Old Habits Die Hard

As I mentioned in my last post, my father graduated from Mississippi State in 1959. He was a Bulldog fan through and through; so, anytime the Dawgs were on TV, you can bet that he was watching. We would often call each other to make sure we both knew that they were playing and what channel they were on. Neither of us wanted to miss the boys in maroon and white if we could avoid it.

This Fall, it seems like Mississippi State football has been on TV every Saturday in our market. And, every Saturday, I am on the couch yelling for them (and sometimes at them), doing my part as a fan to send winning energy to my team. And, every Saturday, I have to stop myself from calling Daddy to see if he’s watching. During the unbelievable Auburn game yesterday, I nearly called him during the game to see if he could believe that comeback that was going on.

But, he’s not there. And I still weep several times a week because I can’t call him when I’m driving home from work like I used to. I can’t call him about the football games. I can’t call to ask his advice on anything. I can’t call him.

My sister Chele (bless her), my cousin Faith, and Chele’s friend Linda have done all the packing up and moving of Dad’s things. I couldn’t help. I was paralyzed just thinking about it. I feel weak and pretty pathetic admitting that I just couldn’t do it – something so basic – but I couldn’t. When we went over to his house a couple of weeks ago to get the last things out, I started crying two towns over and when I got out of the car, I nearly went down. My knees gave way and grief hit me like a boulder. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t breathe. All I could do was scream. It was horrible.

Dad didn’t have a minister that really knew him well anymore and neither Chele nor I could bear the thought of some stranger standing there eulogizing a man he didn’t know; so, we planned and spoke at Daddy’s funeral ourselves. Chele and Faith chose most of the hymns – all 600 year old plodding Presbyterian hymns that are the songs that stones would sing – and Chele and I both eulogized him. The hymns were heavy, comfortable things that we grew up with, or they would have been if the pianist hadn’t played them in the key of dog whistle. Still, they were songs that we love and that he loved. Then Chele talked about Dad and his Christian faith, about how he loved the Book of Daniel, in particular. I talked about him as my father and my friend. Here is what I wrote to say (although I’m sure I strayed from my script – I always do):

Good afternoon and thank you all so much for coming. Frankly, I don’t know if I can do this, but I don’t want someone who didn’t know my daddy all that well to stand up here and talk about him; so, grab a tissue and bear with me while I do my best to honor this man.

On February 26, 1936, John Larry Doty was born to Luby J and Hazel Doty. That lasted just long enough for one grandfather to find out he’d been named after the other one. Soon after and evermore, he was John David. If you thought his birthday was on the 29th, you’re not alone. He told people that regularly; but, no, his birthday was on the 26th. He grew up in Memphis. Ran track in high school and had the cinders in his knee for the rest of his life to prove it. He finished a pretty ordinary scholastic career and graduated from Central High School in 1954. Afterwards, he went out to California to fight wildfires. He went to college at Mississippi State because they had a School of Forestry and he really wanted to be a forester. Even so, the dean’s secretary, Doris Lee, always said that he never would have graduated if she hadn’t hounded him into it. He would always agree before adding that Dean Doris made the best pecan pies in the world. And he loved pecan pie! Not as much as he loved strawberry shortcake, but he loved pecan pie.

After college, he worked for Mr. Buchanan in Selma, AL, where he and Mother lived when my sister Chele was born. He went back to Memphis to pursue a Master’s Degree at Memphis State and to go into business for himself. That venture was a short-lived one before he got a job with Kopper’s Company and moved the family to Brookhaven, MS, in 1969. He lived there until 1995. In the late 70s, he and some collegues went into business for themselves and formed Monticello Hardwood – a company he worked very hard to help make successful.

I never really understood what he was doing when he would get on the phone after dinner and stay on it, it seemed, until it was time for me to go to bed. I hated that he would do that, but I didn’t understand that he was working so hard for us. Often, I would sit in the hallway, listening even though I had no idea what he was talking about. In those days, when you made a call using your credit card as payment, you told the number to the operator. I listened to him so much that I could recite that credit card number myself – I still can. I was an adult myself before I truly appreciated the work that he did on those calls and his efforts to be home every night for dinner. Some days he would leave before we left for school, but often, he was there for that and he was nearly always home by 7 o’clock for supper. I was an adult before I realized that he would often drive 3 hours and more after breakfast, walk a few miles cruising a stand of timber, then drive all the way home just so he could be home at supper. 

And he loved his job. He loved walking around in the woods, figuring the worth of the timber, but enjoying the peace of it all as much as anything. Most days he took what he called his “jungle food” with him and ate his lunch of Vienna sausages, sardines, cheese and crackers, or (his favorite) a peanut butter and mustard sandwich wherever he happened to be. Often, he would take a .22 with him to do a little squirrel hunting while he was out.

And, man, did he love to hunt! He hunted deer in Claiborne county for decades. He took friends, business acquaintences and even missionaries visiting the church out for a hunt. He taught both my sister and me to hunt (he was more successful with her) and frequently reminded us that you don’t kill what you don’t plan to eat, and you don’t shoot unless you can kill it. You don’t kill for sport alone and you don’t make an animal suffer. He enjoyed hunting at his own camp as well as joining friends at theirs. His annual trip to Pennsylvania was a tradition for him, as well as trips to Kansas with Malcolm Carr, and trips to Utica with Steve Rochelle and Joe Foster. He sure did love you guys. And he loved those trips even after he had progressed from being one of the hunters to being one of the old men who cooks and sits around the fire telling lies. And he could do that, too!

I could always count on Daddy to answer any question that I had. One year, while looking for a perfect Christmas tree to cut, I asked him why some pine trees lose their apial dominance faster than others. Mistake. I got a full-on lecture on soil tables. Another time, I asked him why it was called wolmanized lumber. He said it was because the cells were impregnated with preservatives. And I believed him. Of course, he forgot all about that until he heard me repeat it some years later. He laughed at me! Then I remembered that I had believed him – the same man who had handed me several thistles as a child, telling me to take the pretty flowers inside to mama for the table. 

I say that, but I honestly believe that he did not have a malicious bone in his body. He was a generous man – taking firewood and food to widows in town, inviting friends for dinner, as a deacon in the church, he would go to the store with people who showed up at the church for help on Sundays when he was an usher. He would buy them groceries, diapers and put gasoline in their cars. He was that kind of man. He didn’t talk about it. He did it. He was a good man and a really great father.

Mother was sick after the births of both my sister and me; so, Daddy took care of us. There were times when both of us disappointed him, I know, but he loved us and we never doubted it. He wasn’t quick to say that he was proud of us so it really meant the world when he did say it. And when we told him that we loved him, he just said, “thank you.” Still, we always knew. 

When I was 26, my best friend was killed in a car wreck. Although he lived about an hour and 15 minutes from my house, he was there with breakfast 45 minutes after I called him. I was devastated so he stayed with me for two weeks. Several months after Joey died, I went to the phone to call him for some reason. When I realized that he wasn’t there, I dropped the phone and asked my dad when I would stop doing that. When was it going to get better?! He said then that his father had been his best friend and that, even then, more than 20 years after Pop died, on bad days, he sometimes thought that if he could just talk to his dad, he would know what to do. I can tell you that I suspect that if you ask me that same question 20 years from now, you’ll get the same answer. He was a wonderful man, a great father and a true friend. He is missed already.

Dad on the back row in the far right. The first Fellow of the College of Forest Resources

I don’t think I got those last two sentences out before my tears overwhelmed the Valium.

We went to the graveside, toasted him with a great single malt Scotch that he would have loved – The McAllan 12-Year-Old Double Cask – put our tiny red solo cups in the crypt with him (won’t a future archeologist have fun with that!), and left him there beside his grandmother.

Only we didn’t leave him. He is with me every single day – in my heart, in my thoughts, and in my tears. He was a wonderful man and I miss him.

Losing the First Man I Ever Loved

Twice before I’ve buried men I loved – one was my best friend and one was a man I really thought I might marry. Both events were awful, soul-splitting times in my life that still hurt, years later. But, on June 19th, I attended a funeral that made those look like a skinned knee. That day, I buried the very first man I ever loved.

He was a handsome man – I always though so. Maybe he wasn’t handsome in a matinee idol kind of way, but he had a ready smile and these powdery blue eyes that sparkled. He had dark brown hair that would sometimes glint red in the sun and he wore an epic beard trimmed Just So that made him look distinguished. He smelled like forests and breath mints. He was a wonderful cook and I loved him completely. I loved him so much that I didn’t even mind that I had to share him.

After all, my sister was born five years before me and he was her daddy first.

Dad was sick last Fall and came to live with me, my sister and my “damned cats” for about six months. We got him all patched up and strong again. Although we wanted him to stay here, Daddy wanted to go home to his own house; but, we were worried. We found a lady that would come spend five hours a day with him, make sure he took his meds, ate well, hadn’t fallen and had survived the night. You see, he wanted to die at home “with his boots on.” We didn’t want him to die alone. He was 85 in February, older than anyone in his family has ever been, and he knew his body was wearing out.

In May, his helper Jennifer began to raise alerts that his health was deteriorating and that he was losing weight. My sister went over to check on him and, sure enough, things were not looking good. Dad was going downhill fast although he was still talking about going to Omaha again (he went to 2018 and 2019) to attend the College World Series if the Mississippi State University Bulldogs made it to the tournament. Dad graduated from MSU in 1959 and LOVED Mississippi State Baseball.

Dad had been with us during Thanksgiving, but because of his frailty and the pandemic, the planned extended family gathering was postponed to the summer. At the end of May, we agreed it could be postponed no longer; so, we set a date of June 12th.

On June 5th, some guy chalked up his 4th DUI by driving up my driveway, totaling my car, destroying my home air conditioning unit and spraying the property with shattered auto glass, but we were full steam ahead for Thanksgiving 2020.5! I invited friends and relatives from near and far. I got Thanksgiving themed placemats, napkins and decorations that we put on tables in my yard. And we ate ham, turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, butter beans, bacon wrapped shrimp, smoked pork, fresh garden salad, desserts by the pound, and drank soft drinks, iced tea, pina coladas, and, of course, traditional Thanksgiving margaritas. (We declared them to be traditional, anyway.) We put our feet in the wading pool and played corn hole, but mostly we just talked, visited, shared love and stories with one another about our lives and about Dad. He wasn’t strong enough to come down into the yard, but he sat on the porch where I joined him to eat lunch. He was quietly looking over the mob when I asked, “That’s a pretty good view, isn’t it?”

“It’s a wonderful view,” he responded.

Eventually, he came back into the cool house (a miracle worker had replaced my air conditioning unit the day before) where everyone rotated in and out to talk with him for a few minutes and where he could watch the Mississippi State vs Notre Dame baseball game that was on television. (Mississippi State needed to win that game and one more to make it to the College World Series.)

As I was helping him get ready for bed that night, I asked him if he had enjoyed the day. (He never liked to be the center of attention and I was anxious about him feeling overwhelmed.) He said that he had enjoyed it very much but that he had been surprised that so many people had come from such long distances. That statement crushed me. I turned to look at him and said, “Dad, why would that surprise you? You are a remarkable man who has had a tremendous, positive effect on the lives of more people that you can imagine. Of course, people came!” He looked skeptical as I tucked him in.

Sunday, we were all exhausted and slept most of the day. Monday, he refused all food and drink, but he, my sister Chele and I still all watched the last game of the Super Regional Tournament to see if Mississippi State would make it to the College World Series. We watched the game like normal, sitting on the couch, holding hands, questioning the elastic strike zone, and cheering on our Bulldogs. From time to time Chele and I would have to leave the room to collect ourselves because we knew this would be our last game with Daddy.

Outfielder Tanner Allen clinched the game for the Bulldogs with a three-run homer. I was in the kitchen at the time, but walked back in the living room to see what all the cheering was about. When I walked around the corner, I saw Dad, who could barely make a sound, with his hand in the shape of a megaphone around his mouth cheering. It was a sweet sight and one of the last sounds he made.

On Tuesday, Chele and I got him home and into his own bed where he went to sleep and did not wake up. I climbed into the bed with him, put my forehead to his and shared memories of family vacations we took, the time he took me to work with him when I was five or six, rafting trips, him playing with my young son, memories of everything.

Sometimes as people are in their last moments, they will struggle to breathe; but, Daddy didn’t. He was very peaceful. His breathing got slower and slower until it just stopped, his spirit quietly left and we all got what we wanted. He died at home with his boots on, he didn’t die alone, and the Bulldogs went to the College World Series.

Focus on the Cans

I’m trying, but all I see are Can’ts

I actually started this piece at the beginning of all this Covid-19 quarantine business and I was full of optimism and advice on ways to stay positive and healthy (both physically and mentally) through the challenge. Then I just got sick of seeing articles on those subjects so I put mine on the back burner, guessing that you all were also suffering from Quarantine Pollyanna Fatigue Syndrome, otherwise known as Thhhssbbbpp!

Now, we are all also subject to Quarantine Misinformation Fatigue Syndrome and Quarantine Political Battle Fatigue Syndrome (at least in the States, we are). It’s exhausting and it’s ridiculous, amirite?

Still, we have to deal with it all. So, how?

At first, I was taking my Labrador retriever Stella for a walk around the neighborhood every day and I was doing something else outside every day – weeding flower beds, clearing deadfall, arranging supplies, whatever. On rainy days, I was working on indoor projects – organizing drawers, closets, etc., and taking donations to thrift stores, ripping up damaged carpet, removing damaged sub-flooring, cooking and freezing tasty, healthy meals for my sister, and spring cleaning. I was also calling my dad every day to chat and I usually called at least one other person just so I could talk to people. (My sister works nights; so, we don’t talk very much most days.) And that was working nicely.

Until my allergies struck.

My sister has a lot of allergies that attack her sinuses, make her sneeze, and leave her with a stuffy head. My allergies go straight to my lungs. I don’t normally have a stuffy head, but my lungs will clog, leaving me with a deep, wet cough. The coughing fits are sometimes so bad that I can’t get air back in, which leaves me lightheaded and panicky. The cough also makes me very tired. The fits are scary from my perspective, but they are apparently terrifying to listen to. My sister is constantly afraid that I’m just going to either keel over or cough up a lung.

Most years, taking an allergy pill nightly keeps the whole cycle under control; however, after two mild winters, this Spring has been an allergy killer in Middle Tennessee. The topography of the region doesn’t help since we sit in sort of a bowl in the middle of the state. Allergens and pollutants get in this bowl and just linger for. ev. er.

I will be okay and able to breathe fine for a day or two, then I’ll do something stupid like go outside for an hour and I’ll be right back to sounding like a TB ward. I need to mow my back yard. I enjoy mowing my back yard. But, I know that if I do it – even wearing a heavy-duty mask – I won’t be able to breathe. I need to finish removing the damaged sub-floor so I can put the new floor in. But, if I am in that room for more than a few minutes, the mold spores still there get me and I’m screwed. It is incredibly frustrating.

Frustrating AND infuriating. I have never thought of myself as particularly delicate or vulnerable; but, this lung thing makes me feel that way and it makes me SO angry! For all the things I want to do and need to do, my lungs are throwing up a big CAN’T when I want and need a big, ole CAN.

Most of the time, I think that the answer to any challenge can be found in the perspective with which you approach it. However, this one is kicking me in the teeth, friends. I can’t seem to get a good perspective so I’m asking you:

How do you approach your CAN’Ts so that you can see your CANS?

Eating Paper

This weekend, I participated in a 5K run/walk with several cousins. Most of them ran, but I /walked. I still went 5K and enjoyed the hot chocolate provided by the race. Walking back to car, we fell into conversation about terms, brand names, and idioms. For instance, in the US, we call small bandages that you stick on “band-aids” even though that is a brand name. It has become synonymous with the item itself. However, once in Stratford-Upon-Avon, I had a little trouble getting one at a Boots chemist because Brits call those little bandages “plasters.” I had no clue – but I did have a mighty blister; so, I persevered until I got what I needed. Band-aid is a brand name recognized as a product name regardless of manufacturer pretty much across the United States; however, there are other examples that are more regional.

In the Deep South, all carbonated soft drinks are Coke. When you stop at the gas station, the person going in will ask everyone in the car if they want a Coke. Then they will ask what kind of Coke they want and that may be anything from a Dr. Pepper to a Sprite to a Fanta. In other areas of the country soft drinks are “pop” or “soda” and in parts of the south those terms are becoming more and more common, but Coke is still well recognized. Still even more regional is “Nabs” for packaged peanut butter or cheese crackers because Nabisco was the first company to market them. I’ve lived in several places and this term seems specific to parts of Mississippi, not even the whole state.

I say all that to say this: as I have gotten older, I often use idioms that I think are common to everybody only to find out that they are apparently specific to my family alone. For a long time, I felt like such a weirdo until I decided that perhaps my family simply had very colorful ways of saying things. Perhaps many of the sayings were translations from some translation from the Danish side of my family. Maybe they had their roots in the rural Mississippi part of my family. Who knows? The end result is that we have LOTS of colorful phrases, one of which applies when you are feeling sorry for yourself and having a pity party. You say that you should “just go out back and eat worms.”

I’ve shared a little with you about my foundling cat Drucilla. She’s been with us for about a year and a half and is probably the highest maintenance demon I have ever had in my home. She is a love, don’t get me wrong, but she is so imperious that most of the time I refer to her as the Tsarina and she seems to think that name fits. Because she has no incisors and her renal health is delicate, I often feed her tuna and, recently, sardines (which remind her of her trips to the Black Sea as a kitten). She jumps up next to the fish plate indicating that it is time for Cook (that would be me) to serve up a smackeral. If I fail to do so within what she considers to be a reasonable amount of time – two minutes – she “goes out back and starts eating worms.” Actually, she starts eating the paper towels. Not even kidding. Sometimes she jumps up on my desk and starts eating my papers there. Perhaps when she was living in the woods she once found some grease on a piece of paper so she tests every piece of paper now to see if the miracle repeats, I don’t know. I just know that I find these little gnawed scraps of paper all over the house if Her Imperial Majesty is not given a little bite of fish every 90 minutes or so during the day. Ridiculous. She fills her stomach with paper rather than wait just a little while!

Then I look at myself.

How many times in my life have I gone for the cheap substitute because I got tired of waiting? How many times have I sold myself short because I didn’t put the work in?

There have been times I have failed when I legitimately gave it the best I had and I think that’s okay. We are not all meant to do all things. Sometimes we have to know when it’s time to walk away AFTER we have given it our best. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the times I half-assed something I said I wanted, then abandoned it before I got it. Those are the things that haunt me. I have always been well-known for my patience, which ranks somewhere alongside a toddler in the candy aisle and a beer drinker waiting for the restroom. Yeah. Schoolwork was always easy for me before college. I rarely had to study; so, I never learned how. Then, when I needed to know how, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

From time to time, the question comes up: what advice would you give your younger self? That would be mine. Give it your best if it’s something you really want. Stay focused, swallow your pride, ask questions, and never settle for eating paper.

Fry Up Your Own Bacon

When I was young, there was a perfume commercial featuring a woman who said that she could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never let you forget you’re a man!” Well, then! Get you some of that “8-hour perfume for your 24-hour woman” right now, gents! (I’m not even going to go into the sexism of all of that. I have a different point to make today – a different fish to fry, as it were.)

As I mentioned last time we visited, I listened to Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead in October of last year just before I went to Seattle to visit my son. I’m afraid I may have turned him off on her since I praised her constantly to the point that I sounded like Sandy Olsson going on and on about Danny Zuko. Brené Brown says this. Brené Brown said that. Brené Brown has this concept that….. You get the idea. I was a total fangirl; but, that has no effect whatsoever on the validity of her ideas. It only makes me a boob for being so overbearing in how I presented them.

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and, I am sure, will be chock FULL of what Dr. Brown calls “Stealth Expectations.” Those are expectations that we have for other people that we don’t actually tell them about. Saturday will come and all kinds of men and women will be scratching their heads, wondering why their partners are so angry with them. They will truly have no clue what they did wrong because, in truth, they did nothing wrong. They simply failed to meet an expectation they knew nothing about. They failed a test they didn’t even know was being given. Instead of hinting about that thing you want – flowers, card, leaf blower, weekend in Monte Carlo, whatever – you have to tell your partner what you want. They can’t read your mind and it’s not fair to ask them to. Maybe you are one of those people who pick up on subtle cues and is able to surprise people with what they want. Wonderful! How fantastic that you have that gift and even better that you actually use it for those you love. However, not everyone has that gift. For instance, my son loves me, I have no doubt, but he doesn’t even remember my birthday, much less have any idea what I might want. That’s not his gift. It never has been and he knows it. He also knows that it’s something he needs to work on – at least getting the dates right.

So, instead of having stealth expectations about flowers, tell your someone that you would like for them to buy them for you or, better yet, buy them for yourself! The beautiful blooms featured here are some I bought for myself a couple of weeks ago. But if I had wanted someone to do buy them for me, it would only have been fair for me to openly tell them. Stealth Expectations lead to Overt Disappointment and sometimes even Open Hostilities that are so easily avoided.

I may be middle-aged, but these are not the middle ages. I’m not waiting for a knight of any sort to rescue me, fight my dragons or whatever else. This is the third millennium and I am a grown-ass woman. I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan….and I can buy my own flowers, too.

Keeping it Real or Keeping it Quiet

Yesterday I wrote something on my personal Facebook page that reflected a very deeply held belief of mine – very deeply held. However, it was inappropriate for me to make that post. I’m not going to say what it was and I have since deleted it because I realized that I really should have just kept my face shut.

Last week, I mentioned Brene Brown and her book Dare to Lead. In that book, she advises everyone to have a “square squad” a very small group of people (whose names will fit on a 1-inch by 1-inch piece of paper) whose opinions matter to you. Those are the people you listen to, not the people in the cheap seats who have something to say about anything and everything you do. You listen to only a select few who will tell you that you are “outside of your integrity” on some action. That’s another phrase Brene uses – outside your integrity. There is so much packed into that! And to say that “you are outside” your integrity is much more applicable than to say that “you are wrong.”

What I posted yesterday wasn’t wrong; however, it was harsh and edified no one. It was unnecessary. It was outside my integrity.

I used to watch the show America’s Next Top Model (complete guilty pleasure and intellectual bubble gum). I stopped watching after the season featuring an aspiring model from the Bronx. This girl was just mean as a snake! Hateful and spiteful for no reason. Her reason was that she was just “keeping it real.” The things she said might have been true, but they didn’t need to be said. Nothing was gained by saying them and no one would have been hurt had those things remained unsaid. Likewise, nothing was gained by my comments yesterday and no one would have been hurt had those things remained unsaid.

The world, in general, spends so much time spewing negative energy at us, right? It’s exhausting! I try really hard to be a source of positive energy. I failed yesterday. For the two members of my Square Squad who gently called me on it – Thanks.

Now. Here’s hoping next time I will pause, stay inside my integrity and keep my face shut.

When 60 is 100 and When It’s Just 60

“You can fool some of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” There is debate over whether or not Abraham Lincoln actually said that and, frankly, I don’t care because regardless of who said it, I believe that it is true. However, it isn’t in fooling others that I think the greatest danger lies – it is in fooling ourselves.

I was a smoker for the better part of 20 years. I quit for a little while a couple of times in there but let’s just say that I was a smoker for 20 years for simplicity’s sake. I smoked as little as two cigarettes a day in that time and as much as two packs a day, and I probably spent more time in the latter category than the former. I would readily admit to being a smoker. Still, I couldn’t really bring myself to buy cigarettes by the carton. Somehow, buying buy the carton was only for hardened smokers. The smokers’ equivalent of an IV drug user. Buying by the carton made the whole thing seem a little too premeditated to me like I could quit smoking any time if I didn’t have that carton there – like I would, you never knew. Who was I trying to kid? I wasn’t going to quit smoking just because I wasn’t buying by the carton; I was just paying more per pack. Even so, over the course of 20 years, I can count on one hand the number of cartons I bought. I was just lying to myself. God knows I wasn’t fooling anyone else.

Several years ago, we had a discussion at work over whether you can give 100% all the time. My colleague Brittney argued that you can while I argued that you can’t. If you have a cold, obviously, you can’t give 100%. The night I went to work after having to put my dog Trey to sleep that morning, I wasn’t at 100% for sure! But, I’ve changed my mind. I think that she was right. Even with a cold, even the night after putting Trey down, I can give 100%. My 100% might not be as much as it is on another day, but if it is all I have that day, then it’s still 100%.

Let me say that another way because I think this is really important. If you ask me on Monday to give you all the money in my pocket and I give you the $1.72, the lint and the Lifesaver that’s in my pocket, I’ve given you 100% of my money. If you ask me on Tuesday to give you all the money in my pocket and I give you the $.47 that’s in there, I’ve still given you 100% of my money, even though it is less money than I gave you the day before. See what I mean? 147 is 100% and 47 is 100%.

When you are depressed or grieving or extremely stressed, I believe that it is really important to give yourself time to heal. We let infections heal, we let broken bones heal, we should let bruised psyches heal. For me, during this time, I am being gentle with myself, but still assigning myself single daily tasks. They aren’t necessarily huge tasks, but every day, I have to get something done. I cannot sit on the couch watching British police procedural shows all day. I will admit that my days are not as productive as they are when I am operating on all cylinders; however, this is where 60% is 100%. However, this is also where it is crucial to be honest with myself.

One day this week, 60% was just 60%. I didn’t do my task that day. I didn’t do the laundry. I was lazy. When we say that we are going to quit smoking, we have to at least really try to quit. When we say we are going to lose weight, we have to at least really try to eat more mindfully. And if I say that I am going to improve my mental health, then I have to at least make some sort of effort. I didn’t that day. But, that day is over and I’m not going to beat myself up about it either. “What’s done and cannot be undone.” Although maybe quoting the psycho Lady Macbeth isn’t the best source I could choose right now.

Anyway, my point is this: right now, my best efforts at finding a new job and getting my life back in order are not the same as my best efforts when I’m in top form. However, if I’m to get back to top form, I’ve got to honestly give my best, even if my best is just 60%.

A Freak Show of the First Order

After a recent visit, a friend told me that she loves it when I come to her house because I make her feel normal. Okay, Hmm. Now, friends, I can take that one of two ways:

1. Damn, girl! That flaky-assed, three-ring, freak-show you got going on over there makes my life feel positively June Cleaver! or
2. When you share your thoughts and struggles, I realize that they are like mine and I don’t feel so alone.

I’m going to choose to believe that she meant it the second way for three reasons:
1. Even if she meant it the first way, she would never be so crass or cruel as to even hint at it.
I watched a Brené Brown documentary on Netflix called The Call to Courage. Her common sense and straight-forward approach to life and leadership resonated so much with me that I got her audiobook Dare to Lead. I’m listening to it for the third time and am picking up things I missed the first two times. While I don’t know that I will ever lead people again, I believe that applying strong leadership principles makes me a better employee, friend, and person in general. Knowledge gained is never wasted. One of the tenets of strong leadership that she proposes is to always assume that people are doing their best. I have to admit that this is a HUGE struggle for me. I am just certain that the idiot parked in the passing lane doing the speed limit is there specifically to slow me down. And popular culture would have us believe that people are often snarky and have hidden insults in what they say. Right? It’s not easy to turn that off, to decide to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just phrased it badly. Maybe that driver is just zoned out and unaware that they are blocking the passing lane – I’ve done that myself. I know my friend and I don’t believe she would deliver a back-handed compliment like that; so, I’m going to choose to believe that she meant it positively

2. It makes my life more pleasant to believe that.
One of my college philosophy professors accused me on the regular of creating my own reality – and I’m fairly certain that he did not mean it as a compliment. However, I believe we all do it to some degree and it dovetails with the previous paragraph. I can choose to be irritated about something or I can choose to not be irritated about it (to some degree – there are always variables like whether or not it is your children pushing your buttons or plucking your last nerve). And I suppose that you could say that in deciding that an intentional slight is not an insult is creating my own reality. Well, if that’s the case, then, yes. I did it then. I do it now. I will continue doing it. And, what’s more, I recommend it highly.

3. It fits with my belief that we are all more alike than we are different and we would know that if only we really talked more.
“The First Order wins by making us think we’re alone. We’re not.” This quote from the latest Star Wars movie really struck me. Replace The First Order with Fear, Depression or Anxiety and the statement is just as true. Those feelings keep us isolated and silent. We don’t really confide in anyone. I mean, I often see people use memes featuring quotes to describe their own feelings; but, I don’t think that really counts. It’s using someone else’s words. To really connect, we have to use our own words and to select individuals. We can’t just cast everything out over the internet (she says as she writes a blog to be read by strangers talking about connecting on an intimate level). I think you know what I mean, though. I have those close individuals with whom I share my deepest fears and darkest corners, and I have those who share them with me. We know we are not alone.

We each have a ring in the flaky-assed, freak-show.

Right Here, Right Now

My friend Joey sold ad time at a radio station right after we got out of college. He asked me to do a voice-over for him one day since a client wanted an Australian accent and I was the only person that he knew who could mimic one (passably enough for late 1980s Starkville, MS, anyway). Thus began my short career in radio voice-overs. Since there was such little work involved for me, I took CDs and concert tickets as payment. It was a great arrangement that got me tons of tunes and got me in to see Heart and Jesus Jones where my worlds collided. (I was a chemistry lab teaching assistant at a local high school. Some of my students walked up to me at the outdoor show. Honey! You have never seen a cigarette get flicked and beer dumped so fast! I don’t know why I thought my students shouldn’t know that I drank and smoked, but I did and so jettisoned those articles at warp speed! If you were at the show at Malfunction Junction and were suddenly soaked, my bad!)

But, I digress. (Imagine!) One of Jesus Jones’s biggest hits was Right Here, Right Now. The first couplet of the chorus is, “Right here, right now / there is no other place I want to be.” And, although I sometimes have romantic notions about living in some simpler time, the truth is that I also want to live right here, right now. Every morning when I wake, I am thankful for modern advances, specifically in vision correction. I cannot see more than five or six inches before my vision gets blurry. Without glasses, I would be largely helpless. I am so grateful that I have access to tools that allow me to continue to function. Glasses are not the only daily tool I use to function, either.

As I’ve mentioned on many occasions, I have been treated for depression for over half of my life. A large part of my treatment was and continues to be pharmaceutical. And, although I have been taking my meds throughout all of my recent trials, I was still overwhelmed; so, I went to see my doctor – another reason I’m glad to live in this time. The doctor changed some dosage amounts and times around. I began to feel the effects within just 24 hours. Wonderful!

Now, here I am, several days later and feeling 100% better. I’m sleeping with only one or two interruptions rather than waking up every hour or so. I’m no longer craving sugar to the point of eating roughly 4000 calories every day (Y’all, I wish I were exaggerating. No Ho-Ho or Ding Dong was safe within a half a mile of me.) My stomach is once again communicating with my brain letting me know when I’m full. My mood and perceptions are once again stable. I don’t feel like I’m on the verge of tears all the time. It’s really wonderful!

I think of my Self as a castle that sits inside the fortified walls of my mind and emotions. Negative people and stress can deteriorate those walls. People whose endocrine systems function normally can manufacture the materials needed to repair the walls. To a lesser degree, I can, too. However, people with both normal and abnormal endocrine systems may find their fortifications overwhelmed by circumstances. Last week, I mentioned coping mechanisms, finding ones that work for you, abandoning ones that don’t or ones that are harmful, and seeking help when you need it – when your fortifications are being overwhelmed. Sometimes meds are the help we need, sometimes it’s counseling. But, somehow, we think of seeking counseling as some sort of character or moral failing.

Ummm.

Generally, I seek counseling when I’m puzzling through some situation I’ve never encountered and don’t know how to handle. So, it’s rather like reading the instructions in complicated flat pack furniture. Is it a character flaw to read those instructions to put together something I’ve never constructed before? Only a stubborn fool would insist that it was. So, how is seeking help to get through an unfamiliar situation any different? I just don’t see it.

Similarly, people often see it as shameful to admit that they are taking anti-depressants. Why? Are people with Type 1 diabetes ashamed to admit that they take insulin? Their bodies don’t make it. It’s not their fault. It’s just how their endocrine systems function, or rather, don’t function. The same thing is true for people with many mental conditions. These are actually endocrine system issues that express themselves through the mind. They can produce brilliance in the minds of some of the Selfs that carry them like in Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Poe. But they create misery in the minds of all of the Selfs that carry them. Perhaps those artists would not have created had they had access to today’s medications. Perhaps they would have.

In any case, I am grateful to have access to today’s medications and tools and to be right here, right now.

Pity? Party of One?

So, I’ve kind of been over here all “Lesley-Gore-It’s-My-Party-And-I’ll-Cry-If-I-Want-To” and here come some friends busting in the joint with gifts for me, screwing the whole thing up. Nothing will kill a good pity party vibe like getting an amazing gift. Here are three of the ones I got:

“You spoke my words.”

That’s a pretty tough gift to beat there. After reading “How To Survive The Loss Of,” a friend told me her own experience of losing her “life” after a sexual assault. (I put life in parentheses there since I don’t mean her life in the terms of pulse and brain activity. I mean her life in the sense of her home, her marriage, and her job. You know – nearly everything but her pulse.) I have known her for many years, laughed with her over a million things (she’s the funniest woman ever) and I had no idea that she had survived an assault at all, let alone that she had she survived wave after wave of polluted crap that smashed into her afterward. She stood up to each wave, but, like me with the loss of my wallet, it was the loss of something small that sent her to her knees. I’ve always really liked her and I am blown away with the honor of having her say that I had spoken her words.

“Your writing is insightful, funny, and grammatically correct.”

Another huge gift! After reading “I’m Pretty Sure I Should Be Rich By Now,” this friend, who is a wonderful writer himself, called to encourage me to continue to write, saying that he enjoys the thoughts that I share and how I share them both verbally and mechanically. What a delightful surprise! It’s always wonderful to hear that your work resonates with others and, even better, that it doesn’t make someone twitch! Bonus gift! I know that sometimes I take liberties with grammar; however, if you visit with me often, you know that I generally do it for emphasis. It’s important to me that my language mechanics be as nearly correct as I can make them so that you can hear what I have to say without being distracted by the monstrous way I’m saying it.

“Your writing is always very concise, reflective, and thought-provoking. The reason I miss it so much when you are silent.”

This was after I asked her to read “Mixed Metaphors Inside the Asteroid Belt” prior to publication. My thoughts are like ping-pong balls in a tornado – bouncing all over the place, hitting first this thing, then that thing, then each other. It’s bedlam in there! And that particular piece had even more metaphorical collisions than most; so, I needed to get another set of eyes on it. Sometimes I am afraid that connections, analogies, and metaphors that make perfect sense in my head sound like the Mad Hatter when I let them out. It’s both comfort and confirmation when someone understands the point I’m trying to make with my occasionally unconventional comparisons. Again – awesome gift!

Each of these gifts (and others I didn’t mention) have gone a long way towards helping me through grief and get a handle on what I need to get done next. However, as I mentioned, they completely ruined the Pity Party for One I had going in full swing over here. While it’s still true that I can cry if I want to, I feel less inclined to do so.

Thanks, you guys.

Thoughts about everything and nothing in an effort to be a better person than I was yesterday.