Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Day

My brain has been busy today.  I need it to slow down so that I can shut down.  It's almost 11 and I'm wired and a little anxious.  Maybe if I dump some of these thoughts here, I can rest.

  • My temper has been worrying me a little lately.  I'm not hitting anyone or screaming at people or yelling obscenities (well, maybe a little of that one when I'm by myself).  I'm just snapping at people I love for no reason and blaming them for things they have NO control over whatsoever.   Pretty sure I need to sit down and write some apology letters, especially to my mother.  I actually got pissy with her when I dropped my cell phone in a puddle the other.  She wasn't even there, only on the line talking to me.  I've always had a temper and have learned to control it, but I've never been just plain old mean.
  • I wonder if I'm going to be able to spend the rest of my life in this part of the country.   Sometimes I wish I could pick up my family and loved ones and move us away.  Not trying to slander this area or those who live here. I just feel more and more like I don't belong.  
  • Screw honesty.  Silence is the best policy sometimes.
  • Some days everything pisses me off.  Some days everything makes me sad.  Some days I feel great.  And some days I feel all three within six-and-a-half minutes.  I'm a prisoner to my hormones and it makes me miserable.
  • If I keep falling in love with my baby girl at my current daily rate, I am going to explode.  I know she's mine and I'm partial, but OH MY LORD this kid is so funny and smart and beautiful.  I just stare at her and wonder, "How on Earth did I help produce that?????" This isn't something that bothers me, I just worry about her so much because I'm so crazy in love with her.
  •  I finished cleaning off my DVR today.  I only have a few episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba left.    I'm way prouder of this accomplishment than I should be.  Wish I were this motivated to clean out my laundry room.
  • Hopefully my husband knows how much I love him since I've done such a shitty job of showing him. 
  • I'm not sure I've ever felt more like the Prodigal Son than I do now.  For those who've known me for a long time, this may come as a surprise.  
  • I seem to lack the ability to call people out when they're obviously lying to me.  It just takes too much energy and I avoid awkward situations at almost any cost.
  • It may seem I take things personally, but I'm just passionate.  I'm not losing sleep over other people's opinions.  I have way too many other things that keep me awake.
  • I spend way too much time worrying about the feelings of others and I forgive entirely too easily.  Those sound like they should be good things, and in many ways they are.  The problem is that I back down when I shouldn't and I apologize when I've done nothing wrong.  I try to keep the peace long past the point where it's normal, logical or healthy.  I also don't know how to hold a grudge.  Before you tell me that grudges aren't healthy, I'm totally aware.  But sometimes I need to hold a little bit of a grudge for awhile so that the same people don't hurt me again and again.  It's just so tiring to harbor hard feelings, but I think I'd be better off if I didn't just sweep everything under the rug and try to forget it. 
I'm seriously sorry that what little I've posted recently has been depressing.  Writing is therapy for me, though.  Hang with me if you will.  Happier days and funnier topics will be ahead.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Live

Have you ever read suicide statistics?  Probably not unless you work in a field where this information would be relevant.  It’s not that I’d expect you to read them since suicide is not something most people in society are comfortable with even thinking about, much less talk about or researching.   About six months ago, I posted a link on my Facebook wall about 1-800-SUICIDE, the hotline at the Kristin Brooks Hope Center which was created to help those in crisis.  I challenged people to repost the link on their own Walls since we never know who in our lives may be hurting worse that we can imagine.  Only two people reposted to their walls.  Two. 

Now I know that no one likes to think that someone they know is contemplating or has ever even considered suicide.  In 2007 (the most recent reliable statistics I could find), suicide was the 7th leading cause of death among men and the fifteenth leading cause among women.  Even worse, it was the third leading cause among young people age 15-24.  And this doesn’t count those deaths that were not reported as suicides.  It is also estimated that for every suicide, there are eleven nonfatal attempts.  So if you consider those who have taken their lives, those who have attempted and those who have seriously contemplated suicide, chances are you know someone who has been affected by suicidal thoughts. 

I grew up being told that suicide is the unforgivable sin since the person committing it not only destroys God’s creation but also cannot ask for forgiveness. I never understood the rationale behind this belief, especially since I can’t find anywhere in the Bible the specifically says those who commit suicide go to hell. People will quote the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not kill/murder.” However, there are numerous prison ministries who reach out to violent criminals and even murderers can supposedly receive forgiveness and redemption from God after taking a life God created. And while a person who takes his own life cannot ask forgiveness, how many other people die with unconfessed/unforgiven sins? Each day people die suddenly in car accidents and from heart attacks, without even a moment to repent. Are their sins automatically excused since they didn’t take their own life? What if the man in the car accident was drinking or driving at a reckless speed? Didn’t he in a way contribute to his death? What if a heart attack is the result of years of unhealthy living and bad habits? Is there really a difference between putting a gun to your head and killing yourself slowly with cigarettes? Why is it that suicide becomes the one sin that negates everything that came before?

When I hear people refer to suicide as a “selfish act,” it makes me angry. I believe that suicide is the result of the most extreme form of mental illness. Humans—and every living thing—are born with certain basic instincts, the strongest of those being self preservation. We are born to live, to survive, to further our species. Our body forces us to eat, to drink, to sleep. We are wired to avoid pain, whether it be physical, emotional or mental. Certain mental illnesses that go against this instinct to live and be healthy illicit our sympathy. Parents worry about teenagers who cut themselves. Friends worry about the woman who remains in an abusive relationship. Television networks invite us to watch shows about drug addicts and hoarders and those suffering with OCD. We don’t call these people “selfish” but instead sit on our couches and play armchair psychiatrist, grasping to understand their mental illness. 

Imagine someone reaching the point that they override their deepest basic instinct—self preservation.  How broken must someone’s mind and spirit be that they instead see self destruction as their best or only option.  How much must they be hurting to lose the desire to see if it gets better?  People often refer to someone committing suicide taking the “easy way out” and perhaps in a sad way it is.  Perhaps something inside is causing them so much pain that day to day life is just too much.  I do not see suicide as a selfish act, though.  I believe these poor people are so mentally ill that they can’t grasp the concept of selfish anymore, at least not as we see it.  Time after time, people leave letters saying that they feel “everyone else will be better off without them.”  What if they truly believe this?  Just as the anorexic sees a fat girl in the mirror despite what her own image and everyone around her tells her, what if the severely depressed can no longer feel their family’s love or see the possibility of life getting better?  

Suicide is a painful, often personal subject and it’s understandable why it’s so rarely discussed in our society until it happens. There are television shows focused on the more “bizarre” (for lack of better word) mental illness, but you don’t see anything on TLC called “Depressed.” Despite the advances in mental health, so many people still don’t consider depression a real disease. No one tells someone with cancer to “Get over it” or “Try harder to get better.” A person suffering with MS won’t be encouraged to “Get out of bed and get on with life.” Alcoholism is a disease. Drug addiction is a disease. Now even sex addiction is treated as a disease. But people with depression are still so often seen as just weak or lazy. I’ve encountered this especially within the church where people are so often encouraged to avoid anti-depressants and pray more. If people are avoiding and ignoring the disease, then of course they will also ignore the sad symptom to which so many people succumb.
I suppose it is hard for people to understand if they’ve never experienced depression themselves or lived with someone who has. I can sympathize with someone with cancer, but I have no idea what they’re going through firsthand. The same goes for someone going through a divorce or mourning a miscarriage. But while I can’t understand their pain, I can be sensitive to it and be there for them even if it’s uncomfortable or difficult. Everyone feels pain, but not everyone experiences excruciating pain. Similarly, everyone feels sad at some point but not everyone experiences true depression. Someone who is clinically depressed isn’t just “blue.” The normal things that cheer us up on a bad day—a hot bath, a long walk, an ice cream cone—don’t make true depression go away. 

Since people are not comfortable with depression, they ignore it. And in the worst case scenario, they alienate the person who is suffering. Not all depression leads to suicide, but all suicides begin with depression or some form of mental illness.

By this point—if you’re still reading—you either think this is the most dismal thing I’ve ever written or you’re getting ready to call my cell phone because you’re worried about me. Please understand, dear reader, that I do not write this as a “call for help,” at least not for myself. This is actually an introduction to another blog I’m writing about a current issue that I think about on a daily basis: the crisis facing many families in our country as our men and women return from war. For two years now, more soldiers have taken their own lives than have died in active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these soldiers have taken others with them.

I will talk about this more in a future blog. For now, I beg each of you to remember that there are people hurting around you. Some of them hurt quietly, alone. Never assume that everyone will be okay. There are two national hotlines: 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK. I encourage you to post these numbers on your Facebook. You never know who might need them or who might repost them on their own Wall for a friend to see. Perhaps someone will think you’re morbid or weird for even mentioning suicide in any context. If so, direct them to this blog and let me explain why you did it.

Ben Okri once wrote, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” For most of us this is true. Most, not all.

(all pictures from Postsecret)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Big Love for Big Love

I’ve never been good with goodbyes, with friends, with family… with television shows.  I always get emotional when shows come to an end.   I think it started when Growing Pains went off the air in 1992.  It seems silly now, but when Carol turned around and said goodbye to their empty house, I cried.  I had been watching the show for seven years, since I was only six years old.  I guess the Seavers were my first “TV family,” and it made me sad that I wouldn’t be spending my Tuesday evenings with them anymore. 

The following year, when Sam Malone closed up the bar for the last time on Cheers, I cried again.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t watch Cheers.  Going back and watching reruns now, I realize that there were so many jokes that were over my head, but I always thought the characters were so funny and I liked seeing my parents laugh together. 
The same year that Cheers left the air after its eleven year run, another younger series aired its finale—The Wonder Years.  I remember the final five minutes or so turning me into a slobbering mess.  To this day, I can’t watch the finale without getting chills down my arms and a catch in my throat, especially when Kevin reveals the individual futures of his family and when we hear his own son asking him to play catch (clip below--prepare to cry if you were a WY fan)

The crying trend has continued over the years as I’ve grown to love and then been forced to say goodbye to my favorite casts:  as Buffy and her friends flee a crumbling Sunnydale, as Ally says goodbye to her friends at Cage and Fish (including Billy’s ghost),   Hell, I even shed a few tears during the last episode of Oz.  OZ!!!  

At this point, I know some of you think I’m a little nuts, possibly contemplating my mental health at becoming so attached to television shows.  It’s not that I’m semi-delusional or that I live in some fantasy world.  See, when I write a story, I tend to form an attachment to my characters.  As I breathe life into them on the page and give each his or her own personality and flaws, they become very real to me.  Similarly, I often get emotionally involved with television characters that are very well formed and well written, which explains at least in part why my favorite shows tend to have very strong ensembles. 
Sunday night, I tearfully said farewell to another show and another group of people.  After five seasons, Big Love aired its series finale.  For those of you unfamiliar with Big Love, it’s a show about family, faith and, yes, polygamy.  I can’t even begin to catch you up if you’ve never watched, but the main focus of the show is Bill Henrickson and his family, which includes his three wives and eight children.  From the beginning, Big Love has never—in my opinion—been advocating polygamy as much as using it as a vehicle to make a more important statement about the ties that bind a family. 
Big Love has not always seemed to know exactly what it wished to be.  It walks the line of drama, but often finds itself teetering off into melodrama or even soap opera.  In an hour’s time, it can be humorous, depressing, shocking and infuriating.  What it isn’t, though, is disappointing.  At the start of the last season, I admit I was a bit discouraged with the pace and plotlines, especially the explosive fourth season that preceded it.  I am glad that creators Mark Olsen and Will Scheffer pulled back on the reins this season, though, allowing us to have a more realistic, satisfying ending. 
But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those of you who don’t watch Big Love, you may wish to stop reading now since what follows deals with last night’s episodes and my thoughts. If you do watch Big Love and haven’t yet seen Sunday's episode, you will definitely want to stop reading now. What follows are MEGA SPOILERS. 

I originally wrote a total recap of the show that ran about six pages; however, anyone who is a big enough fan to read all of that already saw the episode.  So instead of a Cliffs Notes version, I’m going to address the questions I’ve heard/read people asking since Sunday night and provide my humble insights. 
Why didn’t we learn anything about Joey and Wanda? 
There’s no reason to believe that Joey and Wanda didn’t attend Bill and Lois’s funerals (as long as they were able to be located in Mexico).  Since the epilogue takes place eleven months later, they would have no reason to still be hanging around. 
What’s the deal with Teenie?  
The Teenie storyline has been neglected for awhile.  First, they had to replace the actress who played her because the original actress got so tall/mature between seasons that it caused a continuity problem.  When Teenie returned from camp last season, they had a new actress.  There were hints that Teenie had some problems and I read that the intention was to send her away to her grandmother’s house because she was unhappy with the Henricksons.  That storyline got buried.  This season, they sent her to live with Sarah since she wasn’t handling all of the attention very well after the family “came out.”  Since she has been so absent, I guess they just didn’t feel like her character needed more than a mention.  It would almost seem a little unnatural for her suddenly to pop up.
What will happen to Alby and Adaleen? 
 Alby was already wanted for the murder of Rhonda’s husband and the abduction of Nicki.  I also assume that the first shots fired in the Capitol building killed Salty (especially since Salty looked so scared).  Alby shouldn’t be free for many years.  As for Adaleen, she’s out on bail, so it’s possible she may end up spending some time in jail after going to court.  Regardless, she can’t go back to Juniper Creek, so I feel she’ll eventually crawl back to Nicki and beg forgiveness once Alby’s spell is broken.
What’s with the cows/ox under the baptistery? 
 I won’t even pretend to know more than bare basics about the Mormon faith.  I do know a little about the baptismal font.  I’m not sure if this is true of all LDS temples, but many have baptismal fonts that sit on twelve oxen which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.   I believe there’s additional Mormon symbolism, but I’m not familiar with it.  There were also 12 oxen under the large basin in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23).  What confused me in this episode is that I’ve always understood this particular baptismal font to be used for baptism of the dead, not the living.  Perhaps it is different in the Reorganized LDS church, though.
Why would Margene leave her children, even if she has sister-wives to take care of them?   
As a mother, I am conflicted about Margene leaving her children while she leaves for months on a mission.  I don’t like to be away from my daughter overnight.  But what if Marg wasn’t going on a mission?  We don’t blast mothers who serve their country in the military, even if they’re deployed for a year at a time.  Margene says her faith has led her to share what’s in her heart to others.  I honestly don’t think she’s leaving just to escape her family; I truly believe she feels led to work with those in need.  Even Bill seemed at peace with her desire to work in missions, telling Margene he understood her desires and telling Nicki to support her sister-wife if she decided to go.  Missions are such an integral part of Mormon faith; they aren’t just something for “missionaries.”  Most young Mormons spend up to two years spreading their beliefs throughout the world.  Perhaps Margene needs this time of spiritual and personal growth.  Maybe it will lead her back home permanently, maybe it will lead her into further missions.  Life is full of uncertainty, so why should we expect all the answers from a television show?
Why are the other wives allowed to evolve but Nicki stays so hateful? 
Throughout the episode, we’re reminded again and again that Nicki is quite possibly the most inept person on the planet when it comes to expressing her actual feelings.  In the previous episode, Nicki honestly seemed to believe that the best way to stop Cara Lynn from seeing her teacher was to be ruthless.  And as shocking as that entire episode was (I could barely look at the TV when Nicki verbally assaulted her daughter), I understand the root of her inability to interact with anyone on a normal, human level.  She’s been manipulated her entire life, her love used against her like a weapon, desperate for affection from her parents.   Barb has had to compromise beliefs.  Margene has grown into a woman.  But part of Nicki is still the scared girl from the compound who was given to an evil man as a child.  The scene where Barb forces Nicki to let her hold her was painful, as Nicki insists, “You know I don’t like to be touched.”  Even Nicki’s love is confrontational.  It is obvious that she doesn’t want Margene to leave, but instead of telling Margene this, she tries to shame her into staying.  Even in the last scene, she is telling Margene to call so that “Barb doesn’t worry.”  I pity Nicki because she closes herself off so tightly, but I believe that she and Cara will help teach each other to love and be loved.   Nicki has grown, but she is still so far from the social norm that it's difficult to identify with her.
Are Ben and Heather married? 
I noticed in the final scene that both Ben and Heather are wearing wedding rings, so I assume they have married.  This may seem rushed, but short courtships are fairly common among young people in Mormon culture.   I’ve never been a Ben fan.  He mopes too much and he kind of creeps me out.  If Heather wants to be with him, more power to her.  
Why did they kill off Bill’s character?  (this one is going to get LONG)
Isn’t that just taking the easy way out? I wouldn’t call it the easy way necessarily, but it was the easiest way to tie up some loose ends, allow the family to stay together and provide Bill with some redemption. Bill is going to be indicted for raping Margene, a trail that will undoubtedly put his entire family through Hell. He has lost Home Plus, which will financially ruin his family and most likely leave them homeless and destitute. He has burned countless bridges and left hearts and promises broken in his wake. He is not a perfect man. At times, he is not even a likable man. But he has come to a good place in the moment before the impending storm, telling Ben and Don, “We’re going to be alright.” His death provides an opportunity for him to pass the priesthood to Barbara (notice he specifically requests she bestow it), though I believe he had already planned to bestow it on her following his vision/epiphany during the church service. I think it’s significant that he sees Emma Smith instead of the prophet himself. In many ways, Emma Smith was as intricate a part of the origins of Mormonism as Joseph himself. (Undoubtedly, Barb could relate to the trials and tribulations she faced in being Mrs. Smith.) Behind Emma is a sign that reads “Man is that he might have joy,” a saying attributed to Joseph Smith but actually from the 2nd book of Nephi in the Book of Mormon (though I suppose some will argue that the Book of Mormon is a creation of Smith. I’d rather not debate Mormon theology for now). The verse, from the second chapter, states, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” Since I’m not Mormon and have not studied the Book of Mormon closely (though I have read it), I can only make my own interpretation as I see it and as I think it relates to the show. Before Adam fell, he was a perfect being, made in the image of God himself. It is our sin that keeps us separate from God and essentially makes us human; therefore, we are a product of Adam’s sin and we continue to sin. The beauty of being a human, though, is that we can still attain joy. On an earthly scale, we can find joy through our talents and hobbies, through the world around us, and especially through our families and loved ones. On a spiritual level, we find joy through forgiveness and redemption from God. So God granted us our free will and gave us this world so that we could have experiences and seek out what brings us joy, but also to connect with Him and to bring Him joy as well. I believe as Bill sees his vision of Emma and reads the words behind her, he is struck with the realization that perhaps he’s confused his priorities to a certain degree. Yes, his faith is important, a crucial part of not only his spiritual life but his daily life. Throughout the show and especially the past two seasons, Bill has put his beliefs before everything, often to the detriment of his family’s emotional and even physical well being. Bill realizes, as Barb did just minutes earlier in the baptismal font, that faith without family brings sadness and even strife. Faith without works may be dead, but faith without family is joyless. He even tells Ben and Don as much in the back yard, insisting that their faith comes from the love they have with each other, not the other way around. During his vision in church, I honestly think Bill decided that he wanted to extend the priesthood to Barbara. When Bill is in the backyard writing before his death (on yellow paper… an allusion to Smith’s golden tablets perhaps???), I think he is creating new bylaws for his church that will allow female priesthood holders.

Bill’s allowing Barb to be a priesthood holder also opens the door for Sarah to rejoin her family in the area of faith, as she allows her mother to give the blessing to her new son. 

Ultimately, Bill’s death joins his family together in a way that he was never able to accomplish. Barb tells Sarah, “We’re strong. We’ve been forged. We endure.” Though their trials and tribulations have tested their bond, it is the tragedy they’ve shared in Bill’s death that has provided an Earthly sealing of sorts. 

Bill’s death also serves a larger purpose in that it makes him a martyr for his cause. Though his death wasn’t necessarily a direct result of his polygamy, Carl most definitely saw Bill’s calling himself a “Mormon polygamist” as a mockery of the church. Yet ultimately, Bill is successful. He has a church, he has his wives, he seems happy. Before shooting Bill, Carl declares, “I love my wife. I love my church. I will not be ridiculed. I will not be a failure.” Carl has adhered to his faith as closely as possible but just seems to fall further and further behind in life. During Bill’s last sermon, there were almost 500 who had made the “pilgrimage” to see him. He is already a hero and now he is a martyr. Nothing like blood on the street to light a fire under people. 

My thoughts on Lois

As if the entire episode weren’t emotional enough for me (I cried at the end of Oz, remember???), the Lois situation hit entirely too close to home for me and absolutely reduced me to tears.   I hurt during her moments of lucidity, time spent mourning the independence she’s lost and the days spent in a fog of confusion.   Each passing memory would brighten her only momentarily, leaving depression in its wake as it escaped her again.  When Bill invites her to Easter, her face softens as she recalls pieces of Easters long ago when she wore hats and how they made her feel “so full of herself, something special.”   Lois hasn’t always been the most likeable character, but she’s strong and independent and crafty.  To see her reduced to a shell of her former self is heartbreaking.  When Bill again visits Lois and takes her the Easter hats, it was almost more than I could bear.   Looking in the mirror, Lois exclaims, “She’s ugly!  Why is she wearing my hat?”  Bill says, “It’s you, Mother.”  Lois’s face crumbles, as did mine.  “God save me,” she says as she allows Bill to hold her.   The final scene with Frank and Lois was almost too much for me.  As Lois drifts off into her next life and casts off the broken, troubled mind of this one, Frank gives her back her lost memories—especially the ones of Bill and happier times they had together as a family.  His last words are, “You gave ‘em what for.”   I’m glad that Lois at least got to go out on her own terms.

As a whole, I was pleased with the final episode. No, it didn’t tie up every single loose end, but isn’t life one big set of loose—and often frayed—ends? Even when we die, those around us keep living, our lives a constant ebb and flow. The big questions were answered, the answers to many others can be inferred, and the rest remain mysteries (just as questions in our own life are).

I will miss my Sunday evenings with the Henricksons. 

For anyone interested, here’s the final scene. The song over the closing credits (Natalie Maines’s cover of the original opening song, “God Only Knows”) is gorgeous and the words have a different meaning now that the show—and Bill’s life—has come to an end. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Day Thirty: Little Miss Missing My Friend

When I saw that today's assignment in the "30-Day Challenge" is to post a picture of someone I'm missing, I was tempted to just rehash my blog from February 21st since it pretty much covered the gals I love and miss.  But that would be cheating, right?  And what kind of blogger would I be if I cheated my gentle readers on this LAST DAY of the Challenge?  (Actually, there's a Day 31 where I'm supposed to post another picture of me, but I refuse to do it since this is the "30-DAY Challenge" and not the "31-DAY Challenge."  Plus I'm ready to move on to something new.)

My challenge now becomes not only who I spotlight on today's challenge, but finding away to wrap up this whole 30-day blog-a-thon.  Do I try to write something super meaningful?  Should I be cheeky or clever?  I thought about posting a picture of Amelia when she was teeny tiny and saying I miss her being so small. I know it's only been seven months, but she's HUGE now and getting more independent every day.  I decided against this idea, though, since I already write about her so much.  It's not that she's not important; I just don't intend for this to become a "mommy blog." 

I pulled out my cell phone and started flipping through my contacts, looking for inspiration.  I had only made it to the "B's" when I realized I knew who the focus of today's blog should be. Though I was only a few letters from his name, I didn't need to even make it the D's.  I miss Dave.

Though I predominantly have girl friends now, for much of my life I've always preferred to hang out with guys. When I got married, my relationships with my guy friends changed and some disappeared completely. It's not that I didn't want to hang out with them anymore or felt that they threatened my marriage. I just felt that out of respect for my husband, I probably shouldn't run around with a bunch of guys anymore. I started trying to develop more friendships with women and formed several that have turned into lifelong bonds. It wasn't until I started hanging out with Dave that I realized how much I missed having a male friend. And the added bonus was that he was John's friend, so we could all hang out and I didn't feel I was doing anything "wrong."
I met Dave in 2005 when we moved to St. Louis; he was John's residency coordinator/mentor.  Though we spent a little less than a year in the same city as Dave, I count him as one of my dearest friends and wish we lived closer and could hang out all the time (though I'm not sure there's enough wine and drunken goat cheese this side of the Mississippi to satisfy us).  There are few people in my life with whom laugh as much as him,  and if you've known me for very long at all, you know how important laughter is to me.  But for all of our craziness together, Dave is serious when it counts.  He's one of the most encouraging people I've ever known and he's always had my back.  I think the absolute world of him.

What makes Dave even more perfect for this particular blog is that he has supported BWC pretty much since Day 1.  In fact, he's been around since way back in 2005 when I was blogging on Myspace as "A Girl Named Bob."  When I left Myspace in 2008, he was my last comment ("I'm verklempt") and he was one of my very first comments in July 2008 when I started "Bad with Conviction."  Along the way, he's not only been a dedicated reader and commenter, he's also shared my blog with others.  His support and feedback mean the world to me, so much that even if no one else read except him, I'd still keep writing.

Thank you for everything, Dave.  I miss you, buddy. 

This blog's for you.  

Now come see my baby, dammit.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day Twenty-Nine: Yeah, It Makes Me Smile

Looks like I'm in the home stretch of the "30-Day Challenge."  The last few days, I've slacked off a little, but I was having trouble getting each day finished and I felt I was sacrificing quality for quantity.  I've also been working on some other projects that I hope to get up on the BWC site in the next few weeks.  Anywho, today is Day 29 and I'm supposed to post a picture that makes me smile.  This is a pretty easy task since I can open any folder labeled "Amelia" and take my pick.  I know I'm partial, but my baby girl is too cute and too funny.  I have a hard time being humble about her; I guess that's pretty normal for a parent, though.  It may come as a surprise then, that my picture today is not a picture of Amelia.  It is actually a picture of my husband and another baby, my sweet little Bean.

I have three favorite pictures of my husband:  one from our wedding day, one from the day our daughter was born, and this one.  I can't exactly put into words just why it's one of my favorites, but for the sake of this blog, I'll try.

For starters, I love the sweet look on John's face. My husband is a very kind man, which is part of the reason I fell in love with him.  This picture captures that side of him so perfectly.  Bean was the first newborn he had ever held, and as you may be able to tell, he was rather smitten by her (as we all were). I kind of think of this picture as the beginning of John's journey toward fatherhood since spending so much time with this little sweetie seemed to give him a low-grade baby fever.  

Bean was just one day old when this picture was taken, so it's also special since it was her introduction into our lives.  Bean's mother is one of my most precious friends, and we love both her and her beautiful daughter.  We are so honored that we get to be Bean's honorary "Uncle John" and "Aunt Amber."  This little girl means so much to me, and I would do anything to keep her happy and healthy. 

Bean is 3 1/2 now and has a sweet baby brother.  John and I have a baby of our own, too.  Between jobs and kids and everything else in our lives, we don't get to visit with our "extended family" as much as we like.  This picture is a sweet reminder of how special they are to both of us.  So, yeah, it makes me smile. 

Day Twenty-Eight: Blown Away

While sitting in the storm shelter recently, my mom asked me if I would be blogging about my fear of tornadoes. At the time, I didn’t know what my future “challenges” would be, so I told her I probably would at some point in the future. It turns out that Day Twenty-Eight’s assignment is to post a picture of something of which I’m afraid. Whaddya know?

Map from New York Times, March 22, 1952
 Before I talk about my own fear, perhaps I should provide a wee bit of back story. In the spring of 1952--twenty-seven years before I was born and five days after the NOAA issued their first tornado forecast--an outbreak of tornados ripped across Tennessee. Over a seven-hour period spanning two days, a total of sixty-seven Tennesseans perished, a majority of them in West Tennessee. The small town in which both my mother and I grew up was devastated when a Category 4 ripped across the county.One hundred twenty homes were destroyed; over 250 were damaged. Twenty-three perished..

My mother was five years old at the time, and the storm left its mark on her. I’ve decided to allow her to tell her memories of that night in her own words:

My mother, grandfather and uncle
I was not born afraid of storms but developed a real fear after March 22, 1952 when the horrible storm hit Henderson. I grew up in a community where my dad's 11 brothers and sisters also lived, all within three to four miles of each other with my grandparents sort of in the middle. As I remember, our family was always on the alert when stormy weather developed. During the first five years of my life, my parents, my brother and I sought shelter behind a large bank at the edge of our front yard whenever there was severe weather. This always seemed to be enough until that day in l952.
I remember the weather getting bad that night, but my parents did not realize how just bad it was. This was before weather satellites and tornado sirens. There was often very little warning. I remember how fearful things were that night once the storm got close. It was not raining at the beginning, only thundering. I remember the urgency of my parents. My mother took my eight-year-old brother, my dad took me, and we went to the bank outside. They threw quilts over each of us and we laid in the ditch behind the bank. As the storm passed over, I remember a roaring sound, but at my young age, I did not understand the significance. I remember my parents discussing the roar and how close it sounded.

After the storm appeared to be over, we went back into the house. I shall never forget how eerily quiet everything was. We could hear people in the distance, calling for each other. At that moment, we couldn’t imagine the pain and destruction that lay just across the wood from us, about a mile as the crow flies. Many of our neighbors had lost their homes. Even worse, several had lost their lives. My aunt’s brother, his wife and their child had all been killed as they slept. I can remember the adults talking about how the family never even knew what happened. This same little boy I had just recently played with at a party I attended with my mother. Other neighbors were injured and some had to be helped out of the rubble.

When daylight finally came, we drove to our neighbors’ homes; my parents wanted to help in any way they could. One might think my fear began the night before during the storm, but it was the following morning that my fear actually set in. I had never seen this type of destruction: houses torn down, cattle dead, trees scattered, belonging from houses hanging everywhere. In Chester County, 23 people were killed that night. As I listened to the adults talk about the death and destruction, I remember being very scared, not exactly understanding everything that had taken place.

That terrible night in March was the last time we sought refuge in the ditch. My dad, along with his brothers, built a storm house behind my grandparents’ home. This was a gathering place for all of us on stormy nights. After that night, I became very scared when stormy weather developed. I think I was the first in the family to hear the thunder. I would jump out of bed and begin dressing, shaking until we went to the shelter. My brother was not at afraid as I was. I think back and laugh when I remember how they would get him dressed, and as we would be ready to start out the door, they would find Roger crawled back into bed.

On stormy nights--even after 59 years –I am still carried back to the horrible sights and sounds that I experienced as a five-year-old. Once I had a family, I passed this on to my own two children. Even when they were young, they both would be out of the bed with me when the weather was stormy, keeping me company while their dad slept until we told him we had to take cover.
When I was a child, I thought my momma was pretty much invincible. If I thought I heard something in the house, I would always call for her. In my mind, she might as well have been some sort of super ninja. I was certain she would and could protect me from anything. It was because of this that I found myself very unsettled any time my mother was afraid. And if there was one thing she was afraid of, it was severe weather. When I say “severe,” I don’t just mean thunder and lightning. She does fine until someone mentions the “T-word.” When it would storm, my mother would stay up to watch the news until it had passed. When we were very small, my brother and I would often sleep in our clothes, our shoes nearby, ready to leave at a moment’s notice when she woke us up. As I got older, though, I joined her in the living room in front of the television.
When the storms would roll in, we would usually roll out toward my grandparents’ house in the country to spend the evening in their storm shelter [Note: They eventually built their own].  There were times we were actually driving to their house in the storm.  Not the greatest idea, but mom just seemed to feel better when we were out there.  This in turn made me feel better. 
Sometimes we just couldn’t get to my grandparents’ house in time, so we would go downtown to the public safety building’s basement.  I’ll never forget the time we parked at the post office where my dad worked and were walking across the street to seek shelter in the public safety building when all of a sudden the tornado alarms began wailing.  Suddenly, my mother lost all composure and turned into a manic cartoon character, spinning around with her arms out, gasping, “What do we do?  What do we do?”  I would have laughed if it hadn’t scared the Mountain Dew out of me.   It was the only time I remember my absolutely freaking out. 
I had my own “storm moment” that stuck with me, which only fueled my existing fears. In 1987, I went to West Memphis, Arkansas with my parents after a tornado hit the town right before Christmas. It was the first time I had seen firsthand the devastation from a twister. As my mother said of her experience, it was very scary (and I had not even been in this storm). I’ll never forget one house we saw. Half of it was standing, but the other half was completely gone. In one room that was left stood a china cabinet, unscathed. Even the china inside was intact. I was only eight, but something about the china made me uneasy, as if the tornado had been very deliberate. This experience just cemented my deep, almost irrational fear of tornados.

Damage from 1999 tornado

Though I don’t believe my mom’s intention was to instill a fear of severe weather in me, she inevitably did. While my brother is very cautious and keeps a close eye on the weather when it gets stormy, he keeps his wits about him. I get a bit more anxious. Since leaving home, I have earned a reputation as the “human tornado siren.” When it gets stormy, some people actually call me to see what’s going on in lieu of turning on the news. Everyone knows I’ll be keeping track of the storm. I’m the first to say that perhaps I’m a bit hyper vigilant, but the only way I can stay calm is to track the storm, sometimes hours before it arrives at my home. I attribute this to my Type-A, control freak tendencies. I have no power over the storm, so I have to settle for knowing everything about it. Basically, I turn into the overbearing, meddling mother of a rebellious, F-3 disaster.

Funeral home destroyed in 1999 storm
 I’ve spent entire nights parked in front of the television, awaiting a supercell that may or may not track over my home. When I lived in an apartment, I stocked the bathroom with pillows and supplies so that I could hide in the bathtub when the sirens started. When I moved to an upstairs apartment, I made it a point to find a downstairs neighbor who was as scared of the threat of tornados as I was so that I could run to her apartment. My philosophy toward tornado-producing weather can be summed up by the old idiom “better safe than sorry.” I’d rather lose some sleep and take every precaution than to ignore the weather map and be sucked out of my bed. People always try to tell me I overreact or even that I need to have “more faith that God will protect me.” I say that God even gave a dog the sense to get in out of the rain.

Mother Liberty CME after the 2003 storm
My fear probably hit its absolute high—or maybe low, depending on how you look at it—on February 5, 2008. It was Super Tuesday and the Storm Prediction Center had placed our area at high risk for severe storms. Since our city and county had already suffered destruction and 11 deaths from tornadoes in 1999 and 2003, many people were feeling pretty edgy. School was dismissed early that day due to the possibility that the severe weather could arrive while students were still on the buses riding home. I left school, went to vote in the primaries, and headed home to get ready for the storm.

Aerial view following 2003 storm

As I was watching the Memphis news around 5:30, they went live to one of their cameras that showed a tornado touching down along the state line. Even though it was 100 miles away, I freaked out because I was watching a live tornado. I called John and told him he had to leave work and come home immediately. He wasn’t overly concerned but told me he’d come home soon. Over the next hour, my nerves became more and more frayed as reports came in about the damage in Memphis, my former home where many friends still live. John finally arrived home, completely unphased by the approaching storm. A little before 7:00, I finally convinced him to get his shoes on and go to the hallway with me. I use the term “hallway” loosely. Since our house has no inner rooms, we were forced to hide in the in the tiny area outside of the guest bedrooms and bathroom.

At this point, I was in full-alert mode, just a notch below “spinning in the street, panicking” mode. With my cell phone, flashlights, purse and pillows, John and I sat with our dogs and listened to the weathermen on TV in the next room report that there was a tornado on the ground inside the county. My mother was on the phone with me, attempting to keep me calm. (Ironic, no?) Within minutes, the cell had reached us. The wind and rain picked up, and suddenly we heard a sickening sound. It wasn’t the “freight train” sound everyone describes, but an almost deafening thudding sound. I was convinced the storm was pulling the top of our house off and looked up expecting to see sky. But nothing happened. John peeked around the corner and out the window saw hail falling into our yard and blowing against the windows. I didn’t know whether I should be relieved or scared of what was coming after the hail. Actually, I didn’t know anything except absolute terror. Eventually, it got quiet. The storm had passed over our home. We came out of hiding to find our yard covered in hail the size of tennis balls. I’m not sure how we managed to come through with our windows intact.

Hurt Dorms at Union University
While we were getting pummeled, just 1 ½ miles across the woods (as the crow flies, like my mother says), a tornado touched down, twisting and tossing everything in its path. It skipped up the highway toward Union University where it damaged or destroyed 31 buildings on campus, including most of the dorms. It is the fact that not a single life was lost that provided concrete proof to me that God does indeed exist. The storm continued, as the tornado destroyed homes and businesses across the city and county.

Huntersville, where we assisted in cleanup
The destruction left in the wake of that storm was heartbreaking. Two more lives were lost. I went with a group to the small community where one death occurred, and we helped the family clean up and search for their possessions. The gentleman at the site had lost his father in the storm and his mother was seriously injured. Everything they owned was either buried under the walls of the house or strewn across the countryside. It looked like a bomb had exploded inside of their home. As we surveyed the damage throughout the county, even my husband--who had never shown even an ounce of real concern during stormy weather--declared that we would get a shelter installed.  

Watters Dorms at Union University
My fear of tornadoes has only grown since I gave birth last summer. I prepare twice as much for an impending storm and am 200% more diligent in watching the news and weather. Our shelter has done wonders for me, though. I am actually able to relax a little when I’m down in “my hidey hole.” I also try to stay calm so as not to upset my daughter. My goal is to make her mindful of storms but to not instill in her the fear that I have always had. I want her to always be safe, but without being scared.

I know there are people who think I’m absolutely nuts, but there is really nothing I can do about my fear of tornadoes. Some people are afraid to fly or of small spaces. I’m afraid of giant rotating funnels that can destroy my home and my family. Just seeing pictures or footage of a tornado is enough to make me jittery. At least over the years I’ve been able to exert some control over my fear so that I’m not reduced to a shivering, babbling pile of nerves every time I hear a siren. Though I am still very much frightened, I know I must stay as calm and rational as possible to best protect both me and my loved ones.

When I was a little girl, a friend of mine didn’t want to watch Wizard of Oz because she was scared of the flying monkeys. I loved Oz, though I do admit I closed my eyes on one part every time. Bet you can guess the scene.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day Twenty-Seven: Daddy

November 7, 1979
There have been several opportunities to write about this person during the past twenty-some-odd days, but every time I started, I just got too emotional.  Since this “assignment” in the 30-Day Challenge is a little more open-ended, I feel I can’t more easily direct this blog in a way that I can avoid territory that hurts.  Then again, you probably know by now that I’m pretty open and honest, so I have a feeling it will veer off into aforementioned territory anyway.  Today I’m supposed to post a picture of a family member and me.  As I started looking for pictures of this person and me, I realized there are no recent pictures with the exception of some family group shots.  Since he’s not one to jump into pictures (and I usually have the camera anyway), somehow there just aren’t pictures of us together in recent years.  I plan to rectify that immediately.  For now, though, I’ll use a picture from when I was a child--a picture of my daddy and me. 


As I mentioned in an earlier blog, my mother and I didn’t always have the best relationship, mostly during my teenage years. I was mouthy and rebellious and we often clashed. No one would believe it now since I am thick as thieves with my momma and talk to her several times every day. With the exception of a few instances, however, I’ve pretty much always gotten along well with my daddy. I didn’t have one of those relationships where he was perfect in my eyes and could do no wrong. I was “daddy’s girl” in a lot of ways, but I was never blind. I knew that even though he was a great man, he had his flaws, as everyone does. But long before my momma and I reached a point where we could be friends as well as mother and daughter, I was friends with my daddy. There were few things I felt I couldn’t go to him about, and even those things I did hide from him, I did it out of a desire to not disappoint him.

Summer of 1981
Much of who I am came from my daddy. If you’ve ever met him, you know exactly what I mean. If there’s one thing my daddy and I do all the time, it’s talk. Between the two of us, I’m not sure how my momma ever got a word in, and it’s a wonder my little brother ever learned to speak. It’s no secret that my dad and I both enjoy being the center of attention, and we often do so by talking, specifically joking around or telling stories. When people ask me why I talk so much, I usually say that it’s genetic. Nature or nurture, either way, it’s from my daddy. 

Summer of 1982
I also got my love of writing from my daddy. I grew up singing songs my daddy wrote and sharing the stories he created with people I knew. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t jotting down song lyrics on the backs or church bulletins or unused napkins at restaurants. My favorite stories were the ones he based on my brother and me. Our names were “Amberina” and “Arteemis” and we had a little dog named Kiawa. I can’t remember if our parents in the stories were some sort of adventurers or missionaries, but in every story we were in some exotic location going on an adventure. We’d float down the Amazon and battle wild animals, always victorious in the end. I wish I had the stories written down somewhere to read to Amelia when she’s older. As for me, I’m not sure if I started writing in an effort to be like him or if it’s just something that he passed down to me biologically. Before I could write, I was making up stories and songs in my head as many children do. But I honestly believe that my incentive to learn to write (and I started very early) was to have the ability to write my stories and songs down. There are still pages with my five-year-old scrawl on them, the lyrics to my simple songs about Jesus or my stories about a talking dog. As I grew a little older and my love for writing became a passion, my daddy brought home one of his yard sale treasures—a portable manual typewriter. Though my parents had a large electronic typewriter that I liked to use, this one was my very own. It was light blue with a black cover and handle; it didn’t weigh much, so I had no problem carrying it wherever I went. I still don’t know how my parents made it through our annual road trip/vacation that year with any shred of sanity left. I spent the entire week in the back seat of the minivan, pecking away on my (quite loud) typewriter. I believe I wrote the beginning of a book about vampires on that trip. Both of my parents have always been supportive of my writing, but my dad always took a special interest in it, perhaps because it was a passion we both shared. He always encouraged me and offered constructive criticism as needed.

January 1983
My father taught me to think for myself. Though we didn’t always agree on every topic, we could discuss anything—even religion—without him taking offense to my views or questions. Though I grew up in a church that generally taught us to accept what we were fed and not ask the hard questions, my dad allowed me to question and explore my beliefs. I remember coming home from Sunday school as a child, upset because I’d asked what happens to people in Africa who never hear about Jesus. I was told that they couldn’t go to Heaven if they weren’t Christians. I just didn’t think this sounded fair and kept asking the teacher why God would be so unfair. Not only would she not answer me, she scolded me for being “disrespectful to God.” When I got into the car after church that day, I was about to explode with questions. My dad didn’t dismiss me or try to avoid the conversation. He didn’t chastise me for being angry with my teacher or—at that point—with God. He did his best to explain to me. But more than anything, he asked me what I believed in my heart that God would do with those people. It was a profound moment that shaped my attitude toward God. I never realized I could have my own beliefs, not just my parents beliefs or the beliefs force fed to me by teachers with—what I hope were—good intentions.

Though my dad and I didn’t always share the same attitudes and views—which is to be expected when there’s an almost 50-year age difference—he respected what I believed. As with religion, he also didn’t force his political beliefs on me. In almost all areas, he shared his beliefs with me and allowed me to choose what I wanted to embrace or reject. There were times that our discussions would become heated on some topics, but he tended to treat me more as an equal than a child.

Since my dad was older when I was born—he actually has a grandson older than I am—he was always a bit indulgent with me, much more so than with my older siblings from what I gather. There were times he was possibly too permissive. He agreed to let me start dating a couple of months before I was fifteen. I’ll never forget my momma’s reaction (or mine!) when he told the guy to have me home at midnight (it was quickly backed up to 9:00).

Audience participation during one of my plays in college
There were things my dad knew I was doing that he probably should have grounded me over, but generally he said very little but, “Be careful and make good decisions.” At the time, I loved my father’s leniency since my mother was strict. I realize now, though, that I might not have made it to see twenty if it hadn’t been for my mother keeping a tight rein on me. I’ve joked to her before, “What on earth would have happened if Daddy had been left to care for us?” We can laugh now, but it would probably have been fairly disastrous. I’m not sure why my dad often turned a blind eye to my shenanigans. Maybe it was because he had done his share of crazy stuff as a young man. Maybe he just didn’t want to be the disciplinarian. Who knows? I admit with a certain amount of shame that I took full advantage of it, though.  

Everything I inherited or took away from my dad wasn’t as positive. Though my overall temperament is much closer to my mom’s, I got my actual temper from my father. I don’t lose my temper easily, but when I do, I have virtually no control over my mouth and sometimes over my actions. Luckily, I married someone with almost no temper, so I’ve mellowed out over the past decade (it’s just not much fun to fight with someone who doesn’t fight back). Growing up, I don’t remember my dad losing his temper too many times (at least not in my presence), but when he did, he got extremely angry and he did so very quickly.

Because of my father’s tendency to let me get away with pretty much anything, he didn’t always make us respect my mom as he should have. He never insisted that we do our share of the chores. He would sometimes say, “Help your mom clean the table,” but there were no repercussions if we didn’t. There was no “wait until your dad gets home” in our house. Mom always had to be the bad guy because she knew if she waited until daddy got home, there would be no punishment except maybe a “good talking to.” The worst, though, was the way dad allowed us to talk to our mom. I can only remember a few times when he got involved when I would smart off or be blatantly disrespectful. And there were even times when I would argue with my mom and he would take my side. Now that I’m a wife and mother, I would be so hurt if John stood by and allowed Amelia to disrespect me. To me, it’s basically saying, “I don’t respect your mother enough to make your respect her.” I’m not much for wishing to revisit the past, but I truly wish I could go back and change that one are of my life. I would have given my mother the respect she deserved, even though it wasn't demanded of me as it should have been. 

Daddy, 1950
When I was young and even as I grew into a young woman, I always saw my father as this strong, intelligent, loving man. My father is only six feet tall, so he’s not overly imposing; however, his presence is quite impressive. He has always seemed to know something about everything—and not really in a smartass way. He reads constantly and seems to absorb every word. I’ve always been proud that my father is so smart and well-read, especially since he didn’t have a great deal of formal education past high school. I’ve always felt I could call my dad when I needed him, and even if he couldn’t do anything to physically help me, I knew he would be praying for me fervently. Daddy has always been fiercely independent in almost every way (except at home where he will let my mom wait on him as much as she is willing to do so).

In the past few years, I’ve watched my father change in so many ways. He walks with a stoop and slight shuffle now, due in part to years of walking on knees that needed to be replaced but also due to the Parkinson’s which he was diagnosed with last year. The man I grew up watching kneel at the altar every Sunday family as he prayed for his family now struggles to stand up from the dinner table. His days of diving from the side of the pool or helping me with my pitching are long over. But physical changes are expected as one ages, and he still gets around better than many people even a decade younger than he. No, as sad as his loss of full mobility has been, it’s the other changes that have broken my heart a little each time I’ve seen him. The man who has always had an answer for everything is now left asking so many questions. I don’t really want to provide any more details than I must since I feel it is almost disrespectful to him. It’s not that he’s been reduced to some shell or child, but he’s just so different. Every week seems to bring more changes, and each time I say goodbye I want to hug him a little longer. I know he realizes that he’s different, and I know it must be hard for him. Each time he can’t remember a name or looks to my mother for direction in a simple task, I can’t imagine how much it frustrates him. Being so much like him, though, I have to believe it scares him and even makes more than a little angry.

Amelia and her Grampa
I don’t know what the future holds for my father. There’s no way to know how quickly things will progress or how much it will rob him of his abilities. I never let myself dwell on this for too long. After seeing my grandfather succumb to Alzheimer’s, I refuse to even entertain the thought of my father not knowing who I am. Even now, with the changes that hinder his movement and thoughts, I can still only see my daddy. I’m so thankful that he’s getting to be in my daughter’s life, and I pray that he stays healthy enough that she not only gets old enough to remember him, but also that she gets to really know him. I accept that there are parts of him she’ll only know through me, but he’s still himself enough that she can enjoy how wonderful he is. I want her to remember him singing to her. I want her to learn his silly jokes. And I want her to know how very much he loves her and how proud he is of her. 

Of the twenty-seven days of this challenge, this has been the absolute hardest for me to write. Each sentence, every paragraph feels like an epitaph. I know that may sound morbid, but so often it is not until we have lost someone we love that we sit down and reflect on his life. But I don’t want to wait until that day comes, whether it’s in a year or twenty years. My father is not a perfect man, but I’ve never for even a moment doubted his love and devotion to me. So much of who he is runs through my veins and an even bigger part of me is a reflection of what he has instilled in me.

William Arthur Jewell—Bill—has been many things in his life. He has served his country, his community, his God. He has been a son, a brother, a husband and now a grandfather. But for me, he has had only one role that mattered—he is my Daddy.