Sunday, January 29, 2012

When pigs fly? Not a problem.

I have finally done something I have been planning on doing for the past three months.  I haven’t done it till now because I could not get it all straight in my head, until today.  What is this deed I have done?  I have submitted a manuscript to a literary agent to see if it would be worth publishing.  Without going into any details let me just say it is something that I have felt led to do.  I think that is why I did not send it three months ago when I first felt the urgency.  

Patience is not one of my virtues.  If I get an idea about something I have to do it right then.  I am an impulsive shopper.  I have also written more than one angry letter without allowing a cool off period.  So this experience has been a lesson in patience for me.  If I had sent off the email at my first impulse my query letter would have been hastily written and my manuscript would have been too rough to be taken seriously.  By being patient and waiting for the words to come I have had time to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

It would be a lie if I said I received a message from God to do this.  I heard no words from heaven.  Instead it was more of a feeling in my heart that has not relinquished.   Then there have been some events lately including a dream I had that corresponded to a series of dreams my niece had around the same time.  Dreams so strong she was compelled to call me and tell me about them, and to her surprise I was able to tell her of mine.  I do not believe in coincidences.  I believe God has a hand in everything and it is up to us to figure it out for ourselves.  So, no, I did not hear words from heaven, but that doesn’t mean God did not speak to me in other ways.

As I said, I have put this off for three months.  Finishing my letter was the furthest thing from my mind today.  As of this afternoon I didn’t even have a title for my story.  Actually, I was going to take a nap but for some reason, just like last Sunday, I took my electronics to the porch, and once again opened my story and the dreaded unfinished letter.  I was distracted by a killdeer bathing in a puddle beyond our front pond and once again left the task undone.  By the time I was finished bird watching it was too cold for me to type outside, but this time when I came in I sat down and finished.  It was so easy.  Why has it taken three months? Like I said, things are lining up.  Things are happening.

What’s next?  I have not a clue. I am prepared to wait another three months for a response.  If I do not hear anything I’ll send it to someone else.  I am also prepared for rejection.  I am not so naïve to think this is not a very possible outcome. But that’s o.k. too, because as someone once told me, “a turtle never gets anywhere unless it sticks its neck out”.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Stepping in the way, way, way back machine

Think me strange, but I enjoy a déjà vu moment now and then.  You know, those times when you feel like the record skipped and you're doing it all over again.  But the older I get the more these moments lean towards the “now why did I come in here?” variety.  Sometimes a smell or sound can trigger a trip back in time.  For example, I can step into the R.C. Cook Union on the USM campus and the smell of the building will immediately transport me back to 1980s when I was a student there.  The smell of that place is exactly the same today as it was 25+ years ago despite the upgrades and remodels that have been done on it every few years since it was built.  One foot in the door and an intake of breath and I’m back in my purple parachute pants, pink t-shirt and high tops sitting in a booth with friends, or waiting on friends, or maybe spying on friends of friends, or just trying to be seen by those whom I want to see me.

Daddy c. 1943
Speaking of smells, there is a certain one that always reminds me of my daddy, too.  It is the caustic odor of merthiolate.  Merthiolate, or meth-i-lade as I call it, was his go-to; a virtual panacea for any irritated skin condition.  I remember showing him my cuts and scratches only to regret it because of the burning sting that would follow as he dotted the orangey/pinkish liquid over my bo-bos (as he called them).  I would whine, “blow on it”, and he would and then all would be well.  It was a common sight to see Daddy covered in orangey/pinkish dots himself. He was a consummate self-healer.  I guess his years as a medic in WWII taught him enough to suit him.  He saw no need for doctors as long as merthiolate was still on the market.  He kept a bottle in his travel kit (i.e. cigar box with a rubber band around it) along with a shaving brush and some other toiletries.  That kit now belongs to me, still in his suitcase where he kept it (of course, where else would you keep a travel kit?), and if I want to remember the essence of my daddy all I have to do is open the bottle of  meth-i-lade and release the genie.

Mama 1951
The smell of good food cooking is the epitome of my mother, but my earliest memories of her scent would be if you took a couple of packs of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, added a pack of Juicy-Fruit, a pack of Viceroy cigarettes, some loose change and shook it all together in a vinyl handbag.  Open the handbag put your face in and breathe deeply.  My mother will appear.  Ask any of my siblings and I’m sure they would agree.  That smell was her scent only in my early years.  She gave up smoking when I was in the seventh grade after she had polyps removed from her throat, so the Viceroys were taken out of the mix.  Unlike my daddy’s attitude towards the medical field, doctors were as influential to my mother as Jesus.  When her doctor told her to quit smoking or else, she put down the cigarettes and never smoked another.  Sadly, she never quite grasped the idea of second-hand-smoke-is-as-bad-as-smoking--or worse. 

The reason I am even thinking about buried memories is because of a song I heard yesterday.  It’s not a new song; in fact it’s very old.  I don’t know when my enchantment with this song began, but one day, years ago, I heard it and I was taken back somewhere so deep in my mind that I’ve never consciously been before.  The song is “Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller.  The first notes of the song can put me in a trance until the very last note is played.  Not only am I aware that I am spacing out, but I get very emotional in certain parts of the song and I have actually sobbed (probably in the safety of my car) at times.   Sometimes I wonder if I was covertly hypnotized and “Moonlight Serenade” is my trigger.  Yesterday morning the song shuffled in my iPod play and for the rest of the day it was all I could do not to download several versions of the song so I could play back to back.  I felt like Jerry Fletcher in the Conspiracy Theory with his uncontrollable need to buy Catcher in the Rye.  Ironically, helicopters have been flying low over my house lately.   And just last night my husband saw something flying at just above tree level out back, and before the night was over I surrendered and downloaded The Glenn Miller Story soundtrack version of “Moonlight Serenade”.  I think I might be on to something here.

I don’t know why I think the things I think, or feel the things I feel, but I am always intrigued at how the mind works to make all these things possible.  I can’t remember what I wore to work last Wednesday, but the smell of an old building, merthiolate and spearminty/juicy fruity/tobacco, and the notes of an old song popular way before my time unlock memories untold.  Now if I could just remember my Amazon password.  I've got more downloading to do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hazy, lazy day

What is it about outside that sparks my creativity and urges me to put words into legible sentences?  I am not an outdoors person.  Ashamedly I prefer to nap on a Sunday afternoon (or Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, etc.) rather than go and enjoy the outside.  I think it’s the south Mississippi weather that keeps me indoors.  Rarely is the weather pleasant enough to be outside.  There’s just a small window of opportunity when it is not too hot, or too cold, or too dry or too much pollen.  Today one of those windows opened and here I sit on my porch with my dog listening to the rain and hoping the wind will be still enough to keep the rain off of the porch and away from my electronics. 

Our goats are not very happy about the rain.  We’ve locked them in the front pasture and they can’t get to the barn.  Its okay, they have a shelter.  Eddie, the male goat, is usually so quiet you can’t hear his bleat, but just now when the rain came heavy he positively bellowed to his ladies to follow him and he galloped to his little house.  The ladies, with their pregnant bellies, followed slowly but they didn’t seem to mind the rain as much as Eddie.  And like most Mississippi rainfalls, it was over by the time they reached their little house so they just plopped on the ground in the wide openness instead.  Poor Eddie.  He doesn’t have much say so.  His big horns show dominance, but the real power in the family lies with the ladies.  Like Mary’s little lamb he follows them wherever they go.

Unlike the goats I love the rain.  It is really the only reason I am out here today.  I revel in the coolness it brings on a hot day, the way it refreshes the air and brings out the scent of the pine and grass and dirt, and the tinkling sound it makes as it hits the different surfaces on the ground. All these things awaken my senses.  Sometimes I wonder if I would rather live in a place where rain is prevalent.  I hear so many people talk about depression from too many gray days, but I think I would thrive in such a climate.  I detest hot sun and sticky humidity.  Give me a breezy rainy day and I’ll even leave my napping couch to enjoy it.

Along with rain there are so many other sounds that bring me comfort.  Next to me I hear windchimes, but in the distance I hear roosters crowing, my husband on his tractor, wind, birds, and frogs.  These are my sounds of home.  I especially enjoy the windchimes.  Most people would probably think they are annoying, and that I have too many.  Well, maybe I do have too many, but I think they are comforting.  When my oldest son was just a baby his grandmother gave me a set of windchimes and I hung them outside his bedroom window.  I could hear them from my own bed as well.  He never minded the sound.  In fact, I had another very small set I hung on his ceiling fan pull chain.  When he was older I went to remove them and he wouldn’t let me.  I guess I associate the sound of the chimes with having small children in my life.  The sound of the chimes keep the quiet away, and now that my children are mostly grown and I no longer have small children under my feet the quiet tends to creep in when I least expect it. 

Now the window is closing.  The air has gone from cool to cold and the wind is blowing the rain sideways and threatening my electronics.  My napping couch awaits me.  Till next time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't worry, be happy

Today was not a good day for me.  It was one of those days when nothing went right, my job was overwhelming and people annoyed me.  All of these things combined together kept my temper short and my patience nil.  Days like today remind me that I need to pull back and not take out my irritations on those around me or people I have to speak to on the phone.  I think there is girl in China who is afraid of me now.

Sometimes we are not aware how impactful even the smallest things we say or do in our everyday lives can be to others. The way we treat people, the things we give people may seem insignificant at the time, but can have lasting implications. I was reminded of this today by a comment a friend made. Yesterday was my birthday, so last night I posted an album of pictures of me on my earliest birthdays and scanned pictures of some birthday cards dating back to my first birthday. First of all, I would never have had these buried treasures if my mother had not had the sentimentality to save them for me. She had a file folder in her filing cabinet for each one of us, and she kept mementos of our lives in those files. She gave me mine several years ago to take home, and I just stuffed it in a box for later. Well, last night was my later, and I was astonished at how many birthday cards and pictures she had actually kept for me. This small act on my mother’s part salvaged memories for me that otherwise I would have never recollected on my own.

One of the cards I found was a birthday card my sister, Barbara had given me on my 10th birthday. On the front is a picture of Holly Hobby, a hobby of mine at one time, with the title, A Birthday Greeting, Sister - With Loving Memories. She had stuffed it with pictures of Holly Hobby she had cut out of other things.  There are two things about my sister that anyone who knew her or knew of her will confirm. She never forgot a birthday. Never. If you were any friend to her at all you would receive a birthday card from her every year. The second thing about her is she wrote the year in the bottom right corner of every card she sent. How else would I have known she gave me that particular card in 1976? Bless her for that. It's because of her I find myself doing the same thing with cards, Christmas ornaments, pictures, etc. etc.  When I found that card from her it was like she was sending me a birthday card from heaven and a gift of those cut-outs as well. As it said, A Birthday Greeting, Sister - With Loving Memories. Loving memories, indeed.  I’m sure in 1976 shortly after she graduated from college and was starting her teaching career she would have never guessed that 30 years later the simple act of sending a birthday card to her baby sister would be so important to her. 

You see, these small things, like the "in on the secret" wink my brother-in-law John used to give me, the silly postcards and letters my friend Jimmy and I used to exchange, the satsumas I shared with my four-year old nephew one December afternoon, the positive acknowledgements we give and receive for a job well done or just to be thoughtful; these small things are the things that make memories and lasting impressions, even if we don't realize it at the time. These are gifts that cost us little or nothing to give, but invaluable to receive.

Inevitably I will have more bad days like today and my irritations will show, but hopefully I will think of my sister’s heaven-sent birthday greeting and my mother’s foresight to preserve my childhood and I will stop before I give those around me unpleasant memories of me.  Life is too short to spend it spreading ill will.  It is much more enjoyable to spread the Loving Memories.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Angels amongst us?

I recently had an odd experience.  What makes it really odd is the fact that this event wasn’t the first time I’ve had the same type of experience.  I mentioned this on Facebook, so for those of you who might read this twice, I apologize, but I'm trying to sort it out.
Several years ago, and by several I mean more than 10, I went with my sisters and my mother to a merchandise show in New Orleans.  To get on the selling floor you had to wear a nametag to confirm your worthiness.  Being a seasoned conference attendee I know to remove my nametag as soon as I leave a venue so as not to call attention to myself and invite strangers to become too familiar.  On the way home we stopped at a truck stop in Slidell to eat supper and buy lottery tickets.   Two things my family has always enjoyed are food and lottery tickets.  (I’ve heard of late that one sister enjoys the scratch off tickets so much she will resort to claiming a prize possibly belonging to someone else.  But that’s another story.)  We sat down at a table, and a waitress came and took our order.  I don’t remember whose order she took first, but I remember she took my order last.  She was standing to my right the entire order-taking time, and when she made it around the table to me, this waitress I had never seen before she first approached our table, looked at me and said, “What can I get for you, Elizabeth?”   No one else at the table seemed to hear her but me.  I didn’t really know how to respond except to give her my order.  I remember thinking she must have read my nametag, but being a seasoned conference attendee I had removed my nametag as soon as we left the convention center in New Orleans.

The second experience I had was this past Saturday night in New Orleans.  My husband and children took me to New Orleans for an early birthday celebration.  We went to an indoor/outdoor restaurant and sat outside.  All of the servers were outfitted in their best and brightest Saints jerseys in honor of the home game being played across town later that evening.  I left the table and went inside to go to the restroom.  In this place there is a ramp that goes up from the dining room to the kitchen and restrooms.  When I started up the ramp a young waiter wearing his best and brightest black and gold was coming down the ramp from the kitchen.  As we passed each other he gently clutched my upper arm and said, “Happy New Year, Miss Elizabeth,” and kept on walking.  At first I thought maybe he was one of my international students or student workers, because they are the only ones who call me “Miss” Elizabeth.  His accent was foreign indeed, but only as foreign as any other Louisianan.  No, this guy was American, I’m sure, and I’m sure I’ve never met him before in my life.

When I posted this on Facebook a friend asked me if I had any theories.  Actually, I have been mulling over a few.  The simplest explanation is these two people overheard someone else say my name and repeated it to be friendly and familiar.  But I think this is a pessimist’s opinion, and I am an eternal optimist.  My glass is always at least ¾ full.

The part of me that knows there is more to life than life believes there is a definite spiritual intervention going on here.  The part of me that feels in my bones that there is more to reincarnation than a cosmic do-over believes that these people, or souls, I encountered are souls I may have known in another time.  They might not even know they called me by name, it might be some subliminal action they are unaware of effecting.

Again drawing on the spiritual theme, they could be “angels unawares” as another friend noted.  Messengers from God with a message in their short acknowledged greeting affirming yes, Elizabeth, I know you.  You are so important I know your name, as in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee…”

Maybe they are not even angels, but the Almighty Himself using these two servers as instruments to convey the same message.  Maybe I have even given this same message of affirmation to someone without even realizing it.  Maybe we all do.

My final theory so far (there may be more at a later date) is really remote, but nothing is impossible to this ¾ full optimist.  Like Douglas Adams' unsuspecting rain god, maybe I am famous and don’t even know it.  But apparently, I’m only famous to the food service industry in Louisiana.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The year's ending

The year 2011 drew to a close two days ago, but my vacation time ends tonight.  I like my job, but I certainly haven’t stayed in it for 22 years because of the money.   There are many reasons I haven’t tried for something with a higher income, but one of the reasons is because of the vacation time.   In addition to the earned time I receive each month, I also get the last two weeks of the year starting right before Christmas and ending right after New Year’s Day.  These are the two weeks I look forward to every year.  It is during this time I can relax and enjoy the holidays without the stress of having to get up and go to a job the day before and after Christmas.  It is also nice to be home with my children during their school holidays.  

Some years my two weeks seem to fly by, and some weeks they are slow and easy.  This year has been one of those slow and easy years.  Whenever I have left my house it has been for reasons I’ve wanted to, not because of things I had to do.  Here are the highlights of my vacation time:

Family Christmas party on the Monday night before Christmas with my in-laws.  A great night, but carelessness on my part led to a broken tooth. 

The next day was a work day, but I left early to get my tooth fixed.  It was a cheating start to my vacation, but I did not want to wait for my tooth to start hurting before it was fixed.

On Thursday I was able to spend the whole day with my oldest friend and travelling partner who was in town for Christmas. We travelled in town this time, visiting graves of our dearly departed while the rain poured on and off all day.  We discovered the Christmas Miracle of the Grass Heart on the graves of my parents. We then made a short trip to Bogalusa and back to stock up on frozen concoctions for a party the next night.

Friday I made fudge and cookies, something I had wanted to do sooner but could not find the ambition to get it going.  Later that night I went to the party where the aforementioned frozen concoctions were served.  Other attendees at this party were my oldest friend and travelling partner (i.e. co-discoverer of the CMGH *see above*), some extended family members and my second family who helped raise me.  Fun times with fun people.

Saturday, Christmas Eve, was a relaxing day.  I went to mass with my family but I had to move away from an obnoxious loud-mouth behind me who was dampening my Christmas spirit.  If I had stayed in my seat I would have said some words to him that were not Christian-like, so I signaled my husband that we had to make the move.  I could still hear the man whispering loudly, but luckily when the music started he either shut up or I tuned him out.

Christmas Day was a most enjoyable day.  My children seemed genuinely pleased with their gifts as was my husband with his new iPad.  I think I finally surprised him.  The rest of the day was spent with my sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews.   Good food, good people, good gifts, good times.

The day after Christmas my sisters, brother and I made a final sweep of our parents’ house to get it ready for the new tenants.  I took pictures of practically every inch of the house and yard to remember it.  I just wish I had done it before we moved everything out of it.  

The rest of the week was spent doing much of nothing.  There was some good sleeping and many hours consuming mass quantities of old movies on TCM.  Some people may consider this boring.  I consider it a Christmas treat.  

The week and year ended with New Year’s Eve party at my house.  I don’t often have parties other than family birthday celebrations for my children and a Sunday lunch a couple of times throughout the year, so this party was special for me.  My husband built a huge fire to burn things he had been saving to burn, and the weather was perfect for spending time outside.  All in all I think the evening went very well.  I enjoy having people in my house.  My pets did not share my enthusiasm, and they were happy when everyone left and they could come out of hiding.

New Year’s Day was another enjoyable day with my in-laws, but thankfully I didn’t break anything this time.  

So here it is, the last couple of hours of my vacation.  Tomorrow will be business as usual.  It will be a busy month, January always is.  My life and my job are always going full speed in January with birthdays (three), deadlines, new semester, new students, and a new year altogether.  Speaking of a new year, I have only one resolution which I am keeping to myself as I think resolutions should be.  We’ll see what 2012 has to offer.  If the year will be anything like the last two weeks it will be a good year indeed.