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2011 Interviews : L.A. O'Neil Interview

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

L.A. O'Neil: Freelance Writer, Music Teacher, Culinary Artist

By Chris Dunmire

L.A. O'Neil is a writer and music teacher living in Colorado. Her bio states that 'she'll be the first one to tell you that the simplicity of her life fills her soul, and she hopes her writing and teaching will inspire others to appreciate the opportunities of life.' In my eyes, she has achieved this.

If you read L.A.'s articles on Creativity Portal, you'll notice a few openly discuss her experiences with vulnerable topics that many would find difficult to write about in such a personal way: breast cancer, cutting, rape, and hunger. L.A. has a gift for shining light in dark places and a way of seeing the world that makes me curious and grateful.

I am in awe whenever I know a person is healing from a painful experience, integrating past trauma into their life script, while reclaiming vital power in their being. I am in awe at knowing that as humans, we have great capacity for healing and moving forward in our lives, using our experiences to grow and build and teach. Healing, especially where there is creative expression involved, is special to me and fills me with hope. So thank you, L.A., for inspiring us through your writing and for taking time to respond so thoughtfully to my questions.

Q. Tell me a little about your creative journey and what led you to writing and teaching.

A. When I think back on my life, I'm sure I knew in my heart that I would teach music, but I didn't want to admit it. My mom and grandmother taught music for many years and, as a teenager who knew everything (don't they all?), I wanted to approach my life differently. The only problem was, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I really didn't find my niche in life until I was well into my thirties.

After I was raped, I moved to the Colorado mountains. I didn't want to deal with cities and people, and I found my 'voice' during the '80s when I lived in a small log cabin with my two dogs, one cat and two horses. I liked the simplicity of my life and I knew that it fit my personality well — elk, deer, foxes and other incredible wildlife were in my yard on a daily basis, and I realized a connection that felt like home.

I haven't looked back! I started a catering business and cooking filled my life for many years, but I realized that I didn't have music in my soul anymore. That realization made me reevaluate and I decided to follow in my mom's footsteps. I've been teaching ever since and writing on the side — the funny thing is, I never thought in a million years that anyone would enjoy my writing! I hope my writing serves as an inspiration in some small way.

Q. You made me (and countless others) hungry while reading your Fried Chicken and Prime Rib stories. Where did you learn how to write with such culinary art?

A: I'm delighted that the "Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes" and prime rib articles made you hungry! I think it's absolutely incredible that food and words can elicit such a response!

To answer your question about where I learned to write with 'culinary art,' the answer is simple — I have no idea! All I know is that I enjoy writing in a conversational style, and when it comes to food, I want my readers to be able to 'taste' my food through my words. For some reason, cooking is a mystery to some people, and I want anyone who reads my articles to know that if they can read, they can cook. I truly believe that! I prepare meals that are on the gourmet side, and I love to cook meals that fill the soul. You know . . . the down home, pork chops and cherry pie kind of meal. There's no greater feeling than sitting down with family or friends and sharing moments and memories. The cool thing is that anyone can create and enjoy those moments — and, I hope they take advantage of the impact a simple meal can have on one's life.

The writing? It just comes naturally and I'm thrilled that people want to read what I have to say. Although, I think it may be a genetic thing — I get my writing ability from my mom. She'll be ninety-one years old in five days and, she just finished her first novel, Valley of the Moon.

Q: What's it like to teach voice and piano to others? Do you sing and play for enjoyment yourself?

A: Teaching voice and piano — I teach mostly voice, though — is a feeling like no other. I'm fortunate, because I get to know each of my students so well. It's very different teaching one-on-one, than it is to a big class . . . I have the opportunity to really understand what makes my students tick. Adults and kids. It helps me teach them to the best of my ability, and to get the best results by singing from their heart and soul.

When students get their first glimmer of 'that sounded really good,' their faces light up — and, it's something I usually don't forget. It's the first affirmation of "I can do this!' that will be a fond memory for the rest of their lives — mine, too!

I do sing for my own enjoyment — I don't have a lot of time to do it, but once in awhile I get the bug to sing some jazz and blues. I teach opera, classical, contemporary, jazz and blues, but the jazz and blues is my favorite. My mom says I came out of the womb 'jazzin' it up!'

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Updated 1/10/14