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When I was a kid, I developed an obsession with the 1955 movie of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!. I don’t actually know why this movie was so interesting to me – I can’t even remember when I first became fascinated but I do know I drove my family crazy by playing that VHS almost daily. And I also remember that even then I had no interest in the character of ‘Laurie’, the female romantic lead. Besides one empowering moment of being a strong independent woman in “Many A New Day,” she generally is kind of a wimp. Given the expected roles of women and the gender norms of the days in which both the Broadway production and the movie were made, I shouldn’t be surprised that ‘Laurie’ was young and pretty and looking for a man to complete her, to dream only of making a marriage and of which handsome man will bid on her pretty picnic basket. In popular culture at those times, the characters that were instead allowed to be strong, independent females were usually older, widowed or spinstered women who could offer the sage wisdom of their years and experience.
Enter the character of ‘Aunt Eller’ in Oklahoma!. Even as a kid I recognized that she wasOklahoma_M (2) just plain amazing! She gets to be sassy and sarcastic, she gets to two-step with the cowboys and look at dirty pictures with them and wave a gun at the town leaders. She gets to be kind and loving to her niece and strong and supportive when things go bad. She gets the funny lines, the scene-saving moments, and the homespun charm of a lovable character.
When my high school put on the production of Oklahoma! in my senior year, I was devastated to learn that I had to choose between the honor of representing my region on a trip to the Model United Nations in The Hague, Netherlands OR to fulfill my dream of bringing ‘Aunt Eller’ to the stage. As my father loves to tell the story, I cried for weeks over this horrible event. In hindsight, I am eternally grateful that I took the chance to travel abroad and to have that incredible and unique lifetime experience in the Netherlands and Russia – BUT I can admit that I also regret missing the chance to be ‘Eller’ for even just those few months.
That regret stems mostly from the fact that now, as an adult, I can understand and honor the type of character and the type of woman that ‘Aunt Eller’s’ creators crafted. As a grown woman with more of that famous life experience and less of the high school naivete, I can more deeply appreciate the strength of this character.
Like her counterpart in Carousel, ‘Nettie Fowler’, ‘Eller’ is the foundation of the town and the support system to whom our lovelorn-clueless-tragic female lead turns to when life falls apart in the climactic moments of the show. Her advice when a character dies and threatens the beginning of ‘Laurie’ and ‘Curly’s’ marriage is:
“If you cain’t fergit, jist don’t try to, honey. Oh, lots of things happen to folks. Sickness, er bein’ pore and hungry even-bein’ old and afeared to die. That’s the way it is-cradle to grave. And you can stand it. They’s one way. You gotta be hearty, you got to be. You cain’t deserve the sweet and tender in life less’n you’re tough.”
As in Carousel, once more, a Rodgers and Hammerstein character reminds us to hold our heads high and to keep pushing forward when life gets difficult.
But to me, the quintessential Eller shines through in this one simple line: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.” It has taken me a lifetime to learn this lesson well, to realize that I don’t live my life for anyone else but me. I FINALLY have grasped the concept that no one, NO ONE, can sit in judgement of me or my life choices. I’m never going to be a millionaire or a Broadway star or a Rhodes scholar. I’m going to live a quiet life and hopefully make a small difference to someone. I don’t have anything that makes me special or noteworthy – I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else. But I am who I am and the older I get, the more comfortable I have become in my own skin. I have my scars and a chip on my shoulder and a list of mistakes that is 9 miles long. But I will no longer allow anyone to put me down or say that I’m not good enough – I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.
So thank you ‘Aunt Eller’ and thank you Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for creating happy moments from my childhood and learning moments in my adulthood.

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I write today in memory of a truly good human being named Brian. I write today in memory of a quiet and thoughtful young man – I think he only ever spoke about 100 words to me in the 6 years I knew him – but that beautiful brain of his was always working. I write today in 00f1941db3c9c3a5f36a38418b9b6a25_20170427memory of a talented ceramics artist – his works were an amazing mix of abstract and whimsy, color and form  – just like the artist himself. I write today in memory of a ukulele prodigy – he could randomly strum out tunes with a natural ear that made mediocre musicians like me jealous. I write today in memory of this strong young man with a quirky and unique sense of self – from his cheerful skull-and-crossbones jammy pants to his big charming smile, he embraced being different and special. I write today in memory of an avid outdoorsman, whose love of camping and scouting made him strong and independent, perfectly content in the silence of the woods or the beach.

One year ago today, we lost this special young man as he passed into paradise. After surviving one serious car accident two years prior (thanks to the staff of Shock Trauma and his own amazing will to recover) this beautiful human being spent 2 years trying to recover his memory, his happiness, his mental and physical health, and his newly-graduated-just-heading-out-into-the-real-world life. He struggled so hard to get back to himself and he was on a good path. And then the Lord called him home. I watched his family and friends shatter as they tried to make sense of the loss. And yet I was so comforted in knowing that he is in Heaven, watching over us and just shaking his head in that way that he had.

Today, I want to remember this wonderful young man for what he was – a truly good human being. Throughout the struggle of his last 2 years, he tried so hard to be strong and happy. He didn’t want his demons and his pain to beat him. His legacy, I hope, won’t be one of pain or anger. I hope that we all can remember his sweet smile, his artistic soul, his boundless love, his individuality, his strength. And so I pen this small tribute to a really good kid…

Nineteen years ago today, I was in college when the tragic events of Columbine High School unfolded with the eyes of the world watching. I know it wasn’t the first horrific act of terrorism in the world – but it was among the first that my generation had ever witnessed. I remember watching in horror the footage of high school kids, themselves columbine_window_escapejust a few years younger than me, jumping out of windows and running from their school covered in blood and mute in terror. Our tears flowed as security footage showed teachers throwing themselves in front of students to shield them from bullets. Shocked, we watched news footage of law enforcement teams struggling to respond to what was then unplanned-for and unheard-of attacks against children. We organized vigils on campus to raise awareness of the violence that had befallen our generation. We sold ribbons [one of which to this day adorns my work bag], to raise money to send to the fund organized to pay for funerals for the fallen students and teacher. We tried in vain to wrap our young minds around the senseless violence, the hate, the anger, the bloodshed.

Almost twenty years later, we now sit in the aftermath of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And the same feelings pour out – fear for our children, sadness that our world has devolved even further. I shudder to think of what kids must feel when they go to school now, wondering if one day one of their classmates is going to go off the deep end and bring an assault rifle in his tuba case. These children are now organizing walkouts of the classroom to raise awareness for their fear and their desire to be safe – further, and to my mind much more aggressive, steps down the pathway that I started down all those years ago on my college campus. From candlelight vigils to protest walkouts, young people are the ones who are begging adults to take note of their fear, their sadness, their desire for a better world. I just hope that those same kids that are walking out are now also making pledges to be kinder, more giving, more loving human beings. I hope cyber-bullying and “Mean Girls” will become distant memories. Just as we should have done after Columbine, we have to teach our children how to be loving, functioning adults who don’t need guns to solve their problems.

Unfortunately, from Columbine to Parkland, there have been hundreds of mass shootings in between. All perpetrated by people who are seriously mentally ill, monumentally angry, and completely lacking in conscience and moral guidance. We, as a society, now see these shootings on such a regular basis that I’m afraid we are becoming complacent to them. I fear they no longer strike the fear and horror in our hearts like Columbine did. How can we accept these acts of hate as everyday events?

I recently went through a training with our town police representatives on active shooter responses. In our world today, after September 11th and all of these domestic terrorist attacks, I no longer train just for everyday house fires or car accidents – now we have to drill on active assailants and mass acts of terror. Hearing some of the unedited 9-1-1 calls and radio transmissions from Columbine, I was physically ill with the sounds of the abject terror and bewildered shock in those kids’ voices. And those same scenes are just replaying and rerunning at every one of those mass shooting incidents. And now to think that teachers are having to be trained in defense techniques and combat skills to protect kindergarteners from lunatics with rifles! What is wrong with our world? How can we fix this? The same questions that ran through our minds 19 years ago after Columbine are still begging for answers now.

When the cracks first began appearing in my marriage, a male friend of mine tried to help me understand the male psyche in a way that would sink into my confused mind. His advice to me was that Male Brains are Like Waffles, Female Brains are Like Spaghetti.** 

At the time I didn’t fully grasp what the hell he was talking about. Yes, men like to eat. Yes, men can eat endless amounts of carbs and sweets and never gain an ounce. What the hell, Rob, how is that going to help my marriage? 

13658370_1177496062280931_1439568095_nWhat he meant is this: men think of things in tidy little squares. They are able to compartmentalize not only their feelings but also their experiences, their reactions, their entire life. They can keep everything in tidy little boxes and only tackle the sections that they need to at any given time. They can even keep the syrup contained in the areas where they need to.

Women, on the other hand, are a jumbled bowl of pasta, with each strand tangled up in another one and covered 1408069256188totally in sauce. Emotions, experiences, daily moments, they all jumble together and make one massive meal. We aren’t able to separate things out as easily and so can often get confused on what part of life is what.

And yes, males and females are of the same species (follow the metaphor here, we’re both carbs) but are very different. Each are individual creations that can display dizzying arrays of variations (chocolate chip, coconut, plain with butter, pesto sauce, marinara, blond, brunette, thin, fluffy, tall, short, etc). Yet we have to remember that each is undeniably and fundamentally different from one another – which needs to be respected and handled. We need learn to communicate with the other type of food as best we can and to understand that we may never fully comprehend them. A big syrupy strawberry waffle may never be able to understand the bowl of spaghetti ala vodka sauce. But together they’d make a damn good (albeit high calorie) meal. A happy mating of carbs – and humans.

**[I know now that he actually read this theory in a book called “Men Are Like Waffles–Women Are Like Spaghetti: Understanding and Delighting in Your Differences” by Pam and Bill Farrel but at that time I was giving him credit for total brilliance. Definitely read the book, its extremely enlightening and very helpful in opening lines of communication.] 

The Slut Phase

When a person, male or female, goes through a divorce, I am convinced that they go through The Slut Phase of their lives. Now this is my own personal theory and based only on anecdotal evidence observed by me as I have watched countless friends and relations go through the breakdowns of their marriages – and I myself lived it. So there is no real science to this theory, only personal observations. I’m not particularly proud of this portion of my life – as I would guess most people aren’t in hindsight – but it happens and if you’re living it, you’re not alone.

When you are newly-separated and/or newly-divorced, you will flirt with, bat your eyelashes at, and ultimately sleep with pretty much anybody that crosses your path that takes an interest. That other person may be plug ugly or stupid or mean or crazy or have a prison record or be juggling 15 other girlfriends. But if they want to talk to you, you will jump at that chance for attention and affection.

I think it has to do with self esteem. And self worth, And self confidence. All of which take major bloody blows in the process of a divorce. Especially, god forbid, if you are not the one initiating the process. You feel hopeless and worthless, like you have lost any appealing qualities that you might have once had. You doubt your attractiveness, your brains, your ability to ever catch the eye of a decent person ever again. In short, you take what you can get and you take a lot of it.

But, rest assured, that phase passes. You wear yourself out, you get bored with the shallowness of it all, 41Ghi3tagLLyou open your eyes to the crazies and the losers. You discover there’s still a lot of yourself left after all – and you want more out of your life. And, unless you harbored a Sense of Slut prior to being in the initial relationship (which, as we all know, some people do), you step out of the Slut Phase and move onto the next chapter.

I was a teenager in the 1990s, an experience that I cannot describe to you – you have to have lived it to truly understand it – but that’s a subject for another day. Where I was going with this thought is that as a teenager, you’re looking for guidance, for a way to frame and structure your world that makes sense to you. Thank God that I was a country kid and that my generation had a poet, a sage, a wise soul named Garth Brooks to give us that much-needed guidance. As one of those terribly awkward, nerdy, bookish teenagers, Garth-Brooks1I needed to figure out how to keep an open heart and a strong soul in the face of shallow high school concerns. Enter Mr. Brooks and his three chords and the truth. Words of wisdom indeed….

♦ The Change – As long long as one heart still holds on / Then hope is never really gone” and “But it’s not the world that I am changing / I do this so, this world will know that it will not change me.”

♦ Unanswered Prayers – Just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care / Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

♦ We Shall Be Free – When the last thing we notice is the color of skin /And the first thing we look for is the beauty within” and “When we’re free to love anyone we choose / When this world’s big enough for all different views / When we all can worship from our own kind of pew / Then we shall be free.”

♦ If Tomorrow Never Comes –Tell that someone that you love / Just what you’re thinking of/ If tomorrow never comes.”

♦ Do What You Gotta Do – There ain’t nobody in this world / That’s gonna do it for you / Do what you gotta do.”

♦ To Make You Feel My Love – The storms are raging on the rollin’ sea / Down on the highway of regret / The winds of change are blowing wild and free / But you ain’t seen nothing like me yet.”

♦ The River – oh hell, just the entire song…listen here

 

And now that I am an adult and have actually lived and experienced some of the difficult situations that Mr. Brooks was crooning about, his words still guide me and reassure me that I’m not the only one who has suffered a heartbreak and a rebuilding….

♦ Every Now and Then – “I love my life and I’ve never trade / Between what you and me had and the life I’ve made” 

♦ I Don’t Have to Wonder Anymore – “And I still don’t know / Why things happened like they did / But I parked that old pickup / On that lonesome river bridge / I took your ring from my pocket / And I held it one last time / Watched that diamond sparkle /I drew back and I let her fly / And in less time than it takes to tear to fall / Oh that old ring went under / Lord, and now it’s gone for sure / And I don’t have to wonder anymore.”

♦ She’s Gonna Make It – “And you know it’s not like she’s forgot about him / She’s just dealing with the pain.”

♦ Beaches of Cheyenne – “He promised her he’d turn out / Well it turned out that he lied /And their dreams that they’d been livin’ / In the California sand / Died right there beside him in Cheyenne.”

♦ Cowboy Song – “He’s just chasin’ what he really loves / And what’s burnin’ in his soul / Wishin’ to God that he’d been born a hundred years ago.”

♦ In Another’s Eyes – “Oh in another’s eyes / Staring back at me / I see a sinking soul, trying desperately/ To turn the tide, before it dies.”

♦ Ask Me How I Know – You make all the rules, you’re set in your ways / You gotta have your freedom, you gotta have your space.”

♦ Learning to Live Again – I’m gonna smile my best smile and I’m gonna laugh like it’s going out of style.”

♦ How You Ever Gonna Know – “You know failure isn’t failure / If a lesson from it’s learned / I guess love would not be love / Without a risk of being burned.”

♦ The Dance – Our lives are better left to chance / I could have missed the pain / But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

 

So no matter your age or what stage of life you’re in, if you’re feeling lost or in need of some guidance, find the Garth Brooks station on Amazon or (for a truly 90s hair entertaining experience), search him on YouTube and watch the old videos. Let some good old country music wisdom guide you…

 

[on a random side note, the exception to his brilliant writing rule is “Cowboy Cadillac” – it’s a catchy tune but damn those lyrics are dumb, is he writing about his woman or his truck?]

[a second random side note, I admit that I have had to overcome some disillusion and disappointment about Mr. Brooks as a human being and a husband as his first marriage ended and his relationship with Trisha Yearwood has unfolded.  It’s always hard to watch your icons reveal their flawed humanity – and in light of my own personal feelings about infidelity – it was a difficult pill to swallow.]

Have you ever had a profound, life-changing event over a cup of coffee? I have – which I know must seem very odd to those of you out there who do not have that special place in your hearts for caffeine. Of course, anyone that knows my mother would not at all be surprised that her little daughter apple did not fall far from the coffee-flavored tree – my mom is as loyal to her coffeepot as she is to my dad, maybe even a little more to the coffee since Dad’s only been her husband since 1966. We used to joke with waitresses at restaurants that they could just run a central IV line to my mom to save them time and energy in refilling her cup. So, with that caffeine addiction running true in my genes, no one should be surprised that I am finding philosophy in coffee.

Ok, so anyway, back to my profound, life-changing moment. During one of my regular runs to Dunkin’ Donuts to grab an iced coffee (one of the few edible/potable vestiges of 1xRun_Denial_Restoration-Sale_Limited-Time-Only_24x24_Web01.jpgmy former pre-surgery life that I still desperately cling to), I was hemming and hawing over the new “limited time only” flavor selections. I just HAD to try that flavor because it was going away, what if I missed something important, what if there was some goodness that expired because I was too afraid to try something new….what if…what if?

So here’s my epiphany: Life in general should be lived like it’s Limited Time Only. Try those new flavors or that new type of ethnic food, check those items off the bucket list, embark on a new adventure, sign up for that tap dance class, travel to Scotland, learn how to sky dive. Do all those things that you want to do – because there is no guarantee of tomorrow. We, as humans, do have an expiration date so we need to enjoy our one trip on the planet. Live your life to its fullest because it is Limited Time Only!