Archive for the Me Category

Remembrance and the senses

Posted in Me with tags , , , on September 15, 2011 by redswandiaries

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines remembrance as the state of bearing in mind; the ability to remember; an act of recalling to mind.  I am always amazed by the memories conjured up by our five senses. A smell, a taste, a sound can pull me back, place me in a specific time or make me pause. And it can be any thing at any time.

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen pulling apart a bundle of fresh cilantro for albondigas, or Mexican meatballs, when suddenly I could feel the heat of an evening summer sun on my cheek as I snipped the fragrant leaves from the plants in my parents garden. My mother or father always sent me to get the sprigs and gently I would pluck just enough for the pico de gallo, my fingers stained with the pungency of the herb. I breathed in the bouquet as I stood over the sink and suddenly I was twelve years old.

This past Sunday, the tenth anniversary of September 11, I got up early to watch the memorial ceremony. At one point, I realized my face was awash in warm tears. I’m not sure when they started to flow and I don’t remember when they stopped, but I noticed them shortly after Paul Simon sang The Sound of Silence. I remembered reading that Simon wrote the song about man’s lack of communication with his fellow-man, how we don’t share or truly listen.  Silence is what I remember about 09/11. Sure, I remember where I was, the events of that morning, how it seemed to happen in a state of slow motion like a herky-jerk old newsreel. I can tell you how I sat in my driveway and cried when I saw our American flag hanging above the garage, knowing our boys had wrestled with the rickety ladder to put up that flag when they were sent home early from school. But what I remember most is the silence. We live very close to Mid-Continent Airport, Cessna and Learjet. We are accustomed to the sounds of commercial jets, the test flight patterns, the burdened cargo planes. Even now I hear them, taking off and landing in the cool almost-fall air.   But not that evening or even the next day. As we fell exhausted into bed that night, the darkness was met with an eerie, unfamiliar silence. I reached for my husband’s hand and he reached for mine and we were both overcome with the magnitude of that day encapsulated in that silence. The sound of silence. And when flight operations were resumed, we became wary of those sounds, they were different, changed. Today, if a jet or plane sounds slightly off its course or too low, we pause and listen and wait.

Working with memorials, I’ve corroborated with families about how a simple thing can remind you of a lost loved one, the smell of a leather glove, the sound of a windchime, the taste of coffee ice cream, the sight of a tabby cat. Our senses are so connected to people, places, things that it is hard to disconnect and I don’t think I ever want to.

I can’t imagine seeing the large head of Hello Kitty or hearing a song by Jane’s Addiction and not think of Andrea. Life would be unbearable without those flashes of childhood after dusting myself in Johnson’s Baby Powder or pulling fresh-baked Mexican sweet bread from the oven or hearing the sound of bare feet on hardwood floors.

I liken this connection of the senses and memory to the tasting of wine. As you take in the smell or taste of the wine, you are reminded of its basis or beginnings.  You can smell or taste the earthiness, a specific fruit, a linger of spice,  a mixture of woodsy flavors, maybe a hint of vanilla, and all of this depends on the region, its environment, its history.

I like to think of this when I lose myself in a memory brought about by a smell, taste or sound. It’s like losing yourself in glass of excellent wine or stoicly finishing the small pour of a bitter wine tasting.  Either way, I find it great therapy to get a little tipsy on memory. After all, our remembrances are part of the environment of who we are, what we remember or recall is our basis, our beginnings.



Heat related

Posted in Me with tags , , , on July 31, 2011 by redswandiaries

It’s been thundering for more than an hour, yet no rain. With each rumbling in the distance, my anxiety grows. The windows in my car are slightly open and the charcoal briquets are on the deck, but I’m afraid if I rush outside to close the windows or bring the charcoal inside the storm will dissipate and the rain won’t come.

This is what it’s come to, superstitious behavior and feeling like I’m on the precipice of weeping for days. Whenever I hear someone, usually someone older, talk about the summer they’ll never forget “when the heat was so bad birds were dropping from the sky,” I smile and think to myself how it couldn’t have been that bad, everyone likes to embellish a story or two. Not anymore.

I know for a fact I will remember this summer and how the sound of the crunching brown grass beneath my feet as I walk to the community mailbox almost makes me sick to my stomach. Or how I’ve added to my prayers each night an ardent praise for allowing our AC  to make it through another day and each morning consider rushing outside to bless the struggling unit with holy water. Or how each evening I fill my watering can and douse the diehard few flowers still vibrant in their pots on the deck, refusing to allow the Kansas drought to wither them to yellowed stems, thinking if I let them die I might wither away along with them.

I’ve now created playlists on my iPod of songs with “rain” or “storm” in the title, almost 4.5 hours of rain summoning music I keep on repeat. I watch the skies, urging any tiny cluster of clouds to blossom into thunderheads and drench the earth. On Friday, when a small shower moved over SW Wichita and passed too quickly over campus, I ran outside and stood in the parking lot, letting the warm droplets splatter my clothes, skin and frizz my hair. It was the best four minutes out of the entire day.

Until today, I’d yet to let the heat win. I”ve continued to be busy going to concerts, riding my bicycle on Friday through Old Town, sitting on the patio in the humid evenings, and venturing out in the hottest part of the day. But this morning, I didn’t feel like fighting. I chose to hide inside, blinds drawn, AC chugging, fans whirling, and read a book. I picked it from the pile of summer reads I’d intended to rally through before Labor Day weekend. I’d only read one from the stack of seven before selecting a book today by Alice Hoffman, Fortune’s Daughter. In spite of the heat, I brewed a cup of tea, sat in my favorite reading chair and opened to the first page…

“…As the temperatures hovered near one hundred degrees the days melted together until it was no longer possible to tell the difference between a Thursday and a Friday…(coyotes) followed the scent of chlorine into backyards, and some of them drowned in swimming pools edged with blue Italian tiles…tap water bubbled as it came out of the faucets; ice cubes dissolved in the palm of your hand…for miles in every direction people just snapped, lovers quarreled in bedrooms and parking lots, money was stolen, knives were pulled, friendships that had lasted a lifetime were destroyed with one harsh word. Those few people who were able to sleep were haunted by nightmares; those with insomnia drank cups of coffee and swore they smelled something sweet burning, as if a torch had been put to a grove of lemon trees sometime in the night.”

Even in books, my one true means of total escape, the Kansas heat finds me. On the opening page, I am reminded I will never forget these long days of superstition, silent prayers, awkward rain dances, and a heat worn like an itchy serape, reddening my chest and sending slow caterpillars of sweat down my back. Many years from now I’ll recall burning my fingers repeatedly on the car door at lunch and sleepless nights spent pondering a move to Colorado or Washington.

I”m just waiting for those poor birds to begin dropping from the sky.

If this is what hell feels like, I better get to church

Posted in Me with tags , , , on July 22, 2011 by redswandiaries

If one more person says “the devil called, he wants his weather back,” I’m going to scream. And scream. Or maybe cry. As a person who loathes summer, this has been absolute torture for me. I don’t like heat. I don’t like sweat. I don’t like exposed feet. I don’t like exposed body parts, especially those that should under no circumstance be allowed to see the burning light of day. Please keep your jiggling bellies, cottage cheese thighs, and pimpled, hairy backs to yourself. I beg of you.

It’s so hot, I’ve no energy to write. The creative juices have dried up, leaving large cracks and dust where imagination used to reside in pools of ambition. It’s 104 with a heat index of 107. I have a strange, dull headache that has lingered at the base of my skull for a week. I’m buying Gatorade by the cart-loads and drinking so much water throughout the day I swear I can hear sloshing in my sleep. I know it’s hot when relief comes in the form of a floaty that resembles a large diaphragm. As long as it keeps me bobbing in warm pool waters, I don’t care if  it looks like birth control for Andre the Giant’s sister.

Just how hot is it? This is from the National Weather Service:

Wichita, Kan.
  • 100-degree days through July 13: 20
  • Sunday’s high reached an incredible 111 degrees. This was the hottest day since 1980!
  • Annual average is 14 days with 100-degree heat.
  • This is already a year’s worth of 100s, with the rest of July and August still ahead!
  • Most 100-degree days in a year: 50 in 1936

Today is July 22, so add an additional nine days and we have 29 days of 100+ temperatures. Someone kill me now.

And the forecast is suicidal:

Weekly forecast

Good thing I don’t own any firearms.

As for sports, who can find any relief or relaxation watching baseball on television? The other day when Roy Halladay doubled over due to heat exhaustion, and it was a reported 112 heat index at Wrigley Field, I found no comfort in watching baseball. None. Who wants to see red-faced fans holding those pathetic plastic fans in front of their faces or players with water-soaked towels on their heads, or listen to the guys in the booth talk non-stop about the heat index and the humidity on the field?  Not me. I don’t want to be reminded of what’s just  outside my door. I knew I should’ve DVR’d the Winter X-games.

So until the temps cool to a mild 95, I won’t be doing much writing or anything else for that matter. And while I realize it is redundant, my new mantra is “It’s too damn hot.”  I’ll continue to drink too much water, keep my fridge stocked in Gatorade and keep the cooler filled with ice and beer (after all, it takes 8-24 gallons of water to brew that one pint of beer).

See you in 64 days. That would be the first day of fall.

Please, pass the glue

Posted in Me with tags , , on May 2, 2011 by redswandiaries

A criticism of my writing, other than “letting go,” is the ending. I tend to hurriedly close a story, leaving frayed threads of character, closure or plot to sway awkwardly in the breeze. I’m not sure why I tend to end stories in this manner.  I don’t believe it’s a loss of interest in the characters or story, or a lack of anything more to write, I just decide to call it good. Sometimes this method works, but the majority  of the time it fails.  What inevitably happens is I return to the story and recreate a new ending, taking my time to snip and tuck those frayed ends.  But it usually doesn’t happen right away, I tend to take my time returning to the work, unless there is a deadline involved.

It seems this inability to “stick to it” is carrying over into real life. My real life. I’ve noticed I’m lacking in stick-to-itiveness. I can’t seem to finish one thing before trudging headlong into another. And I can’t seem to figure out why this is happening. I’ve always finished what I’ve started. Always. But it seems I can barely finish a simple household chore without being distracted into downloading music or reading a magazine.

Examples: I decided to reorganize closets last fall. They are half-finished. I obtained a three-tiered mobile storage cabinet to assist with my photo sorting and scanning. It remains empty, the photos still crammed into photo boxes I bought for reorganizing. I started a new work out program after weeks and weeks of research, which only lasted about three weeks before I began to miss a workout here and there. Now I’m lucky if I complete three workouts in a week (it’s a six days a week program). Plus, I’ve yet to complete the one month beginner trial portion. Of course, this all has carried over into my writing. My novel turned into three novels, all of which I’ve abandoned at various stages while creating three different blogs I can no longer keep up with on a daily basis, which was my intent.

As of late, the only thing I’ve stuck with from beginning to end was during lent. I gave up red meat. Although, I did knowingly eat a cheeseburger within the first few weeks, but it was for a birthday and the birthday dude insisted he’d shot off a text to the Pope to get clearance for the day, and besides, WWJD? I convinced myself He’d eat a cheeseburger in honor of a friend’s birthday. Wouldn’t He?

So my latest dilemma is my lack of stick-to-itiveness. When it comes to keeping it together and finishing what I’ve started, I’ve got no glue.

And just what is the glue? Is it ambition, motivation, need? I guess once I figure out the consistency of said glue, I’ll be better equipped to find an answer. Until then, I’ll have to resolve to make a better effort of finishing a book I opened a week ago, which sits gathering dust on my bedside table. Or finish transplanting seven plants into the new pots I purchased a month ago. Or rearranging the furniture in the living room.

All these unfinished projects make it seem as if I’d suddenly disappeared, was working hard then just stopped, vanished, whether it was mid-read, mid-move, mid-senten

Comes in three’s

Posted in Me with tags , , on March 15, 2011 by redswandiaries

I know this saying is usually regarding death or disaster, but for me it also means good things, sometimes great things. Since last Thursday I have been inspired, not once, not twice, but three times. Three inspirational people. Three inspirational moments.

Beginning with this man:

This is the button I received last Thursday at the WSU Alumni Breakfast Series featuring Linwood Sexton. For those of you unfamiliar with this gentle man, he is a 1948 graduate of the University of Wichita, a standout Shocker football player who holds WSU’s career rushing record, was named All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team three times, was a charter inductee into the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, an honoree of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and a new inductee into the MVC Hall of Fame. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education, taught school at Wichita’s L’Ouverture Elementary, became a sales manager for Hiland Dairy, and is a lauded community leader who has worked tirelessly for equal opportunity and social justice. And that is just a hint of the man.

At the breakfast, he didn’t speak of his famed college football career, his local icon status, or his many community awards. He told a story. A story of a young black kid who lived in the segregated neighborhood of Wichita who could have easily grown up a bitter and angry man. He shared his experience as the only black athlete at WU and how the university took a chance giving a scholarship to a young black athlete when no one in their conference would dare. He described what it felt like to not be allowed to stay with his teammates on road trips, to be asked to leave the hotel or the restaurant because of the color of his skin, to stay at the “black only” hotel or with host black families, and how his teammates rallied around him. His teammates learned from him and he learned from his teammates. When Tulsa and Texas told the WU program not to bring their black athlete with them because they couldn’t guarantee he would make it back on the bus, the team  battled harder, winning for Linwood and the injustice of it all, taking their safety into their own hands to bring him the game winning football. He spoke of what it felt like to be invited into their homes and especially their small white towns, while he in turn invited them to his neighborhood, his home, and introduced them to his mother’s cooking. He spoke gently, with a bit of humor, and he spoke reverently, at times his voice heavy with nostalgia, and at other times he spoke firmly, punctuating his words, driving home how far we have come.

I met Linwood many years ago, introduced to him by my father,  and I wrote about their relationship on my sports blog. I knew they shared a love of sports and I knew they shared many of the same obstacles in life, so hearing Linwood’s story was like listening to my father. Their experiences were similar, especially the part where they became compassionate, gentle, yet strong men.

President Beggs declared March 10 as Linwood Sexton Day and I wore my button proudly everywhere I went, even taking the time to share Linwood’s story with those who inquired, in the check-out line at Target, with an afternoon golfer in the parking lot, and with three people at my salon. And each person I spoke with was equally touched by Linwood’s story. I already respected the man, liked him immensely, but on a crisp Thursday morning in March I loved him. Loved him for all he endured, for all he became, and for all he continues to do to ensure others understand what truly makes a man.

Now I jump to number three, which happened today. Again, at a WSU function, this time the scholarship luncheon for the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Our guest speaker was a woman, an alumna of the university, but not just any alumna. This incredible lady earned her degree at WSU at the age of 80.  Elaine Mann returned to WSU at the age of 74 to pursue her degree, something she had longed to do for many years. After a full and successful life as a teacher, a wife and mother, and an assistant to her husband and his business, she found herself at an unlikely place following his death. She found she wasn’t ready to slow down. She found she was still eager to learn, eager to experience new things, so with the support of her son and his family she enrolled at WSU. She shared how supportive the staff of WSU in the returning adult program were to her, never dismissing her. She told the story of when she called her high school and requested her transcripts how the gentleman on the other end of the line fell into a long silence when she told him she’d graduated in 1942. But when he finally spoke, he said, “Congratulations.” She laughed as she described her first day of classes and getting lost on campus and how she’d dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt, hoping to fade in with the rest of the students, forgetting her gray hair might give her away. And she reminded a former professor, who was present at the luncheon, how she had stopped after class, a sociology class where they’d spent the hour discussing sex, and told him “I should’ve taken your class 30 years ago.” She was energetic, passionate, and genuine. And she reminded her audience to never stop wanting to learn, to never think they’ve run out of time or are too old, that it is never too late to pursue a dream. By the way, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in literature and a minor in psychology. Not too bad for a woman who feared she might not be able to remember the lectures.

Now a  few steps back to Friday evening. It’s rare I am brought to tears at a concert, the kind of tears which begin in your heart, permeate your soul, and leave you in awe. But that is what happened Friday evening at Abode Venue where we met up with relatives and friends to enjoy some live music and celebrate a birthday. The David Mayfield Parade blew us away. Words cannot describe their performance. I can say they were entertaining, they were fun, they were talented, were excellent musicians, but none of that seems  right. None of those words are big enough, emotional enough, descriptive enough. None.

So I leave you with a blurry video shot by one fortunate attendee who stayed for the entire show, as did the rest of the 20 or 30 remaining. We were asked to surround the band on the dance floor for the encore, which we gladly did, never anticipating what was to come next. We were blessed. Truly.

To feel that way not once, not twice, but three times. Blessed.

The inevitable

Posted in Me with tags , , on March 7, 2011 by redswandiaries

Meltdown. What else could follow a post titled “What-if Syndrome.” It seems it was a meltdown long in the making. The thing is we all need them. We survive them. We even learn from them. We just hate them when they are happening.

I’m sure it’s the loss of control we hate the most, because that’s what meltdown’s do, they take control leaving you to cry or sputter or scream uncontrollably. I’m convinced it’s all about survival. The body, the psyche, the spirit, can only take so much, then our physical and mental state melt into one blubbering mess. It’s all good. Really.

But just like anyone, when it begins, when I can feel this sensation deep in my chest, when my mind can’t seem to maintain a simple thought, when my mouth begins to open and shut as if I’m in need of air, and I can sense the tears pooling, I become angry at myself. I’m about to lose control. And I fight it. Even though I know the inevitable will happen, I still try to fight. That’s what I do. It’s what we all do, which only makes the meltdown worse. I know if I would just let it come, let the onslaught begin, it wouldn’t last as long and I wouldn’t be so exhausted when it was all over. After all, it does end.

So it comes. The tears, the sputtering, the rambling. Woe to the loved one nearest when the gates crumble. But I’m fortunate my husband is good at recognizing the signs, although he admits this one was a little harder to read, what with my newly “diagnosed” menopause. Was this just part of the transition or was this for real? Uh oh. For real. And he’s good at letting me fall apart. Holds my hand, tries to get in a good word when he can, waits patiently, brings me kleenex, and when the rambling subsides and all that’s left are the lingering, slow-motion tears, he offers what he can and hopes will help me back on track, or at least closer to the track.  He knows better than to think he’ll offer up magic words to make everything better, but can at least try to give me something to think about while my body and mind slowly recover.

He said quite a few things to me, something about always pushing, high expectations, maintaining three blogs, putting together a family reunion, working on a novel, worrying too much, but what I remember is this, “You’ve had a lot to deal with, including changes in career, changes at home, but especially your mother’s illness and with this has come an even greater responsibility when it comes to your family. This is a whole lot to carry with a back pocket full of ambitions.” In a nutshell, yes.

Okay. So I’m not where I thought I’d be at this moment in time. But who truly is? And if you are, I’m ecstatic for you. Truly. But what I found is my post touched a lot of women, many of whom are feeling the same as I am, many suffering through the symptoms of What-if Syndrome. That in itself, the comments, emails and messages, made the meltdown worthwhile. It’s funny how sometimes we think we are alone in our suffering, that no one could possibly understand what we’re going through, when someone says aloud, or in this case writes publicly, what they are feeling and boom. Not alone. So with each response I could feel my sense of balance return. It always does.

Am I back on track? Not quite, but I’m close. I’m writing again. Still caring for my family, but with an even deeper sense of pride at being given such responsibility. I’m still questioning my career path and that may take some time, but at least I’m okay with the questioning and I’m totally enjoying the research of new possibilities.

My advice is this: Don’t feel guilty for questioning. I think it’s when we stop questioning or stop searching, we lose the fight. And when you feel the meltdown coming, make sure someone you love is near, to just hold your hand or the box of kleenex, and to offer words of comfort, even if all you get from their attempt is a simple word or sentence, but just enough to keep you warm as you recover.

And remember, you’re not crazy, you’re not weak, you’re not alone. We never are. I have all those wonderful women who responded to thank for the reminder. I needed it.

WIS: What-if Syndrome

Posted in Me, Uncategorized with tags , , on February 25, 2011 by redswandiaries

I’ve never been one of those people to always think “what if…” But as of lately, WIS has reared its ugly head, invaded my thoughts, and sent me into a tail-spin of sorts. I guess I’ve been coming down with it for a few weeks, but after attending a scholarship luncheon for the WSU College of Engineering I became totally disabled with the disease. Yes, I was inspired by these students. They were engaged, passionate, grateful, and smart. I was especially taken by the four returning adult students, one of which had spent the last 13 years pursuing her dream of being an engineering graduate. They decided what our society labels as “middle age” as not so middle, but more as a next-step age.

That’s when my fever started. My brain began assembling all of the what-if’s in my life, beginning with my decision not to attend the two colleges I was accepted my senior year of high school: Loyola University-Chicago and Stanford. I wasn’t ready for college life.  I wanted to see what it was like to just live, be an “adult,” work my way through. Then the what-if’s jumped to ten years ago when I made the decision to return to school. What if I hadn’t changed my major one and a half years in? What if I’d stuck with dental hygiene? What if I hadn’t decided I wanted to teach English at university level? What if my husband hadn’t lost his job in ’07 and I had to give up my GTA? What if…what if…what if…

I despise those two words. They’ve caused me to question where I am, something I haven’t done since I turned 30. The day of my 30th birthday, I began to panic. What was I doing with my life? What was I thinking? Soon after, actually three years later, I got married and enrolled at WSU. Now, here I am feeling the same as I did fifteen years ago. I don’t believe it’s an age thing. I’m good with 45. Really. But it’s like something is not quite right, maybe missing. But what?

So I began analyzing my job. I love being at WSU. I love meeting people who feel the same about the university, learning their stories and sharing mine. I’ve met some amazing people, witnessed some incredible accomplishments, and helped some people through very difficult times through memorials.  When I take pause, I do love my job. But I can’t help but feel boxed in. That this is it. And my writing? It’s become a back-burner priority, put on simmer and left to evaporate slowly.

What to do? Do I look for something that allows me more time to write? Do I buck up and force the time? Do I give up writing? What? I have no answers, but I’ve begun the search, taken notes, contemplated. Will I cure my disease? More than likely, and  the percentage is high, the fever will break and I’ll realize how stupid I’ve been. But until then, I’ll continue to wonder.

It reminds me of that scene in “Pretty in Pink” when Annie Potts’ character, Iona,  describes to Molly Ringwald how a friend of hers always has this feeling something’s  missing, “She checks her pockets, checks her purse, counts her kids, but nothing’s gone. She decided it’s side effects from not going to prom.”

I went to prom.