over the pristine edge of the balcony, at the crowd gathering in the orchestra level seating, toward the elegant stage, and up at the breathtaking Great Dome, painted to resemble white feathered wings embracing a Texas noonday sky.

And then I recalled my first Old 97s experience in 2002 at Fort Worth's Ridglea Theater, a west side landmark built as a state-of-the-art movie theater in 1948, but now constantly under the threat of closure. The Ridglea hosts an array of bands every week. Mostly young fans crowd into the fraying art-deco space, nearly all standing and likely ignoring the mural depicting the arrival of Spanish explorers in America while raising a beer bottle or the occasional Solo cup of soda in homage to their favorite bar bands.

A single word came to mind:


In the seven years between the two concerts, I've gained it. As I watched the Old 97s perform at a strange distance Friday night, my writer's brain kicked in. I compared not only the concerts, but also the writer I am today with the writer I was four or five years ago when I began this journey.

You wouldn't think there'd be so many similarities.

Back then, Todd and I were in the thick of it, edging as close as we could get to the stage, surrounded by rabid, mostly young Old 97s fans who danced right along with Rhett Miller and Murray Hammond, so near the band, our sweat probably mingled.

Now, Todd and I were content to watch them at a comfortable distance. The crowd stood in the orchestra section (yes, they stood, even at Bass Hall!), and we chuckled at the young girls who danced in the second row, gazing up adoringly at Rhett and Murray, and we raised eyebrows at the fans who appeared so devoted, but left two-thirds of the way through the show.

Back then, I edged as close as I could get to the writing world, inhaling craft books, agents' and writers' blogs, conference agendas, and acknowledgement pages, surrounded by other equally rabid novice writers, eager to plunge into this exciting venture.

Now, I'm content to keep a watchful eye on the writing world, often at a comfortable distance, jumping into the fray when it makes sense. I smile sentimentally at the newbies, so eager to learn everything on the fast track. And I raise my eyebrows at others who seemed so enthusiastic and likely to succeed when they drop out two-thirds of the way to publication, and I wonder what changed for them.

Back then, I didn't know the lyrics, much less recognize the songs. I knew I liked some of them, and I knew I was having a great time with a guy I hardly knew but already could tell was going to matter in my future.

Now, I recognized all but the latest songs, and was able to sing along in my head with many. I didn't worry much about the ones I didn't know or didn't like, because I knew another familiar favorite would come along soon.

Back then, I didn't know "the rules" of writing fiction. In fact, I'm not sure I even knew there were rules. I poured my everything into writing that first manuscript, clueless how many of those rules I broke along the way.

Now, I cringe when I come across a sentence or paragraph, or heaven forbid, an entire chapter where I've blatantly and badly committed the grievous sin of telling instead of showing. On the other hand, my heart races and my smile widens when I rediscover a section where I've either followed the rules to great effect or broken them brilliantly.

Between then and now, I've seen the Old 97s in other venues, and each time is a unique experience, some better than others, but all memories to cherish.

Between then and now, I've hidden several manuscripts away in files on two different computers, knowing those first attempts aren’t likely to surface again, but each holding valuable lessons and enduring feelings of accomplishment.

Back then, I was perhaps a little naïve. I imagined a perfect second marriage to my knight in shining armor, envisioning the two of us in our eighties with our walkers at standing-room-only Old 97s concerts.

Now, I look at my perfectly imperfect husband in his slightly creaky armor and imagine we'll still be attending concerts together well into our 80s, but we sure did enjoy those plush box seats. Having to shout at each other as we exited the concert half-deaf from the volume of the music was a scary reminder that hearing aids might not be that far in the future.

And I'm not too cynical. I know I made the right decision seven years ago when I accepted a blind date to see some alt-country band I'd never heard of.

Back then, I was perhaps a little naïve. I imagined a perfect world where I'd write a perfect manuscript on the first try, and agents would contact me and publishers would fight over the right to usher me into the world of bestselling authors. But the journey has been worth it, and now I've learned every word is one word closer to publication.

And I'm not too cynical, even from my new perspective. I know I made the right decision all those years ago when I accepted the challenge to plunge myself, heart and soul, into this writer's life.


  1. Pleasant memory piece, Julie. Puts me in mind of some of the essays of Lamb, especially one in which he remembers going to the theater with his sister when they could afford only the seats way high in the rafters. Familiar essays have always appealed to me.

  2. Thanks for the comparison, Delores! I enjoy reading and writing essays like this. Now I have a literary classification to apply to them, though I must have learned it in some classroom years ago -- maybe even from you at HSU! Author Chris Bohjalian's Idyll Banter essays in the Burlington Free Press online are fun to read. (

  3. I love the art of the essay - I wish more attention was paid to it, more collections of the essay out - it was my first love!

  4. Kathryn, thank you for stopping by What Women Write. I hope Tender Graces is doing well!

  5. Beautiful essay, Julie. No doubt you made the right choice. You are a gifted writer. The older I get the more I realize it really is the journey that counts. As I mentioned on Facebook, I really enjoyed meeting and talking with you. Looking forward to reading more of your work.


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