The Musings of K.E. Bonner
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Preop is a hive of activity at 6:45am. Metal charts clink, heart monitors beep, and a mingled aroma of betadine, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol wafts through the air. Nurses, aides, mid-levels, and doctors side-step one another as they check orders, see patients, and sign consents.
“Hi, I’m Karen, and I’ll be your anesthetist this morning,” I say as I enter the preop bay. An elderly man is lying on a stretcher. He answers my questions and I turn back to the chart to double check his paperwork.
“Young lady,” he rasps, and reaches out his liver-spotted hand out. I take it. Wrinkles crisscross his face like a cracked desert landscape. “I need to tell you something.”
After a long career in healthcare, I’ve learned to listen to my patients. Our eyes lock and he squeezes my hand.
“You will never be able to accomplish everything that you want to accomplish without a life of sobriety.” An impulse flickered between us, an undeniable shared action potential.
“Okay,” I nod, taken aback. Why would he say this to me? Did I look like a heavy drinker?
His matter-of-fact way of speaking stayed with me. There was no possible way that this man knew that I was struggling to accomplish my goals. At that point I’d been writing, editing, and re-writing my first novel, not to mention that I was working long shifts at the hospital, raising two young children, and struggling to keep my marriage and our finances together. I wasn’t a heavy drinker, a few glasses of wine over dinner to unwind after a long day. What did he see in me that compelled him to speak his truth? I chewed on his words but wasn’t ready to quit drinking, yet.
One Sunday morning I lay in bed with a large bottle of Gator-aide praying for the nausea and pounding headache to recede. It was my day to write, and I could barely lift my head from the pillow. This hangover is a waste of my time, I fumed. I thought about my adoptive mother, and how she steadily drank herself into dementia. I spent most of that day on the couch lamenting the loss of the most precious thing that I possessed: time. I couldn’t write while I was drinking, and my hangover rendered me completely useless. This was the beginning of me developing a distaste for alcohol.
Clarity followed sobriety. My energy skyrocketed, I was writing more consistently, and better. I reasoned that I’d unknowingly been in a constant state of dehydration. My scale started a downward trend as I began to exercise, which increased oxygenation to my brain, and increased my energy even more. I began to see how much time I had wasted by drinking, and to understand that I had been self-medicating with wine.
Most people are not ready to hear my patient’s words, and in truth, it took me ten years to process and act on them. These days I drink half a glass of wine on special occasions, but I write every day. Time is precious and limited, make every effort to use your to the fullest.
Kids ran loose from sunup to sundown in the San Antonio neighborhood where my dad grew up. When he was nine, he crossed Santa Ana Street to visit a neighbor who treated him to ice cold Coca-colas from the icebox. One day the neighbor had an old friend visit him. As my dad guzzled his Coke, the neighbor’s friend noticed the warts on my father’s arm.
“Would you like to be rid of those?” the man asked, pointing to the pustules.
“Sure,” my dad said.
“Hold your arm out.” The man counted and pressed his finger to each wart. “They’ll be gone soon enough,” he said.
Within a week all eleven warts had vanished.
My dad, a man of science, has told this story a hundred times. He remains confounded by the healer to this day but swears that the events are true.
Faith healers, holy rollers, and ghost stories were part of my childhood. I was reared in the south where Spanish moss drips from river oaks and the ceilings of front porches are painted “haint blue” to to confuse the ghosts, or haints, into thinking that the pale blue ceiling was part of the sky so they wouldn’t cross the threshold. I assumed this magical way of thinking was a southern quirk, but all cultures embrace folk lore, superstitions, and mystical creatures.
In Iceland roads are rerouted to protect Huldufolk, or hidden people, and their elvish communities hidden in the rocks and fields. In China the Pixiu, a winged lion statue, can be seen in many homes warding off evil spirits and attracting wealth.
Who hasn’t been in a crowd and heard their name called only to turn and recognize no one, or felt an icy chill run up their spine when they were all alone in a strange place. We all have eerie experiences that can’t be explained. A surgeon friend of mine told me of a patient who came to him and insisted that he biopsy her left breast. Her mammogram and ultrasounds were clear, there was nothing that warranted a biopsy and the surgeon couldn’t feel a lump, but the woman insisted that she knew a tumor was present in her breast. He told her insurance wouldn’t cover the procedure, but she didn’t care, she would pay cash. The surgeon biopsied the breast where the patient indicated was a foreign growth and sent to tissue for biopsy. The pathologist found a microscopic cancerous tumor in the breast tissue, too small to detect by mammogram.
Magic, superstition, and the surreal surrounds us. We simply need to keep out mind and hearts open to experience the mystic.
Ruby, my dog, has an internal clock that chimes at exactly four o’clock every afternoon alerting her that it’s time for a walk.
“Let’s see if we can get past Bob,” I say as I struggle to slip the leash over her head because she is dancing with pre-walk glee. Bob is my neighbor and has an international best seller brewing in his brain. He is forever pressing me for the secret to getting published or suggesting that I ghost-write his novel.
“You ready to get started on my book yet?” Bob calls out when he catches sight of Ruby tugging me past his yard. Dried leaves crunch as he walks towards the street.
“It’s hard enough getting my own words on paper, much less yours,” I retort. “You need to write that book yourself.”
Bob lobs his rake from hand to hand so that it passes before his face like a windshield wiper.
“Exactly how hard is it to find an agent?” he asks for the third time this month. I can’t decide if he is teasing me or not, so I ignore the question.
“Have you started writing yet?” I ask.
“No. It’s still in the idea stage, and work has been crazy.” He pushes the rim of his glasses up his nose.
“What’s the plot?” I ask. Ruby roots around, sniffing at the grass at the base of his mailbox.
“How do I know you won’t steal my idea?” He pulls the rake to his shoulder and steps back.
“It’s hard for me to write your book if I don’t know the characters or plot points.” I chuckle, then repeat the advice I’ve given him ten times prior. “Start working on an outline, then a first draft.” Ruby and I begin walking away.
“How long will that take?” He asks.
“A few months,” I shrug. “A year?” How many times do we need to rehash the same conversation?
“I don’t have that long,” he calls after me.
“See you later.” I wave.
“I don’t have time to write his book for him,” I mumble to Ruby, who pants back at me.
Reading taught me how to write. By the time I was forty I’d read approximately three books a month for thirty years. Through literary osmosis I learned story structure, pacing, and characterization. Once I discovered that I loved to write I took classes and attended conferences where I signed up for critiques and pitch sessions. I joined a critique group and bravely read my work aloud every week, only to have my fellow writers tell me to cut out unnecessary descriptions and dialogue. Quickly, I learned to edit and rewrite. Once I got my first draft complete, my critique partner congratulated me then told me to start the second draft from scratch. The discoveries I made about myself while working on my novel were innumerable. I became more observant. When it rained, I ran outside and held my face to the sky taking note of how the raindrops splattered against my cheeks and ran over my jaw in rivulets down my neck. I began to listen, rather than speak. The universe placed fascinating people and hurdles in my way, leading me in new directions. At some point, at a writer’s conference, an editor suggested to the audience that we focus on our craft, and publication would follow. That simple advice rang true for me. Once I released the idea of getting published and made the craft of writing my priority, my writing leveled up. The more I write, the better I get.
Kelly Williams and I met ten years ago at a writer’s critique group where she was working on a middle grade novel. Over the years we’ve become dear friends, attending multiple writer’s conferences, and cheering for each other’s successes. Eight years ago, Kelly shifted gears from writing books to writing music. It has been exciting to watch Kelly grow into an artist. Her first songs were good, but the more she writes the better she gets, and now I find her songs deeply felt and often heartbreaking.
You cut your first CD during the Covid lockdown of 2020. How did you figure out how to write, produce, and record an album while the rest of us were binge watching Netflix?
By the beginning of 2020 I had a collection of songs I felt really good about, so I set a goal to play out more. I wanted to develop my comfort and confidence on stage. I signed up for a workshop with Suzy Bogguss in Nashville, focusing on stage presence, and on the last day of the workshop, our group performed with Suzy at the Bluebird Cafe. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned when the country shut down one week later, and I had to shift gears. A fellow songwriter I’d met years before in Nashville reached out to me during lockdown, and we supported each other through the pandemic. She connected me with her friend, Bryan Austin Cuevas, a producer in Nashville. I reached out to him to get some feedback on a song and then began talking to him about the production process. I decided it was time to invest in myself and record some of my music. I’d only planned to record 4 to 5 songs but over a 7-8 month period we ended up with 11 finished songs. Working on the album was such a blessing during lockdown, but believe me, I still binge watched a ton of Netflix!
What was the biggest surprise of releasing a CD? What was the most important thing that you learned
Releasing my first CD felt like a turning point as a writer. For years, I was afraid to tell people I was a songwriter, but something shifted in me, and I didn’t want to let my fear control me anymore. My dream was to have other artists cut my songs, but I knew that would never happen if I didn’t have any recordings for them to hear. I had no idea what I was doing as I prepared to release my album, so I did a ton of research on the music business, trying to gain a better understanding of the process which included obtaining my copyrights, registering my songs with a performing rights organization, and signing up with other organizations to help collect mechanical and radio streaming royalties. I also established my own LLC in order to act as my own publisher and to keep records of my business expenses and revenues for tax purposes. I also had to work on developing my social media presence, setting up a professional music page on Facebook and Instagram as well as developing my own website. It was a lot of work! I still find the music business to be very confusing, but as I get set to release new music this year, I feel most of the leg work is done. This time around, I’m working harder to develop my skills with promotion and public relations.
Where do you think ideas come from? What is your writing process?
Ideas come from the most random places. I don’t really have a set process for how I write. I will say most ideas start with lyrics. Usually a melody quickly follows. I find words have a natural melodic quality that inspires the song. Sometimes a few lines come in and I have to sit with them for little bit to figure out what the song is about. Other times, I may start with a hook and build the song around that. Those are the easiest to write. Sometimes I may just have an image that inspires a song. For example, I was driving to church one day, listening to the radio, when a new song came on. I quickly glanced at the screen and saw the words Tin Moon before looking back to the road. When I looked again, I realized the artist's last name was Moon, but I wasn’t sure where I got the word Tin. Regardless, something about that image stuck with me. Slowly a scene developed in my mind...a backyard with twinkling lights and an old tin moon dangling from the center. Eventually that scene turned into a summer dance in a barn and the song took off from there. I learned so much from my mentor and co-writer, Stefan Cashwell, as we worked on this song, using imagery and all of the senses to let the story unfold.
What advice would you give to your 13 year-old-self?
I would say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes.” I have always been a perfectionist with a bad tendency to compare myself to others, which has always left me feeling inadequate. I’ve always wanted to feel like I have something special to offer the world. This may sound corny, but with age I’ve learned that I am uniquely who God made me to be and that is special. I am enough just as I am.
What comes first, the lyrics or the melody?
Lyrics almost always come first. There have been a few songs I’ve started with a chord progression but that’s pretty rare. I find those harder to write.
You started out by writing books then switched to writing songs, how did that transition take place?
I started writing children’s fiction when my oldest daughter was three. She inspired a picture book idea. Up to that point, I’d never thought about writing fiction. I honestly didn’t think I was much of a writer, but something inside of me felt compelled to try. I met a published children’s book author named Katharine Robey, and she gave me some helpful feedback. Then I took a continuing education class at Emory on Children’s book writing and joined a regular writing critique group with author Carol Lee Lorenzo, where you and I ultimately met. I went on to write close to a dozen picture book manuscripts and completed drafts of two middle grade novels. All of that happened over a nine year period, but some time in late 2014/early 2015, I started taking guitar lessons. I’d been given my first guitar at the age of 12 but had never had lessons. I’d taught myself enough chords back then to write my own songs, but as I got older, I'd put the guitar away to pursue other interests. As I started playing again at the age of 40, the desire I’d once had to write songs bubbled up again.
Did you have any confidence issues when you started writing? What about performing in front of an audience?
Yes, I had terrible confidence issues when I started songwriting. I felt completely inadequate on the guitar, and I struggled sometimes with finding the right words. I was in awe of how easily my writing teacher, Stefan, could find great lines, and I often got frustrated with myself, but Stefan was very encouraging and taught me so much about the craft. There were many times I wanted to quit, but something wouldn’t let me. Writing felt more like a need than a want. I still struggle with imposter syndrome, and question if I have what it takes to do this, but over the years I’ve learned how to push through that doubt. When I’m asked to do something that scares me, my response is always yes. With each step forward, I’ve met the most amazing people and I’ve had life changing experiences. I know it’s cliche to say, but 2020 taught me that life it too short. We have to take chances, try new things and keep growing and changing. The greatest blessings come from taking chances on yourself.
What is the best advice that you can give to aspiring singer/songwriters?
Listen and learn from other songwriters who inspire you, but find your own voice. You have something important to say and a way to say it that is unique. Be a good listener and put yourself in other peoples shoes to speak universal truths about life. You don’t have to limit yourself to writing from your own life experiences. Stay open to whatever creations are coming in and don’t let your inner critic stop you from moving forward. That critic will serve a purpose when editing, but it can hold you back when you are creating something new.
What do you enjoy most about the song writing process?
It’s so satisfying when a song starts to take shape and the words and melody come together. I actually like the revision process. I love searching for the unexpected rhymes and finding the perfect imagery to set the scene and convey a feeling. Every now and then a song will write itself and those moments feel like a gift from heaven.
In your opinion, why is expressing yourself creatively important?
I am pretty introverted and process things internally. Sometimes I have a difficult time expressing my feelings verbally, so writing is my way of conveying them. I am so grateful to have songwriting. It brings me so much joy and helps me understand myself and other people better
Click on the following links to hear Kelly Williams Music:
Do you have a favorite recipe to share?
I love my mom’s tortilla soup recipe. It’s my go to when I need to someone a meal.
1 pkg (4) boneless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
2 cups of water
1 can beef broth
1 can chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 (14oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (8oz) can of whole kernel corn (drained)
1 (15oz) can garbanzo beans
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1 tsp of garlic
1tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
Sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in small amount of olive oil.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
Garnish with shredded Monterey Jack & cheddar cheese and Tortilla chips
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My fondest childhood memory is snuggling up to my Grandma Lottie on her sofa as she read to me from my favorite book: Cinderella. This was a circa 1972 pop-up book, which completely blew my four-year-old mind. Cinderella’s carriage, her fairy godmother, and Prince Charming all sprang from the pages; I can still recall believing that the book was magical, that Cinderella was real. I would shut the book then open it again superfast, hoping to see what Cinderella was doing when she thought that no one was looking. Sitting next to my grandmother was where I felt most loved and safe. I’m convinced that it was Grandma Lottie who instilled in me my love of books and story. When she wasn’t reading to me or teaching me how to bake, she kept me entertained with tales of how she survived the Great Depression by taking in the rich folk’s laundry. My favorite tale was about the time when my uncle was three and he took a lollipop to bed with him. Later that evening when my grandmother checked in on him, a giant black rat was sitting on my uncle’s chest gnawing what was left of the candy-coated stick.
I still love fairy tales and a good story.
Current mood: Overwhelmed
What I’m listening to: The Bird and the Rifle by Lori McKenna
In high school no one hounded me to do my homework or to make good grades. In fact, I was often told that I was stupid. I knew that if I wanted to go to college it was going to be up to me to apply, pay for it, and do the work.
I started out as a nursing major at the University of South Carolina, where I struggled to find my footing. High school had not prepared me for how to study in college or how to manage my time. By the end of my freshman year my grades were circling the drain, and I was throwing up daily from anxiety attacks.
After freshman year I quit. I moved to Atlanta and got a job in the Anesthesia Department at Emory University Hospital where I answered phones, made coffee, and occasionally babysat for a few of the doctors. It only took three months to figure out that I couldn’t live off $6.80 an hour, and that I needed to go back to school. I got a job nannying two elementary school kids, which let me balance my time between making money and going back to college at Georgia State University, where I majored in Biology.
When I started at Georgia State, I had to take an entrance test to determine what my skills were in math and English. I scored well in English, but I needed to take remedial math classes.
I spent the next several years working, studying, and trying not to give up. There were times that I could only afford to take two classes a semester, so that is what I did. I shared an apartment, drove a junker, and lived off of canned beans, store brand mac and cheese, and yogurt. Those difficult years taught me to be keep my head down and push forward. Eventually, I graduated, got married to my boyfriend, and got accepted to graduate school at Emory where I got a master’s degree in Medical Science in Anesthesiology, then a job as an anesthetist.
You can do more than you think you can.
You are smarter and stronger than you think you are.
Never, never, ever give up. Keep pushing forward at all costs.
If you want more information on becoming an anesthetist visit www.anethetist.org.
Current mood: Tenacious
What I’m listening to: Dartmouth by National Park Society
As I write this, I’m afraid.
What if this blog sucks?
What if I’m not good enough?
Are my two teenage boys going to read it and make fun of me? (I already know the answer to this one: Yes, they are).
Writing is a hard, lonely business. You’re stuck in your own head most of the time spewing out nonsensical first drafts that you pray you can somehow mold into original and compelling second drafts.
So why do I do it? Why do I write?
Writing is a puzzle to me, and I adore puzzles. I write to discover what I believe and what is important to me. Writing is my therapy, and it keeps me whole. Writing is my elixir.
Current mood: Hopeful
What I’m listening to: "Hamilton" by Lin-Manuel Miranda