We Reach Out


I’ve written about those moments where you connect, just for a moment, with a person you don’t know. I refer to that heady phenomenon as Synchronized Strangers. I love those moments but, in truth, what makes those instances magical is the fact that we usually never see those individuals again. That moment lingers in memory alone.

What happens, however, when a 'Synchronized Strangers' moment happens online? No, I’m not talking about eHarmony or Match.com or any other dating site. I’m referring to those moments when someone stumbles across one of your blog entries and something you say, or the way you say it, grabs their attention… and they comment. And, in their response, you realize that this person understands… they “get you” and they “get it” and synchronicity takes place. The same can be said for the reverse. How many times have you been that person following a chain of comments, links on a blogger friends page, or even guided by the great Google gods… when you land on someone’s page and you read their blog or their poetry or their fiction and you are immediately drawn to that person like a moth to flame?

There is still a choice that exists. You can keep on walking… leaving nothing but an IP address behind to mark that you were once there. Perhaps you bookmark the blog and read it secretly. Me? I’m a commenter. If you touch my heart or my soul or my mind in something you have voiced… I’m apt to tell you about it. Guess what I’ve discovered in this process:

“It is quite possible for people who have never met us and who have spent only twenty minutes thinking about us to come to a better understanding of who we are than people who have known us for years.” ~Malcolm Gladwell

It’s true. I have online friends that do “get me” more than some of the people I have known my entire life. And, in some instances, that understanding has been instantaneous. I get the eye roll on a regular basis; that “yeah right” look from people who don’t understand… who will never understand. I learned long ago to ignore them. We are human and we instinctively reach out to each other. Is it weird? Is it strange? Perhaps. But, it is also very real.

“Right now, you and me here… put together entirely from Adam sitting on this round rock with a core of liquid iron held down by this force that so troubles you called gravity … all the while spinning around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour and whizzing through the Milky Way at six-hundred thousand miles an hour in a universe that very well may be chasing it’s own tale at the speed of light. And, amidst all this frantic activity, fully cognizant of our own imminent demise (which is a very pretty way of saying we all know we are going to die), we reach out to one another. Sometimes for the sake of vanity. Sometimes for reasons you are not old enough to understand yet. But, a lot of the time we just reach out … and expect nothing in return. Isn’t that strange? Isn’t that weird? Isn’t that weird enough?” ~The Martian Child, Film (2007)

I am the Starving Lion


“Not a damn thing.” That’s my answer to the dreaded, “What did you do this weekend?”

There is no hint of jest in that answer. I literally did nothing. Well, nothing productive. I’m not proud of it, but I am angry. My boys were with their father this weekend and, while I had nothing exciting planned; I did have a million and one (or two) things to get done around my apartment. I did none of it. The really disturbing part of my behavior is that it is becoming a trend I can’t seem to stop.

I do want to be more accomplished. Oh, I have finally resolved myself to the fact that I will never write the great American novel. I will never win the lottery. I will never be famous (Thank God.). I will never be a CEO or own a multi-million dollar company. Hell, it is likely that I will never make a salary large enough for me to ever feel relieved or comfortable in my situation and that of my boys. My life, for better or worse, is a simple one. So… why can’t I muster the motivation to be the best me I know I need to be?

It’s obvious I care. I psyche myself to do things. I might even follow through for a week or two. Then… nothing. And, when I do nothing, I actually get super angry at myself. Somehow though, that anger doesn’t translate into change.

Am I mildly depressed? Probably. I’m always a bit melancholic despite my bipolar medication. Have I spiraled into the depths of depression from whence there is no return? No. There is a book out there called Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson. I have it. I’ve read it. The goal of the author is to help draw the distinction between general individual sadness and serious depression issues. It’s a good read. I’ve lived as a diagnosed bipolar for almost fifteen years now. Between personal experience and books like the one I’ve mentioned, I know I’m in the safe zone right now.

My problem isn’t depression. It’s general motivation. I don’t have any and I can’t find it and I’m really, really pissed off about the whole situation. I get up every morning. I look across the Serengeti of my life and when I don’t immediately spot a gazelle… I lay back down.

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” ~Unknown

This Leo, she’s going to starve.

I Trump Your Snark & Raise You A Guffaw

“One of the keys is to not be childish, but act childlike. The idea is not to shirk adult responsibilities. It's about finding ways how you can interject fun into your everyday life.” ~Jason Kotecki


I have become starkly aware of the fact that snark and sarcasm are now competitive sports within my home… and I must win.

I served peas as the légume du jour for dinner last Thursday. This is always a highly controversial maneuver within my abode as none of us really care for peas, but I was tired of 1,001 ways to cook broccoli or carrots or cauliflower or green beans. I find canned peas most foul and traditional frozen peas, if left longer than one millisecond in blanching water, will ultimately transform into baby food. And… I’m far, far too lazy to “shuck” my own fresh peas. I was willing, however, to try the frozen peas that you steam in the bag.

You know what? I actually found myself sort of liking those peas. Thank you, convenience cooking contraption creators. Big K had much the same reaction although we both ate all of our peas first before proceeding on to the food we really wanted to eat. Little K tried a different strategy. He ate everything else and then sat and stared at his plate of peas. Finally, the words came… and I was prepared. “Mom, I’m full.” He said. “You lie.” I said. This, my friends, is the child that is n-e-v-e-r full. I will be flat broke before he graduates from high school in eight years. “I’ll make you a deal,” I continued. “Eat half of that pile of peas.” He agreed. The deal was met and the child shoveled a large amount of peas into his face without so much as a mild complaint. This means that he too rather enjoyed those peas although I will never get that admission from him.

Shortly after my child disappeared into the kitchen with his plate, I thought to ask what happened to the remaining half a pile of peas. The response? The trash. Sigh. Oh, there weren’t enough peas to salvage for any other purpose. Not really. But, I don’t like throwing food in my trash can. Eventually it will stink. My apartment, however, faces the woods on two sides and there are animals that live in those woods. There is a rule in my house that if it is rapidly biodegradable or animal edible then it can be thrown into the forest. I reminded my child of this fact and told him he was lucky the next morning was Friday. Trash day. Whew!

But, hark! This tale is not done for I then spotted: One. Single. Bright. Green. Pea. It was on my rug. Whole. Not yet smushed. I cleared my throat and pointed at the pea. Little K smiled. He walked over to the pea. He picked it up. Then he proceeded to walk toward the front door with that one pea held high… looking over his shoulder with the smarmiest expression of all time. He intended to throw that pea out the door into the woods and was making sure I acknowledged the absurdity of this action since half a pile of uneaten peas was already living in my trash can. He strutted. He smirked. “I cannot let the 9-year old win,” I thought. “I must trump his snark!”

“You know,” I said as he opened the door. “It’s a darn good thing there aren’t two of those. We certainly can’t be having you throw pea-pea all over the neighborhood.”

Big K immediately fell off the couch. Raucous laughter.

Little K threw his one pea into the woods, closed the door, turned to me with his hands on his hips and with a roll of his eyes and in a most exasperated tone of voice stated, “MOM! THAT IS *SO* IMMATURE!”

Score.

Where I Am From


"The soul of Africa, its integrity, the slow inexorible pulse of its life, is its own and of such singular rhythm that no outsider, unless steeped from childhood in its endless, even beat, can ever come to experience it, except only as a bystander might experience a Masai war dance knowing nothing of its music nor the meaning of its steps." ~Beryl Markham, West with the Night


I was directed to the
template for the following piece by my lovely friend Dori. The original poem is by George Ella Lyon and I have probably taken a bit more liberty than the creator intended… but, isn’t that what art is all about?

WHERE I’M FROM


I am from equatorial highlands drenched in morning fog and Kilimanjaro rising out of the horizon on a crystal clear day, from rolling hills blanketed in a green sea of Lipton tea fields, plains of Dole pineapple plantations, coffee grown on “a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills” and Tusker.

    I am from remnants of British Colonialism… afternoon tea, football, proper speech, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, shillings, fish and chips, colour, and knowing which fork to use first.

I am from the shadeless branches of the upside-down Baobab, the Jacaranda that paves my steps in purple royalty, wild Poinsettia too majestic for tacky gold foiled wrapped holiday décor, Bottlebrush, Frangipani, Flame Tree and the mighty Muna.

    I am from Sunday night pancake suppers, cookie baking wars, chameleon collecting and December 25th morning readings of Luke 2:1-20. I am from 'My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean' and 'Sam’s Song' and 'Jim Dandy.' Lyrics optional.

I am the place of the winds, a president’s cornerstone, spaghetti casserole on metal dining trays, curfews, crater hikes, sports tournaments, ugali & sukuma wiki from the duka, quarry runs, digging stumps for detention and 101 ways to sneak out of a dorm.

    From “Stay out of the sun from 12 until 2!” and “Here, read this book. See where it takes you.”

I am from faith deeply fostered on rough hewn wooden benches during three hours of celebration in a building with mud walls… or no walls… or in the dirt under the flat umbrella of the Acacia. A place where testimonies are shouted proudly with joyous abandon, music is the soul of worship, sermons come in three languages, sugar cane & eggs a good offering make and honored guests eat what they are served without question… lest they offend.

    I'm from a Texas American-Mutt birth with a lot of German Shepherd, a bit of Scottish Terrier, plenty of English Bulldog and a dash of French Poodle thrown in just for flavor. I am chicken curry, sauerkraut with dumplings, southern-style biscuits & gravy and warm Coke in glass bottles.

From overnight Tsavo train rides sans rogue lions, filling up crab holes in the sands of the Indian Ocean and racing from reef to shore at the turn of the tide, I am the explorer under the waves.

    I am animal print photo boxes, scrapbook supplies spread to and fro on table and floor, framed wall collages, painted portraits, missionary slide sentimentality and memories imbedded in a multi-continental consciousness.

This is me.


And you? Where are you from?

Photo from DHD Multimedia Gallery

Adieu! Beloved Teacher


I received word several weeks ago regarding the passing of a former teacher. The information was unsubstantiated at the time and I hoped, for a moment, that perhaps she was merely ill. I hoped I would get a chance to say, “Thank you.” I did not get that chance. The Rift Valley Academy (RVA) grapevine can be surprisingly accurate when relaying the big news while simultaneously vague in conveying the necessary details.

At the prodding of a classmate I was compelled to dig for more detail. Sometime in the last two years I became the designated class keeper of the emails. She felt a message to inform the entire class was warranted. I had thought the same but, without facts, I was wary. Eventually I located an official obituary. It was confirmed. Cancer. July. Obviously the grapevine moves a little slower when the news is not only factual, but sad or tragic… as opposed to intriguing, salacious and highly suspect as to its origin.

Note: While my addressing a former teacher as “Liz” may seem a bit informal, please be aware that it is not my place to reveal her full name in the grand blogosphere. I never addressed her as such in person although the nickname was used quite affectionately by her students for a number of years… as was “Wintie”… a playful shortened homage to her surname. She knew we used them both. Nothing got past that woman.

Liz was a legend. Senior English was her domain and she was known to be a demanding dictator.

I arrived at RVA in seventh grade and within weeks I feared eventually having this woman in class. My brother was in twelfth grade that year. Liz was his English teacher. He agreed that she was tough. Class was hard. He did, however, have a twinkle in his eye when he admitted these things. I would learn later that Jimmy had been one of her favorites. A family trait, it would seem.

My introduction to Liz came earlier then Senior English as she chose to be one of the staff members sponsoring our class. Boarding school. We had to have adults around in a multitude of capacities. Class sponsors were responsible for guiding class decisions and helping plan class events. They rocked. As students, we enjoyed her in this role and yet we continued to fear the day we would be with her in the classroom. Eventually that day came and she was, indeed, a very hard teacher. She was there to prepare us for college and she would not let us forget it. But, she was also fair, caring, passionate and even, on occasion, a bit playful or mischievous. She loved teaching.

Liz expected us to be well versed in grammar by the time we reached twelfth grade. She chose instead to focus heavily on literature (Brit Lit, as dictated by the curriculum) and vocabulary. Words. We studied words. More accurately, we broke them down and analyzed their very core. Root words. Prefixes. Suffixes. This word can be made out of this and those words can be made out of that. Words. Words. Words. It was utterly wordgasmic. We learned words and we read. We dove into Beowulf, Ivanhoe, Hamlet (Lord, how we studied Hamlet.), etc. and, while my Brit Lit interests had been ignited in ninth grade when introduced to Romeo and Juliet & A Tale of Two Cities, it was here… with Liz… where I fell deeply in love with British Literature. It would go on to become the focus of my (yes, unfinished) college degree.

I remember a lot of things about Liz that year beyond how hard we studied for her class. I recall her teasing threats to cut the lengthening locks on a few of the boys. A master pianist and organist, Liz was the accompanist for the school choir. I was her designated sheet music page turner. (My maiden name, by the way, is “Turner”… a pun she enjoyed deeply and even referenced when she signed my yearbook.) One morning I waltzed into class, looked her straight in the eye and announced that I was not prepared for our vocabulary quiz that day. I’d had an away field hockey game the night before and we had not returned to campus until much later than usual. I chose to sleep and not study. I expected chastisement. I received a smile… and a chuckle… and a “D” on the quiz. We had an Ivanhoe themed class party that year and I was reminded by a classmate that Liz allowed us to tie her to a stake. She was a character. At graduation I got a hug and I was not alone. I think we all got a hug. Not only did she love teaching; she loved us… each and every one. We went into her class with varying degrees of fear and apprehension. We came out knowing we’d been changed. I, for one, was grateful.

The last time I saw Liz was the summer following my sophomore year of college. I was waiting tables at Shoney’s while going to summer school and trying to find my own feet as an adult. The restaurant was right off the interstate and we were having a particularly difficult and busy night. Standing on the server’s line, I remember putting my head down briefly. When I lifted it up I saw Liz walk past the window. I thought I was dreaming. Of all the places! Driving down I-30 with her new fiancé, Liz had decided she would like a bowl of soup. After last seeing her at RVA graduation in Kijabe, Kenya two years prior… fate led her to my Shoney’s in small town Arkansas. Despite the insanity of the night, I was able to convince my fellow wait staff to split up my tables. I called an RVA classmate who happened to be in the same town, just for the summer, and she drove out to Shoney’s as well. There we sat and we caught up. I was able to share with her my passion for literature and plan to major in English. Her eyes widened and she smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen on her face. Her news? With a new love in her life, Liz was finally getting married at the age of fifty. It was hard, but she had said her goodbyes to Rift Valley Academy. She was gone from campus in body, but I’m quite positive her spirit and legacy remained… just as they will linger strong in the hearts and minds of those of us blessed enough to have called her our teacher.

I am thankful for that last evening I spent with her in a random restaurant booth fifteen years ago. I am thankful I shared that her class had helped inspire me. I do have, however, one regret now that she is gone. As mentioned above, I don’t recall telling her, “Thank you.” I never said the words. I also never told her that she was the single most influential teacher, in a classroom sense, of my pre-university education. It was inferred, perhaps, but never declared. And so, I am telling her now. I have no doubt that she can hear me.

Liz,

I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks. ~William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

You were the best of the best and you will be missed.

Books Breathe Life

I have always been a reader. Books breathe life. My mother, the librarian, never told me there was a book I couldn’t read… a trip I couldn’t take… an adventure I was not ready to experience. I remember there was an uproar at my super-conservative Christian elementary school when my sixth grade teacher, Mr. D., chose to read Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ aloud in class. A number of parents did not approve. I know this because my mother was on staff. She was working as an assistant librarian in the school at the time and, if I recall correctly, neither mom nor dad had a negative reaction to this news. Already reading on a higher secondary school level, I’m quite sure I’d read far worse. That introduction to Poe, by the way, started a love affair with the master of macabre that still exists.

Today my “to read” list had become ridiculously out of control. Those books that have been purchased or acquired… are actually mocking me. Single motherhood has taken a toll on this aspect of my life. I present to you Exhibit A:

This, my friends, is just a small sampling (aka: ones that fit in single photograph). Currently, I am reading Hood by
Stephen R. Lawhead and I bought it months ago. Months. I need to get on it because the second and third books in that series are waiting for me to purchase them and be added to the ever-growing stack.

I’m also in the midst of reading the
Fablehaven books by Brandon Mull… out loud to my boys. Yes, I am aware that they are 14 and 9. They read more than a little better than most of their peers, but I enjoy reading to them. They learn about tone and inflection and dramatic pause from listening to me read. We enjoy discovering stories together. The last book we read as a family was the most exquisite Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. We laughed together. We sat in suspense together. We cried together. If you have older children… you should try it.

My personal reading list also suffers a bit of sabotage from a little personal edict I have about reading what my boys are reading so I know what is going into their little minds. Truthfully, they are leaving me behind. I’m not so concerned about Little K, but the teenager is another story. In an effort to keep up I finally shoved 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and 'The Lord of the Rings' in his hands in order to give me a chance to read something other than what he is reading. Tolkien slowed him down… albeit briefly.

I am pleased that my existing want-to-read catalogue is more frivolous (read: brain candy) and less taxing on the mind than usual. Shallow? Maybe. Self preservation would be more accurate. I find terribly deep thoughts tedious lately. There are far too many of them in my life at the moment (Hello, Madame Insomnia) which has forced me to not-so-subconsciously veer away from meatier reading fare. There is only so much one brain can take.

Yes, I am still a reader. I am by no means a great reader. Not any more. It is a luxury. I have not the time to devour novels as I once did. I have to be content with a couple of pages read in the waiting room of the doctor’s office or snuck in during Little K’s soccer practice. I’m sure my reading list will continue to grow, but letter by letter… word by word… chapter by chapter… books will keep me breathing.

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~Anna Quindlen

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