So far, 2018 has proven a tough year. Several of my family and friends have been sick and ended up in the hospital–myself included. My uncle passed not long ago, after his battle with cancer. There have also been a lot of changes at my day job, and that’s whittled away at my time to write.
On Saturday, my boyfriend and I were out for a drive, to go nowhere in particular. My favorite kind! It was cold, but sunny, another bonus. We stopped at the Spillway on the Pymatuning Reservoir in Linesville, aka ‘Where the Ducks Walk on the Fish’. Never been? Read all about it here. No fish in March, but hundreds upon hundreds of seagulls and geese crowded the sidewalks and the edge of the pier. A stranger offered us a loaf of bread to feed them. Seeing the birds flock and fight for the bread, flapping their wings, soaring in majestic patterns over the water, I laughed out loud in wonder and sheer delight.
Ah, wonder! It’s my opinion we need to seek wonder, hold on to it, cherish it, whenever we can, however fleeting. And sometimes, magically, wonder finds us, unexpectedly. Those moments of pure joy are what life is about, and indeed, the Spillway was teeming with life that day.
Me? I choose wonder.
What ‘wonder’ moments have you experienced lately? Please share!
Without a doubt, motorcycles and the people who ride them elicit strong positive and negative reactions in many people, including perceptions of freedom, rebellion, power, danger and excitement. They also represent a brotherhood—and sisterhood—of strength, unity and camaraderie.
As an author of romance novels who enjoys giving her characters motorcycles to ride, I’ve done research on bikes, talking to friends who ride to get the facts and details right. As a writer, my watch word is curiosity. Very simply, I wanted to find out why bikers are fascinated with riding. Too, nothing intrigues me more than speaking with someone who’s passionate about what they do. For this post, I did exactly that, spending time talking with a woman who’s been riding bikes—all kinds of bikes—most of her life. (And who was gracious enough to educate a non-rider like me. Many thanks!)
Meet Joan Sorce, motorcycle lover. She’s also a real estate agent and a mother of two.
Joan says she’s been crushing on motorcycles since she was a child, and for years, she rode dirt bikes and street bikes with boyfriends and family members. When her son was about ten years old, she began riding dirt bikes with him. It was something they enjoyed together for about five years, until her son outgrew it. Then, she bought her first street bike, a 250 Kawasaki Ninja in bright yellow.
What does she love most about riding? “It’s like a moving meditation,” Joan explained. “I’d liken it to yoga. That may be a strange comparison, but it’s true. It’s very freeing, and uplifting,” she said, smiling, and her eyes got a faraway look in them. I could tell she was visualizing it, and at that point, I almost could too. “I put on a lot of miles by myself after a hard day,” she continued. “It’s my way of relaxing.”
Joan owns both a Harley Davidson Sportster 883L, and a Harley Davidson Street Glide. These she affectionately refers to as Little Scoot and Mama Lou, respectively. Little Scoot is a blue, lighter weight bike with a smaller engine than Mama. Mama Lou is 800 pounds of big and beautiful in an ice blue flip color that changes to purple when the light hits it. It’s customized for Joan. “Customizing your bike really showcases your personality,” she said. “I didn’t really understand that at first.” She’s also interested in maybe getting a rat rod someday.
DID YOU KNOW? A rat rod is a style of hot rod or custom car that, in most cases, imitates the early hot rods of the 1940s, 1950s, and early-1960s.
How does she decide which one she’ll ride? “I love them both, but it depends on what mood I’m in. Little Scoot is lighter, because it doesn’t have any bags. (Bikes with bags are a.k.a. ‘Baggers’). “It’s good for short trips. Also, it depends on how hot it is outside, because there’s already a lot of heat coming off Mama Lou’s engine.”
Joan is big on safety. “As much as I enjoy riding, there’s a lot to be scared of. There’s a lot going on, including the rules of the road, shifting, turn signals, and negotiating threats. For example, the other day I was out riding, and there was a two by four piece of wood laying on the road. You have to be aware of hazards like that, because a car could hit it and it could kick up and hit you.”
“Riding the bike is all about control. When you slow down, you lose balance. It’s also harder to maneuver. Parking lots and sudden stops present challenges. When I first bought the Harley, I would practice figure eights in an empty lot just to get the feel of the bike.”
What’s her biggest tip for new riders? “Know how to drive a stick. Gain confidence, and experience. Start on a dirt bike in your yard. Riding dirt bikes was early training for me. It enabled me to know how a bike would respond to different terrains, like grass, mud, and gravel. The Department of Transportation offers courses. I’ve taken them twice, because simply, I don’t want to die. I’ve also taken professional rider courses, which were well worth the few hundred dollars.” Riders can also take part in ‘bike rodeos’, which are often run by police officers, to improve their skills.
DID YOU KNOW? The first motorcycle was built in 1885 in Germany. Read more here.
Joan is also a big fan of helmets, but she wasn’t always. “Pennsylvania is a no helmet state,” she explained. “I used to wear a non-DOT helmet, also known as a ‘brain bucket’. Not anymore. Tragically, a good friend of mine was in a bad bike accident. She suffered a severe brain injury because she hadn’t buckled her helmet.” Joan’s eyes turned somber. “I promised her husband that I’d always wear mine. And I do, although, truth be told, I hate wearing one. But it’s the only head I’ll ever get. I bought it for comfort. It’s considered a half helmet.”
Though Joan is an experienced rider, has received many hours of instruction, and does everything she can to ensure a safe ride, she’s still suffered a few accidents. Several years ago, a deer ran out in front of her on a stretch of country road and hit her bike. The fact that Joan was able to keep the bike up when a nearly one hundred pound animal rammed into it is huge – it speaks to both her skill and presence of mind.
“Besides scaring the hell out of me, the deer dented my fender and scratched the bike (Mama Lou) up pretty good. It was like I was watching it in slow motion, the whole thing. The deer was laying on the fairing!” And, she added with a rueful grin, “I had deer shit all over me.” Yikes! After that, Joan was able to straighten out the fender and ride home. (What’s a fairing? I had to look it up, so I’m assuming you may not know either: Per Wikipedia: “A motorcycle fairing is a shell placed over the frame of some motorcycles, especially racing motorcycles and sport bikes, with the primary purpose to reduce air drag.”
Unfortunately, she had another accident only a few weeks prior to the writing of this post. A car hit her in a parking lot, and even though it was at a low speed, it knocked her to the ground violently. She’s still severely bruised in her abdomen area, and angry, rightfully so, that the driver was so careless.
After both accidents, Joan had the courage to get back on her bike and ride, something she loves. And something she doesn’t want to lose. I applaud her for that. “I can’t let my fear beat me,” she said. “If I sell both my bikes what will I do? It would be like losing my identity. It’s not just a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.”
Joan loves to ride all year round, weather permitting. Once again, deferring to safety first, she has heated handle bar grips. “Literally, this can mean the difference between life and death. If your fingers get numb, you can’t respond as quickly as you need to.”
Joan is anxious to explore more of the country on her bike. “There’s so much beauty in America that you can see from a bike that you’ll never see from a car. It’s just not the same. Being on a bike allows you to go places you’d never be able to in a vehicle.” What’s her most memorable ride to date? “I’d have to say West Virginia. The switchbacks, and the views, are amazing.” She’s planning a tour of the United States, and says she’ll go by herself if she has to. In particular, she wants to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a National Parkway noted for its scenic beauty that stretches through North Carolina and Virginia.
“In addition to riding being relaxing, and the amazing beauty I see while on the bike, I appreciate the camaraderie with other bikers,” she said. “Once, when I was out on the little bike, I’d run out of gas. Some other bikers stopped and helped me. They understand. They’ve been there before.”
Many bikers take part in group rides, organized for charitable causes. Joan is no different. “I enjoy the ride, I enjoy socializing. Often, I’ll catch up with people I haven’t seen for a long time.”
She’s ridden in various organized rides, including the Brotherhood Memorial Ride, is coming up on Sunday, August 20th, and for which she hopes to be healed enough to take part. (See Spotlight on the event below) Located in Zelienople, PA, proceeds benefit the Brotherhood Memorial Fund, and was started in memory of fallen firefighters. Other rides she’s been a part of include Chaps for Charity, sponsored by Pizza Roma, located in Cranberry Township, PA, and Riding for the Cure, held each July, which promotes breast cancer awareness. Also in August, she plans to take part in a ride honoring the Veterans Traveling Wall Tribute, which will visit Butler, PA on August 24th – 27th. She’s also taken part in the Big Mountain Run and Mountain Fest, both in West Virginia. These bike rallies also do bike runs during the 2-3 day events.
Everyone has seen bikers extend a hand to one another as they pass on the road. What’s it mean, I asked? “It means, ‘I get it’, I feel the same way you do,” Joan explained. “Not everyone waves, but I always do. I especially like to wave to kids. They’re always enthralled by my bike.”
As a lover of motorcycles and riding, one thing Joan doesn’t care for is that often, people stereotype a female biker. “I’m not a lesbian, and I don’t have any tattoos,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t have anything against those things, it’s just not me. Sometimes it can be frustrating, that bikes are my thing. People either get it or they don’t. Basically, I just don’t fit the mold.” Again, her eyes shone, with the content of someone who’s exactly where she’s supposed to be, and doing exactly what she’s meant to do. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
DID YOU KNOW? The “Gremlin Bell” is thought by some to be a supernatural protector against evil spirits that haunt the roads looking for bikers to harm. Others believe it’s simply a tradition of kindness between riders and friends. Read all about the legend here.
SPOTLIGHT ON BROTHERHOOD MEMORIAL RIDE, Sunday, August 20th
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Paul Reynolds, volunteer fireman and co-chair of the Brotherhood Memorial Ride. Ian Walker is also co-chair. Paul, who’s been a volunteer fireman for 25+ years with the Harmony Fire District, says the event is close to his heart. “The event is in its eighth year, and along with my co-chair, Ian Walker, we’re looking forward to another great event this weekend. I’m proud to say that many people have told me it’s one of the best organized rides they’ve been involved in. So many people generously help plan the event. We’re happy to have riders of all ages, and the safety of our riders is the most important thing to us.”
Paul says his favorite thing about the event is the reason for the ride – to honor all public safety and emergency workers, including firemen, policemen and emergency responders. Proceeds benefit the Brotherhood Memorial Fund, as well as the Zelienople Skate Park.
The ride begins and ends at the Zelienople Community Park. Registration is from 9am – 11am. $20 per bike, $10 per passenger. Food and refreshments will be served at the park following the ride.
My father taught high school English, in addition to his many talents. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he was able to continue to teach for a short time. During those few months, I would visit him at school, eating lunch with him, offering silent moral support, and sometimes sitting in on his classes. On one such day, the class was studying Edgar Lee Master’s poem, George Gray, from his Spoon River Anthology.
My father is never far from my thoughts, and this came to mind today. As a writer, I’m fascinated by words, and how stories and authors connect my father and I. How appropriate a poem, for all of us, every day. Looking back, I believe with all of my heart that my father caught the winds of his destiny, each and every day. I write this today, to urge myself, and you, to have the determination and spirit to do the same, whatever your calling. Happy Monday!
George Gray by Edgar Lee Master
I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.
Today, I’m celebrating what I consider the TOP TEN powerful posts on my MYSTICAL MUSINGS blog in 2016. I met and interviewed some fascinating people this year, who graciously allowed me to ask all kinds of questions about their passions and expertise, and I came away from the experiences a more educated, enlightened and learned person. Plus, I had a blast! In other posts, I connected and explored memories and passions of my own. As an author, a writer, a storyteller and a blogger, It’s always an adventure sharing what I’ve learned and discovered with readers, and hearing your comments and feedback. It’s a journey that I want to be on, and I look forward to another great year. Thanks so much for joining me!
What powerful posts have you written, or read this year?
Here’s looking at you! Happy holidays, and Happy New Year!
If you’ve read my posts before, you know I cover a wide range of topics, from tattoo artists to paranormal activity. Here’s a few of my favorites from this year:
A storyteller at heart, my innate curiosity runs deep. As an individual passionate about self-expression, all forms of art and creativity, tattoos have fascinated me for years. And as a writer of romance with an inquisitive mind who adores bestowing said indelible designs upon her characters, I set out to explore how the two intertwined.
The history of storytelling and tattooing are both as old as time. Across cultures and countries, races and religions, both send messages, and even unite us as human beings.
Storytelling, I believe, is an ingrained part of our make up as human beings. We have always had a soul deep desire to explain, understand, teach, learn, calm, empower, commemorate and connect. Too, just as storytelling was, and is an art, so was, and is listening. Stories were told, and retold, and as man explored the globe, those same stories were shared, changed, stretched and expanded, and told again. Messages of wisdom, knowledge, values and beliefs from our collective ancestors are reflected in the myths, legends, fairy tales and other lore—fact and fiction—handed down from one generation to the next, and keep us connected to one another, as well as the past, present and future.
Today, every aspect of our lives it seems, is touched by myriad stories in both the traditional sense, in that we share stories verbally, face to face, and in the modern sense, via movies, books, magazines, music, television, social media and the Internet.
I believe just as storytelling satisfies basic human needs and desires, so does tattooing. For thousands of years, men and women have tattooed their bodies for many reasons, including self-expression and as part of their culture’s rituals. Regardless of the reason, they all have one common denominator: they give us the ability to communicate powerful messages to one another, without the need for words.
In an article at Smithsonian.com, author Cate Lineberry describes tattoos: “These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal—have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment.”
Indeed! From ancient cave etchings to modern sculpture, history, art and pop culture pay homage to said ‘permanent designs’. And in recent years, the popularity and diversity of body art, which includes tattooing, piercing and painting, has exploded and been wholeheartedly embraced as mainstream, via magazines, social media, conventions, competitions and television shows such as Miami Ink.
Per an article at Huffington Post, it’s estimated that one third of America’s young adults, aged 18-25, have at least one tattoo, per a report done by the Pew Research Center. As such, the tattoo industry is one of the fastest growing retail business in America.
To get a close up, personal view of this ‘tattoo phenomenon’ at one such business and the artist behind it, I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Boney “Joe” Clark, seasoned tattoo artist and owner of Tattoos by Boney Joe in Zelienople, PA. In the business for over thirty years, he generously shared his views on the industry, the art form and some storytelling of his own.
When we met, Joe explained he’d recently returned from a motorcycle trip. “I’m not a conventional traveler,” he said about the trip. “I like to experience it with all of my senses. Smell the air, taste the rain, see and touch the landscape.”
Interestingly, I believe it’s these very things a true artist seeks to capture in his work. And indeed, Joe’s artistry extends to his expertise as a master body piercer, as well as his flair for metal design work.
As a teenager, Joe became interested in tattooing after being at a fair and seeing a guy tattooing people in the back of his van. He’d always loved to draw, and instantly, he thought, “I can do better.” Starting his business on a wing and a prayer, he’s faced his share of trials, including a town that was, at first, slow to embrace a tattoo studio. But in true survivor fashion, he overcame—and not just the challenges of being a business owner. Joe is intensely proud of the fact he’s been drug free since 1988, and the tattoo on his left forearm is a testament to that.
He explained the basic mechanics of getting a tattoo to me, the tools that are used, and the artistry involved. Yes, they use what’s called a stencil of the design that’s transferred to the skin of the person getting the tattoo. But that will only take the artist so far. He or she has to also be able to draw freehand for certain designs, like a face, for example. The artist isn’t really ‘drawing’ the face, at least not at first. They use a ‘map’ to build the face, and their talent enables them to complete it. Every design is unique, and the time and talents needed to complete them depend on their complexity.
For any tattoo, Joe wants details and specifics, so the person receiving it gets exactly what they want. And the more complicated, the more details. He used the example of a butterfly. “What kind?” he posed. “A Monarch? A Malachite? A Pearly Eye? Should the wings be open or closed? Should it tilt to the right or left?” It’s details like these that are necessary to ensure everyone’s on the same page, before any work begins.
The tattoos on Joe’s hands are one example of the fun he’s had with ‘ink’ over the years. He explained that during the Veggie Tale craze in the 90s, two of his artists had a tattoo ‘war’, each trying to ‘out design’ the other. The result? On his right hand, a kind of crazed carrot wields a chain saw, and a deranged eggplant eyes the world cockily on his left. Recently, however, the carrot took on additional meaning to Joe, when he beat kidney cancer two years ago. Since then, he’s once again emerged as a survivor, and as such, added a commemorative ribbon to the design—which the carrot’s chainsaw is now ‘slashing’ through. Joe’s message is clear: “I kicked cancer’s ass.”
In thirty years’ time, Joe has designed thousands of tattoos, and tattooed three to four generations of people, even entire families. What’s his favorite thing to tattoo? “I’ll tattoo anything and love it, if it’s something that person is certain about, and it has deep meaning to them,” he said. “I don’t care if it means anything to anyone else. People may even look at it and have no idea what it is. But as long as the person who got it is happy, that’s what counts.” He told me about the woman who, after receiving her tattoo, was so moved she began to cry. “It was deeply satisfying,” he said.
I felt privileged to hear what was perhaps his favorite story, about an 82-year old woman who came to his shop with her daughter and granddaughter–all to get tattoos. When Joe asked her why she was getting it, he recalled what she said in detail. “She turned to me, and said, ‘You know kid, I was married to the meanest son of a bitch for fifty three years and I just buried him two months ago. I’m having the time of my life.’ ” And after the trio was done? This 82-year ‘young’ woman and company were headed to see male strippers. Bada bing. “She was sharp as a tack,” Joe said with a smile.
There’s no doubt Joe has had some ‘colorful’ experiences as a tattoo artist. But to him, it’s about a lot more than just the end result. He sincerely cares about the people who walk through his door, and their long-term satisfaction. At times, he’s even advised people not to get a tattoo.
Case in point—Joe told me the story about an eighteen-year-old man who came to the shop, bent on getting a tattoo that would pay homage to Michael Jordan. “When I asked him why, he listed Jordan’s many accomplishments,” Joe said. “I told him, fine. If you really want it, come back tomorrow and you’ll be my first appointment of the day. But first I want you to think about something. Remember how great everyone thought O.J. Simpson used to be? Things happen. Do you really want a tattoo like that for the rest of your life? It might not be so cool five years from now. Maybe you’re better off just wearing a Jordan ball cap.”
With that, Joe sent him on his way. Later that same evening, the man called him, and told him he’d gone to another shop where the artist had been eager to give him the tattoo. But the man decided not to get it. Instead, he thought about how Joe had gone out of his way to tell him all that he did, and it really made him stop and think. This guy cared.
And so he does. In 2001, Joe had the unique opportunity to share his expert knowledge of body piercing with the local medical community. After piercing the friend of a teaching nurse from a college in Pittsburgh, she was so impressed with Joe’s studio and his knowledge she suggested they present it directly to the medical community in the form of a seminar on piercing removal and care—a topic, at that time, about which there was little knowledge. In addition, Joe is extremely proud the information was also published in a textbook used by nursing students.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about tattoo shops and artists is they’re like McDonald’s, meaning, they’re all the same. They’re not,” Joe said definitively. “That idea leads people to start price shopping, and you just can’t, nor should you do that for something you’re going to have on your body for the rest of your life. Another misconception is that the tattoo industry is regulated. It isn’t, by and large, in Pennsylvania. That makes choosing a tattoo artist, based on their experience and standards even more critical.” That’s something Joe swears by—he holds himself and his artists to the highest standards in all aspects of the business.
Along with his passion for the business, Joe understands what makes a great tattoo artist: skill, passion and personality.
One of Joe’s artists, ‘Tez’, a.k.a Emery Joseph Kertesz IV and Gentlemen Tattooist, was at the
studio to contribute to our conversation, and offered the following insight: “If you take away any one of those three qualities, you have a good artist, and if you take away two, you have only an artist.”
So, why do people get tattoos? “In my experience,” Joe said, “people want to commemorate someone, or an event in their lives, or something they’re passionate about, like hunting. They also do it just because they think it’s cool. And some get a tattoo because it’s a fad.” Most popular lately? “Dandelions, and as their fluff is blowing away, it’s turning into birds. Also semi-colons, and anything with script or words,” he said. (Click here to read more about Project Semicolon)
The word tattoo is thought to be derived from both the Polynesian word “ta”, meaning “to strike”, and the Tahitian “tatau”, meaning “to mark.” Without a doubt, ‘Boney’ Joe Clark has indeed made his mark, indelibly, as an artist, a business owner and a supporter of the community.
So, what’ve I discovered from my sojourn into the world of tattoos, and how they intertwine with storytelling? I believe that not only is each tattoo a story unto itself, so is each client, and each artist. As each ‘tattoo’ story unfolds, both the client and the artist are telling that story—the client, with his choice of design, his experiences and motivations, and the artist, with his execution of that design, his talent, and his passion.
I’m also honored to have heard, and to relate the stories Joe shared with me—and to add my own ‘threads’ to their existing fabric. After all, I am a storyteller. It’s also my sincere hope that my message is clear: I’ve listened, and I’ve spoken. I’ve learned, and been entertained. I’ve understood, and I’ve connected.
I hope you do too.
PLEASE SHARE: What’s the story behind your tattoo? What inspired you to get it?
“I’ll always be with you, and you’ll always be with me.”
Those were the last words I know for certain my father heard me say, when his cancer finally started to win the war.
Little did I know how true those words would prove to be.
Several weeks after my father passed, I began to have incredibly vivid dreams about him. In them, he was healthy, as I’d remembered him. Each time I’d awaken, the experience stayed with me, and instead of feeling sad, I felt comforted, relieved, and close to him. In one dream, I could even feel his hand in mine.
I began to realize these were not just dreams, but visitations. My father and I had always been incredibly close, and I realized that hadn’t changed just because he’d passed.
One particular visitation continues to stay with me. That night as I slept, I sat in my childhood home, on the couch in the family room. I was crying. My father sat in his recliner, on the other side of the room. He had never been great at expressing his emotions, and he couldn’t stand to see any of our family upset. He asked me in stern voice why I was crying. I told him how much I missed him. He said, again in a stern voice, “Beckie, I’m here. I’m right here.”
And I know he was, and is. I experienced other supernatural goings on, if you will, since that time. Once, I could swear I smelled him, as I sat in church. When something really wonderful happens, I swear I can hear him cheering me on. And if I have a big decision to make, or I’m struggling with parenting, his wisdom, and the things he taught me come to me, stronger than ever, and often, right when I need it.
My father’s death changed my life in a profound way. I lost not only a father, but a friend, a mentor and the one person whose opinion I valued more than anyone else’s.
However, his visitations continue to empower me in ways I could never have imagined. They enabled me to have courage, renewed my determination, and strengthened my faith. They also opened my mind to amazing possibilities.
Perhaps the biggest change it gave me the courage to make was leaving a marriage I’d known in my heart was over for some time.
Time had new meaning, and I needed to be the person I knew in my heart and soul I was meant to be. It also rekindled my desire to follow my dream of becoming an author, and I’m thrilled to say that has indeed come true.
Overall, I appreciate, cherish and savor more. I talk less. I listen more. I notice details. I delight in the little things, like clean sheets, hot coffee, a bird’s song. Sunsets. Sunrises. Kissing my daughter’s cheek in the morning when I wake her for school.
Eight years have passed, and I’m grateful, every day, for my father’s visits. They helped me to heal, spiritually and emotionally, to work through my grief, and gave my life new direction. They are one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received, and they continue to bless my life, every single day.