April 13, 2015

Today Was 1987 All Over Again Except Better

The 1987 prom court was lined up in the hallway leading to the gym: gangly teenaged boys in rental tuxedos and girls whose heads and arms were adrift in seas of poofy frilly antebellum dresses. None of us knew who would be the first, second, third, fourth attendant or king or queen until it was announced on a stage in front of parents and other well-wishers.

One by one, names were called and people disappeared through the sunlit hallway into a pitch black gymnasium where they’d ascend the stage and fidget nervously in a spotlight as woots, hollers and cameras clicked away.

My nerves glitched up as each name was called.
I don’t get it. This is only for the pretty people. I'm not pretty. I’m awkward, overweight and nerdy.

Then another name.
This is totally bad news...

Then the last attendant's name was called, and it wasn't mine. I knew that meant the next name announced would be the person who was prom queen.

I whispered to the only person left in that lonely hallway - a teacher coordinator -- that “I think there's been a mistake." I was ready to burst into the gym and put a stop to this potential embarrassment but.

Next thing I knew, my name was called, I was ascending the stage steps, a tiara was being perched on my noggin and...there was no bucket of pig’s blood rigged to dump on my head just as I “took the throne” or anything remotely from the movie Carrie as I had expected.

May 25, 1987
Today I discovered I didn't leave that day in 1987 far behind.

Facebook alerted me that my friend had tagged me in a post. I clicked to find wonderful congratulatory words over my selection as one of BlogHer’s Voices of The Year.
What? Oh no. I think there’s been a mistake.

I reread my friend's post and thought about how to tactfully and thankfully correct her for obviously confusing me with someone else, once I verified it was indeed a mistake.

I went to BlogHer and found the Voices of The Year Announcement.
Welp. At least I can see the name of the person for whom my friend had mistaken me and we can all have a good laugh about it.

The familiar glitching came back as I read the roster for people being honored for Short Form Videos, Long Form, Eye Candy, Photos, and Impact: Nope. Nope and Nope. Not one name that could be confused with mine. Then finally, Blogs and...I saw my name. MY name. It was among all these other FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC writers who were also being honored.

With vision blurred by tears and shaking hands because the nervous glitches were back with a happy vengeance, I could barely post an error-free thank you to my dear Facebook friend.

It all took me right back to prom 1987, only this time, it's not a popularity contest to nudge an awkward teen’s self-esteem. It’s a grown-up validation that sometimes, the things I write are heard and that they resonate. Hopefully that also means I'm helping make my little corner of the world better in some small way.

And that beats a tiara any day of the week.

Thank you for the honor, BlogHer.

This is the post that's being recognized. A tiny part of me still can't believe it.

March 23, 2015

The New Sunday Dinner

My uncle was the best storyteller. He’d regale us with Sunday Dinner Stories of his Mama Sara and growing up in Tennessee. Sometimes, it’d just be pure fictional silliness, like the time his frenemy “Blue” had enough of his teasing and bashed his head in with a brick. He was a master of hyperbole and comedy. Somehow, we all ended up in stitches over his stitches.

Other times, my great aunt, a Jehovah’s Witness, would join us after a Kingdom Hall Sunday meeting. Inevitably the doorbell would ring with Jehovah’s Witnesses witnessing. On my way to answering the door, I’d tell my mom “It’s Jehovah’s Witnesses” and just as I’d open the door, my mom would yell “Tell ‘em we got one already!” I’d die a slow embarrassing death looking into the innocent eyes of the witnesses while everyone at the table laughed. Including my great aunt.

After dinner, we’d end up in the living room around the upright Mason piano adorned with our baby pictures and miscellaneous sheet music. My uncle plunked out songs, and my sister led the singing with her soaring soprano. My brothers, mom, dad (on a good day) and me -  ears plugged so I could sing harmony without straying onto the melody -- would join in the chorus.

I never realized I missed those stories, the singing and that time until today. I’m co-producing Milwaukee’s Listen to Your Mother Show, and our rehearsals are, ironically, on Sunday. The cast is seated at a table, not for dinner, but to tell their stories, have their stories be heard, and to bear witness to each other’s stories.

Photo: Alexandra Rosas

Like back in the day of the after church dinners, the Jehovah’s Witness doorbell still rings, but instead of the doorbells, it’s drills and out-of-doors construction; a kindergartner's loud-whisper; a new baby’s coo-singing, and our irrepressible sniffles and giggles in response to each other’s stories and all of the above.

Photo: Alexandra Rosas

It’s really what my family was doing all those years ago. I just didn't have a clue that that’s what we were doing nor did I have a name for it. I don’t know if I have a name for it now, to tell you the truth.

What I do know is that life is just a narrative that feeds the soul in one way or the other, just like the stories around our Sunday dinner table. Listen to Your Mother is a chance to counter the harsh, frightening narratives of news outlets that feed isolation and hopelessness.

Today, I heard funny, hopeful, sad, joyful, tragic and longing narratives that fed community and togetherness. It was like having Sunday dinner all over again.

And I was hungry for it.

Hungry for something good too? Click here to find a Listen to Your Mother Show in your area.

March 18, 2015

Questions Left By An Open Door

When I walked into the ladies room, I was greeted by oatmeal pasty thighs and blue veiny hands hitching up once-upon-a-time-white grandmaw panties.

They were attached to a woman who didn't seem to care that the open stall door left her exposed to me. I was rolling into work an hour early, half awake, half bitter and in dire need of another ninety minutes of sleep.

Maybe the potty training phase of my now 12 y/o girl is what left me unfazed: for about four months of my adult life, all I saw was panties, hineys and assorted potty poses; so I went on primping, preening and pretending that I was up for the song and dance act required for presenting my report at the monthly board meeting.

Once she had everything hitched, gathered up and zipped up, she exited the open stall and approached. Excuse me, I know a lot of people don’t smoke anymore… I listened to her pitch and noticed her acid-etched face wasn't too many years younger than mine, and her eyes were bright-white-blue, accented by eyeliner. She went on ...but if you smoke, can I buy a cigarette from you?

I rifled through my purse for smokes, assuring her there was no need to buy one, and then apologized when I realized I left them in the car. My new friend assured me it was okay, and explained her release from a four day hospital stint left her with a raging nicotine fit.

We parted ways.

She returned to her heap of belongings parked in front of the suite’s entrance to the nonprofit where I work. She was waiting for the place to open so she could be seen by a substance abuse counselor. She was here early to get help. I was here early because I had no other choice. Maybe we aren't so different, I thought while trekking down the dark hallway toward a back entrance, only accessible by fob.

Minutes later, the board assembled and did its usual business of approving minutes, reviewing financials and conducting due diligence according to Roberts Rules. I tap danced and sang about fundraising attempts and planning. But my bathroom buddy never entered any of our discussions, even though ultimately, we were all gathered to help her and people like her.

The board adjourned and I returned to workday busy-ness.

But she still lingered my mind’s eye. Her face, her eyes, her voice. Even the grandmaw panties. I wondered who she was ten years ago, what led her to that open bathroom stall and our doorstep waiting for help, and who cooed over her when she was a chubby rosy-cheeked baby with beautiful eyes.

I wondered if she knew I was really sorry about leaving the smokes in my car.

January 25, 2015

What I Learned From an Eagle's Rescue

On a rare childless night, my husband was out running an errand, leaving me in solitude save for the Animal Planet's drone about people and their preposterous pets.

A man somewhere in the British Isles who was a falconer and a classical guitarist was featured. He strummed exquisitely as the camera panned from his fingers to a majestic golden eagle perched just above his right shoulder.

As the guitar playing faded, a voiceover narrated the eagle’s story. The bird, once a resident at a zoo, had been stolen and then hidden in a closet of the thieves who spirited him away. The eagle was kept in this closet until he was rescued and adopted by the falconer.

Upon rescue, the eagle was alive, but had plucked himself nearly bald -- in fits of madness, I guess -- when he realized the fruitlessness of his escape attempts. The falconer nursed the eagle back to health and after a few months, the bird's plumage returned. The next step in rehabilitation was teaching the eagle flight and return patterns, since the falconer is a falconer after all.

Time in a closet taught the eagle that he couldn’t fly, much less fly and return to a falconer. The eagle had ultimately forgotten he was an eagle. So the falconer, somehow through his falconer prowess, reminded the eagle that it was -- well, an eagle -- and that eagles are created to fly.

And now the eagle flies as he was created to do and the falconer is his friend and his personal classical guitarist.

True story. I share it for anyone who’s in a less than comfortable emotional, mental or spiritual space...like I am right now.

Life is just sticky and ugly sometimes.

Sometimes circumstances or people whisk you from a comfort level and box you in, like our eagle friend. After enough time passes and when you’ve banged your head against countless walls and beaten a herd of dead horses, you begin to pluck at yourself.

For me, the plucking I’ve done to myself in the past year is not exercising, not moving and not getting enough restorative sleep. I guess you could say at twenty-five pounds heavier than I was last year and perpetually fatigued, I’m plucked bald.

And then, even if you break free from the box, or see a sliveriest sliver of open sky, time spent in a box teaches you that you can't fly and you second-guess yourself. You forget who you are and for what you were created.

Maybe you’re a parent trying figure out what you’re doing wrong because your baby has suddenly decided it can’t sleep longer than an hour. Maybe you’re a teacher and the kids you’re trying to help only resent you.

Maybe, like me, you’re a writer who’s been boxed in for so long, you second-guess whether you can write.

So I write this post as a reminder to me and to you that we need to stop turning on ourselves and damaging ourselves while we’re in whatever box life has imposed on us. And as I write this (because I can write) and as you read this, I hope you find the strength to do whatever it is you were created to do.

Even if you don't have a classical guitarist falconer reminding you of who you are and how to do whatever it is you were created to do and be, it'll still be beautiful.