Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Do you hear what I hear?

Have you ever played the iPod shuffle game, the one where you set your iPod on shuffle and then list the first ten songs that pop up?  I haven’t, but I’ve always intended to try it.  I’m going to do it now as a sort of personality experiment, to see if I can reveal a little of my personality in my musical preferences.  I have 772 songs on my iPod,so it will be interesting to see what comes up first.  Here goes:

“Ruff Rider” by Webb Wilder – Ah, Webb Wilder. This song, mostly instrumental, is off their It Came from Nashville album.  I discovered this band in the ‘80s.  They started as a local band, and I saw them live a few times. Their music is a rockabilly style, and I always enjoyed listening to them because no one else I knew in my age group did.  This selection reminds me that I’ve always gone against the grain just a bit and leaned towards the off-beat.  Oh, and the lead singer, Webb, went to high school with my sister.  He also reminds me of Jimmy Daniels, one of the most influential people in my early life.

“Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” by the Eurythmics – What can I say?  The Eurythmics was a very important band to me throughout my high school and college years, and this song was the first one of theirs I ever heard.  I remember seeing the video for the first time and being mesmerized.   Videos were still a novelty then, and there was nothing like it at the time.  I was sold.  Forget Madonna, it was Annie Lennox I most wanted to be like.  Once, when I was in London, my oldest friend and travelling partner and I spent an entire day tracking down their recording studio.  I’ll save that story for another day.

“Not That Different” by Collin Raye – This is actually a new purchase.  In the ‘90s I was a new mom, and I was not impressed with the rock music coming out so I turned to country.  Collin Raye was one of the first artists I listened to, and I had a couple of his albums. One of his songs (not this one) reminds me of my Daddy, and I wanted it on my iPod so I downloaded an album. 

“Have You Written Anything Lately” from The Wedding Singer soundtrack – Yes, I like The Wedding Singer, and I wanted a different song on the album so I downloaded the whole thing.  This song is when Julia is asking Robby to sing for her one of the songs he wrote.  Sometimes I swear Adam Sandler was spying on me when I was a teenager because the songs he uses in his movies were my songs.

“What’s the Matter Here” by 10,000 Maniacs – Sometime in college I discovered 10,000 Maniacs.  It was a new sound for me and I felt the lyrics had meaning.  Also, I used to bear a strong resemblance to Natalie Merchant.  Just saying.

“Love is a Stranger” by the Eurythmics – Well?

“A String of Pearls” by the Glen Miller Orchestra – I grew up on ‘40s swing because that is what my mother listened to.  I need it around me always.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen – This song reminds me of sneaking into my brother’s bedroom when he wasn’t home and listening to his stereo.  It’s a fun song, that’s all there is to it.  Who doesn’t secretly love this song?

“Up On the Roof” – James Taylor. All I can say is “sigh”. James Taylor has brought me through many good and bad times.  Before there was crying time in my car there was lying-on-my-bed-alone-in-my-room-in-the-dark listening to James Taylor. Again, music I must have around me always.

“Tied Together With a Smile” by Taylor Swift – Yes, I bought Taylor Swift’s first album.  Mock me if you must, but I like it.  I really don’t know this particular song very well, because I usually skip over it for some of the others.  For the record, “Tears on My Guitar” is my favorite.

I think this random sample gives a fairly accurate representation of my personality.  I go against the grain (a little off-beat), I am soft-hearted and sentimental, I like to have fun, I’m a wee corny, and I’m always open to new things.  As far as music goes this experiment also proves my musical tastes are all over the charts. I like what I like and I make no apologies.  Now then, where did I put my Patsy Cline collection?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The club

September 26, 2011

I once wrote a Facebook status about a girl I saw in traffic, crying her eyes out alone in her car. In my status update I mentioned her, and I welcomed her to the club.  This statement left my husband a bit miffed because he thought it reflected badly on him.  He didn’t want people to think he was the source of my angst.  Just to be clear, 99.99% of the times I might find myself crying in my car have absolutely nothing to do with him.  It’s just that I don’t like to cry in front of people so I tend to bottle it up and wait for opportune moments of alone time to reflect on the sad things and get them out of the way. And since my only real alone time is my daily commute, at least an hour everyday, that is when I allow any sorrows to creep into my thoughts. 

The day I saw the girl in the white SUV, sobbing into her hands at a stoplight, I felt a kinship with her.  I thought, you go sister, let it all out, right there with you.  You see, this day was not quite a year after my nephew left for his great heavenly adventure, which was a year after my father left on his, and six months before my brother-in-law of 34 years took his journey as well.  So there was a solid span of three years when I had reason to shed many tears, and most all of them ended up in my car.

It’s not that I buckle my seatbelt, adjust my mirrors, crank the car and then let sadness overtake me.  It’s not like that at all.  But sometimes a song might come on the radio, or I might see a sign or even a vehicle that reminds me of something, and before I know it my face is wet.  It usually doesn’t last long, but I’ve learned to go with it.  It’s my personal therapy, and by the time I get to my destination I feel much better.

Now don’t think all I do is cry in my car. I’m not that bad off.  You’re just as likely to find me laughing or singing badly as well.  I enjoy listening to storyteller podcasts and I keep them light.  Stories about the little town at the edge of the prairie where all the children are above average are my personal favorites, but I throw in some Moth podcasts as well.  Never listened?  I highly recommend.

I guess my point is, if you ever see me or anyone else crying in their car, or laughing hysterically or even singing badly, don’t judge, or pity.  You never know what we are going through, or listing to for that matter.  Just think of us as members of a special club you once heard about.  It’s a club with no membership dues, and all are welcome to join.  The only rule is sometimes the tears must be because of laughter.  There must always be laughter.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


September 24, 2011

Fall is my favorite time of the year, and it is officially here according to yesterday’s equinox.  Yet, I’m not feeling it.  Instead I’ve been feeling melancholy, maybe even a little bitter.  My husband says I have an unpleasant “tone”. This tone apparently strikes fear and trepidation in him and my children.  Do I really?  That actually makes me feel worse knowing I am making others unhappy.  I certainly do not get out of bed every morning and wonder what I can do that day to make others unhappy.  But the truth is, in a season that usually lifts my spirits and gives me an emotional boost, I am just dragging.  I don’t understand it.  I guess the personal stresses of late, a child aging into adulthood, and recent losses have zapped me of my seasonal joys.  

Regardless, I am trying to find the feeling.  I dug out some fall d├ęcor and cleaned the house a bit in preparation of my son’s birthday lunch tomorrow.  The golden glow coming from my orange mosaic glass lamps always make me happy.  It will also be a lift to have family in and around.  We haven’t all been in the same room together since Mama’s funeral, so having even a small gathering will be nice.  I do know there will be an emptiness felt at the round table in my kitchen, the place she would park her wheelchair whenever she was here.  But the emptiness will be filled with her memories, I am sure.  My family has a way of turning sadness into laughter; strange, maybe but you deal with things however you can.

On the bright side, this is just September.  My favorite of favorite times of the year is October, so there is still time to come out of this funk and get into the season.  There are things happening in October; Live at Five returns, a trip to New Orleans with our international students (ghost tour, yay), USM Homecoming parade with our international students (yay for students, boo for me), a conference in Mobile, and of course, a wedding anniversary.  Maybe my “tone” will be softer then and my husband will remember why he married me on that day.

Surely when the weather changes things will turn around.  I’ll get to change out my closet and start wearing comforting clothing (fleece, flannel, thermal).  And, I’ll enjoy being outdoors again.  So let the countdown begin, only seven days to go.  Come on October!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Going out on a limb

September 15, 2011

I have a confession to make.  I’ve only shared this with a few people so far, but I’m ready to tell everyone now.  I need to clear the air.  See, recently I did something completely out of character for me.  I went out on a limb.  A shaky limb in a brittle tree.  Why, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.  My sister, the older one, called me awhile back and told me the local newspaper was looking for community columnists to contribute to the paper.  This person would need to write a column with a local feel to be published about once a month or so.  I’ve read these before.  I know a couple of the people who already contribute and I like to read what they have to say.  I thought about it for a while and then filed it in the dark recesses of my mind.  That is until my sister, the older one, sent me an email and practically threatened me if I did not apply.  Boy, is she persistent.  I knew the only way to get her off my back was to go ahead and answer the ad.  I figured I would write up my personal information, attach my sample writing in 400 words or less and hit the send button and be done with it.  Once I hit the send button I opened up my Facebook page, sent that older sister a one word message of “Done” and hit the Reply button.  That was that.  Over.  Done.

Today I found out I’ve been accepted.  Aaacckk!!!!   What do I know about writing a column for the newspaper?  I mean, just because I have a degree in journalism (I’ve never used), doesn’t mean I know anything about writing or newspapers.  Geez, what I have done?   Now I have to come up with ideas, write them out in a way people will want to read, and then publish my words in a public newspaper.  You know what this does?  This opens me up to criticism from people I don’t even know.  No one enjoys being criticized (insert frowny face here). 
Coming up with idea will be the hardest part for me. Once I have an idea I can usually pound something out, but it’s coming up with that initial concept that kills me.  I was the one in school who would turn in a blank paper just out of protest because I couldn’t think of a single idea. (Please don’t tell my son I said that *I don’t know where he gets it*).
In preparation for the possibility of being accepted, I have been bouncing some story ideas around in my head.  I have an idea about being orphaned as an adult and the experience of cleaning out my parents’ house.  Then, I have another idea about the eccentric people in my life and how my parents taught me tolerance for them through non-verbal communication.  Action is louder than words, etc. etc.  Speaking of words, I’m also compiling a list of words and phrases I want evicted from the English language.  Words like yu… well, I can’t waste that here.  I might need it for later.

But what will happen to my blog?  I can’t waste my ideas on my blog if I have to use them to meet a deadline.  I might go dry.  Oh, there’s another idea…why I had writer’s block for over a decade.  That’s not a very happy story, one I’m really ashamed of actually, so I might not go into that.  

I also have to tone down my emotions for the paper.  People in the general public don’t want to read about the spiritual revelations I receive in my life.  They don’t want to cry.  They don’t want their salty tears to fall into their coffee or seep through the paper and make the ink run.  It will be all my fault they can’t read the crime report on the other side of the page.

So what do I want to accomplish with the newspaper thing?  I don’t really know, but I think I just want the experience.  The more I write the better I will get, and then one day maybe I can write that novel all writers want to write.  HA! A novel.  I can’t even make up imaginary names for people in a story I’ve been playing with as sort of a tribute to someone, much less come up with a riveting plot and dialogue.  Ultimately, I hope my column doesn’t become my own version of Seinfeld, a column about nothing. 

Oooh, here’s another idea.  I’ll write a whole column about a pesky older sister who likes to intimidate her younger sister into stepping out onto a shaky limb in a brittle tree and taking a risk that might just make her a happier, better person.  It will be like first grade all over again.  Now, THAT’s another story…

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We cannot change the past, but the future is another story

September 10, 2011

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the day the United States was attacked by Muslim extremists in an effort to rain terror on the infidels and bring ruin to our government and our economy.  I don’t mind saying they were Muslims, Whoopi G.  I know many Muslims, and they are great people.  I know many Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists, and they great people, too.  I also know people of all of these faiths who are not so good.  It is not the religion, but the word "extremist", that should be emphasized. Christian extremists bomb abortion clinics.  Just because they are Christians doesn’t mean they are not terrorists.   Extremism in the name of any religion can be an evil thing.  I digress.

There is no need to go into the statistics of how many lives were lost ten years ago.   We all know the story.  It was a dark day for this country.  I remember talking to my aunt that afternoon while we waited for my children and her great grandchildren to get out of school.   Being born in 1918 she lived through countless heartaches the United States has suffered, but she told me the attacks could only be compared to the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor.

We all have our “where were you” stories to tell.   My “where were you” on September 11, 2001 story is too boring to tell.  It is my story from about three months earlier that gives me shivers every time I tell it.   When I got home the afternoon of September 11, 2001 I went straight to the television just like everyone else in America.  For the next several days I watched footage of terrible destruction, ash-covered, terror-filled people running out of billowing, opaque clouds of dust and debris; heroic firemen, policemen, laymen and emergency personnel running into the same clouds.  Out of all of these terrible things that were happening on the ground in New York City, D.C., and Pennsylvania it was one face I saw in the news that made me go cold.  It was the face of the terrorist known to have piloted the plane into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  

It was a face I knew in my heart I had seen before, standing inches from me, talking to me, glaring at me.  You see, I work in a university’s international student office, and my job puts me in close and personal contact with people from all over the world every day.  And one day in early summer 2001 a Middle-Eastern man walked into my office wanting to transfer to my university.  Over the 22 years of my profession I have met so many people of all races and ethnicities it is impossible to remember them all.  But something stood out about this man.  Several things, actually.  One, he was older, not your typical college student or even graduate student.  Two, he was severely unfriendly.  And, three, he wanted to transfer to my university from a flight school.

The prospective students who come into my office want to be accepted to the university, so they put on their best behavior to make a good impression.  This man did not.  He never smiled.  He did not try to make light conversation.  No, he was to the point, and he wanted an answer immediately.  He showed me his immigration papers, and I told him something he did not want to hear.  He was in the U.S. on a visa my university does not support, so the only way he could enroll was to leave the country, get a different visa, and come back.  When I explained this to him he was not happy.  He made it very clear to me leaving the country was not an option.  To appease him I told him I would ask my boss to be sure.  She came in, looked at his papers and told him the same thing.  He glared at us both and left.

I thought nothing of this at the time.  It wasn’t a terribly unusual event.  But looking back I add this incident to my list of things I would be willing to be hypnotized to remember.  My list numbers two; one is my sister’s last words to me, and two is the name on the document that man handed to me.  My gut, my deepest feelings, tells me the name would be revealed as Mohammed Atta.

I’m probably wrong, I hope I’m wrong.  I even told my story to a federally employed law enforcement friend a few years ago just so he would tell me I was wrong.  He just smiled and nodded in a condescending way.  He did not encourage me, nor did he refute me.  So aggravating.

Ten years ago I sat in front of the television and grieved for the lives lost in those planes and in those towers.  My heart was rent for what happened at the Pentagon. But for some reason UA 93 haunts me most.  I think of the passengers who said “no” and fought back.  I think of what might have happened had they not.  Then I think of what might have happened if I had said “yes” to that man in my office.

I will not be participating in September 11 memorial services, nor will I watch news coverage of the events.  The events that happened that day truly hurt my heart, and I’ve known too much grief in my life.  I avoid it whenever I can.  It’s not that I think we should forget what happened, we should never forget, but for me it is more important to look forward with resolve to make diligent changes so it will never happen again.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sweet dreams are made of this

September 8, 2011

It’s three a.m. and I just awoke from a dream.  It was a fantastic dream, a going-back-in-time dream (my favorite kind).  I dreamed of my parents’ house, the house where I lived from the time I was born until the day I was married.  But this dream was set in a time long before I was born.  Surrounding the house on all sides were fields of rolling farmland.  I was an observer in the dream, a visitor from another time there just to see what it was like, what others knew before there was me.  Was it really like this?  I don’t think so, but the dream was wonderful anyway.   

Two majestic oak trees made a border between our property and the property next door, on the right side of the house.  Beyond the oaks was a storage shed.  It looked more like an old carriage house, with many paned glass windows.  I went inside to see if there was a memory there to uncover. I felt something familiar, but nothing concrete.  From the vantage point in front of the shed I could see the back and right side of the house and cows in a field beyond where I was standing.  I could smell the sweet smell of cut hay and summer breeze and wildflowers.  It was exhilarating.

Time passed and my father was there.  He was young and robust and gorgeous.   He was helping a young me with a rope swing hung in a sprawling ancient oak tree right next to the house, near the kitchen window.  I know this was not a real memory, but something my subconscious only wished was true.  Then I had an instant realization.  I knew why my father never wanted to clear the brush between our house and the neighbors.  It was his way of keeping alive his memory of living in a wide open space.  With the trees and underbrush as his border he could imagine what was beyond, and live with a hint of his own childhood days on a farm.  Again, true?  Probably not, but that is how it was revealed to me in my dream.

Fast forward a few years and I see our neighbor from across the street sitting cross-legged in a circle with some of my siblings. We are again on the right side of the house, under the kitchen window.  The oak with the rope swing is gone.  I see a house, in what was a field, behind her so I know time has passed.  My young self is sitting in her lap.  This might have been real because I do remember her as a friend.  I know if she is there then her mother must be inside so I go in and have a look.  She is, and she’s sitting at the kitchen table with my mother having coffee.  I see my sister on the opposite side of the table and there I am, an older me at the end, sitting closely to a cousin and smiling and listening to whatever is being said.  I look just like I looked in an old black and white photo I have of myself, around the age of 12.  My hair is cut in an awkward bob, my mouth is slightly open (so I know it is before adenoid surgery) and I’m wearing an old smock I always wore around the house.  In other words, I looked a mess. 

My sister asked me to go get something from my father’s room and I knew time had fast forwarded again because the thing she wanted me to get was his will and some papers we had to sign.

That’s about the time I woke up, and I knew I had to write it all down before it faded.  The best dreams are remembered just at the time of awakening and they can fade as fast as the dawning sun only to be lingering thoughts, or feelings of deja vous throughout the day.  And to me, this dream was worth recording.