Tracing the Connections

I can’t imagine what life would’ve been like if it weren’t for all the connections I’ve made over the years. Like Simon and Garfunkel used to say, “No man is an island.”

In social work, mapping out the current connections for a person is called a Life Model, and by diagramming out the people involved in a person’s life gives a good representation to work from as you explore the various positive – and negative – influences that motivate behavior. It’s working from the outside in.

Psychologists, in contrast, work from the inside out, and trace motivation behind behaviors from internal processes. How the person interprets and integrates the various stimuli occurring in life will determine how the person will most likely behave.

I tend to lean toward psychology’s theories, without ignoring sociology, though both leave me with a flat aftertaste. Something is missing; something important; something profound. Psychology and sociology are so busy arguing with each other that neither take into consideration the Big Picture: the meaning of life.

Add Darwinian anthropology into the picture, and, instead of pulling everything together with its biological predeterminations, you end up with a mountain of empty ideologies and theories that only pull us further from defining meaning.

This cognitive dissonance wouldn’t exist if monotheistic religions hadn’t played such a large role in a tortuous, imperialistic, inhumane history for the last 2,000 years. Religions would rather argue with psychology, sociology and anthropology, to discredit in full opposition. Instead of pulling us together, instead of helping us understand, religions have kept us apart and kept us from discovering the meaning of life.

Yes, the thought is huge. It’s abstract and has the feel of disconnection; too big to have an influence on or be influenced by a single person. But, is it really?

I broke through that disconnected feeling when in a class about AIDS. For every person you sleep with, they said, you sleep with every person that person slept with. The poster completely covered with all the stick figures with lines drawn between them spoke loud and clear: We are all connected.

Now, imagine what that poster would look like if it were a line drawn between you and every single person you ever interacted with during your lifetime and every single person they interacted with during their lifetime. Oh yes, we are all connected!

Eventually, all the lines come right back to you.

So, you see, no man is an island. It’s just not possible. We are all connected.


A Girl's Gotta Dream

I still remember the times I would wander through the country side as a small girl, half in a dream, and imagine riding a horse instead of walking. Sometimes, I'd run as fast as I could, just to feel my hair blow back. If I found a downed tree, I'd sit on it as if it was a horse and allow myself to go deeper into my imagination.

One day, I went with a friend and her family down to an old farm in Pennsylvania. Back in those days, you could see miles of rock wall fences and farms without indoor plumbing. It was an amazing old place. It was falling apart and in horrible disrepair and I loved it. Once you maneuvered around the hole in the entrance way, there was a huge room filled with old photos and furniture, and it smelled of hundreds of years of history. It wasn't difficult for my imagination to take me back to the 1800's while at that farm, and I was living my dreams.

But, what caught my breath in my chest was this man that rode up on a big, dancing, sweating black horse when we pulled into the farm's driveway. The horse was on fire, its feet danced, the nostrils flared red inside, and the man sat that awesome horse like it was nothing. Just new to my training bra, I fell into my first crush with a bang. The sight of that horse and the man riding it was worth years of fantasies and dreams.

A few years later, I rode that horse. If you handled her with a heavy hand, she'd jig herself into that same sweating tizzy every time. When I got on her, her head dropped like an old nag and she plodded along like she was half asleep. I've always had soft hands, though I didn't know it back then, and I was a little disappointed that she didn't act all fiery for me.

Still, the Knight in Shining Armor dream was one I could swear existed in reality. I saw it with my own eyes! One day, a man on a huge horse would take me back to my fantasies and dreams. I'd hear the clank of the bit, the squeak of the leather, I'd smell the warmth of the horse and feel its power as the wind would blow through my hair.

Oh yes, that would be worth shaving my legs for...


It's All in the Contrast

There's a reason why people come into your life.

No matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, every encounter is an opportunity to learn. It's a chance to expand your perspective, perhaps find an answer to an old nagging question in your mind, or maybe to increase awareness about yourself. It's a chance to compare and contrast, to confront the old and replace it with new.

It's easy to miss these moments that are loaded with opportunity. But, it's all there, waiting for you to open yourself up to them. Life will give you an infinite number of chances until you do. Some of these lessons are tough ones, filled with pain and anguish. Some of the lessons point out the things you need to work on. And some are overflowing with joy. All happen for a reason. It's what you need at that moment to grow, to become more alive.

Once you choose to open yourself up to all that life offers you, the contrasts become more apparent. While looking through the lens of a camera, vision is limited to the tiny frame that eliminates distractions and enhances the details that were all but invisible before. Those details are the life, the nuts and bolts, the particles that all work together to create.

The photo captures the creation. It is beautiful and intricate. It touches the soul.

Then, another takes that photo and enhances it by adding even more, adding a different perspective, adding a piece of self to the beauty and intimacy. It is no longer just a photo. It is nature in all its wonder, it is the inseparability of all illustrated in one captured moment. It is two together, as one, creating much more. It ignites the spirit.

Does the fear of pain and anguish prevent you from experiencing the rest? It's the contrast of pain and joy that pushes open the curtains you hide behind. Trust yourself, you are strong.

You are never given more than you can handle.


Thoughts About City vs Small Town Life

This morning, I read somewhere about a new author writing a vampire series with a twist - the 'scene' is a small southern town. The author thought it unique to put these mystical creatures in a small town instead of foggy London or damp New Orleans; so much so that she believes the vampires are more realistic because they shop at Wal-Mart and speak with a back-woodsy drawl.

I found the whole thing to be a large city dweller's stereotypical misinterpretation of what it's like to live in a small, rural town.

Way back when I was a little kid of 5, my family moved from a small city into a rural town that was a 15 minute drive away. This little town had two bars, a grocery store, a drug store, a gas station, and its own school system. In the 1960s, you didn't have to worry about locking your doors or be concerned about letting the kids roam the neighborhood. Mothers yelled out the door when it was time for supper.

I bought the country house I grew up in and raised my son there, always hanging on to the belief that my safe childhood neighborhood would be a safe one for my son too. It wasn't. By the mid 1980s, you had to lock your doors - to the house and to the car parked in the driveway - and the chip/seal road became a racetrack for a lot more cars in one day than what drove past that same house in half a year only 25 years before. The neighbors weren't the same and they had no interest in knowing each other. It was impossible for my son to enjoy the same freedom I had as a child.

Without realizing it, I've spent my adult life seeking that same safe and peaceful environment that I enjoyed as a child. I roamed fields, climbed mountains and waded in creeks. If I wasn't on my own two feet, I was riding my horse exploring those same fields, mountains and creeks. I grew up with a love and respect for Mother Nature that is totally alien to today's kids.

That alienation from our true environment is now even more distanced by the disillusions of what life is like in a small town now. I've seen quite a bit as a reporter in a mostly rural county to be able to describe fundamental differences that go beyond stereotypes.

Though the city is small when compared with the likes of NY City, Detroit, Denver, Dallas, the largest city in this county is also the county seat. There is a large police department, the Sheriff's Department, a sizable jail. two large school systems, a community college and a major university within the city limits. The city council concentrates on attracting business and developing recreation and tourism features to attract industry. There is an emphasis on collecting taxes, policing and increasing the revenue stream.

Not 10 minutes away is a small town that has one policeman, a volunteer fire department, a two-room city hall and a new open field destined to become a community park. The city council and mayor are older people who all grew up in this small town and chose to live their entire lives there. They know the history of the town and know the families that live there by name. This city council concentrates on fixing the railroad crossing so that the elderly gentleman that lives on the other side won't have to drive the long way around to get to his doctor appointments. They quickly decide on speed bumps to be installed on streets where little children live so that they can play in their front yards safely. Their emphasis is on building public restrooms at the park, offering training seminars for the volunteer firemen and fixing the broken swing on the park's swingset. The city budget is so tiny that it barely pays the electric bill for city hall, yet everyone in town will volunteer if something needs to be done.

Yes, most shop at Wal-Mart, some have a deep southern accent, some commute to Little Rock to work, some have left and came right back, and many are educated, successful, wealthy and high-level state politicians that live next door to the actors and actresses that have chosen small town, rural America to be their home.

Me, I can't handle the sterile anonymity of city living. I was not comfortable not knowing the names of the people on the other side of my back yard fence. Every sound heard can only be an intruder, a rapist or a thief, and driving down the road became prep for a demolition derby.

Here, my neighbors keep an eye on my horse when I'm at work, they watch for me to come home to invite me over for a glass of iced tea and supper if I'm of a mind to eat. Their phone number is saved in my cell phone and visa versa. We watch out for each other, wave with a smile as we pass each other, and stop to chat when we see someone out mowing the yard. Kids of all ages ride 4-wheelers up and down the road and stop to pet neighbors' dogs, cats and even goats. They all smile and wave as they go by.

I live by myself, but I'm never alone. It's safe and peaceful here. And my front door is never locked.

Oh, no vampires live here either.


Tell Me About You

"So, tell me about yourself."

Tell you what about myself? Where should I start? What do I say? runs through my head in no particular order, in a panic, trying to glean from the facial expressions what's expected of me. As many times as I've been asked that dreadful question, I have no recollection of how I ever answered. I was always too busy stumbling and stuttering; so I'd punt. Which means I'd fall back on humor, which never came out right. If I was feeling particularly cocky, I'd deflect with "What would you like to know?"

How do I reply? Should I say,

"I'm a brutally honest sincere old lady person that knows everything is wise and mouthy outspoken, who calls the kettle black says it like it is values honesty and hates liars. I'm a has been an accomplished musician, a struggling successful writer, a wannabe published photographer, who enjoys horseback riding when I can get my butt up there and motivating kicking people to strive for their best."

I inevitably roll my eyes hearing that fluff come out of my mouth. Oh yeah, it's me, but only a very small - and edited - part. Let me rattle on long enough, and I'm sure I'll put my foot in my mouth sooner or later.

It's the formal, "stuffed shirt" answers that aren't always the easy ones to come up with on the fly. "Canned" responses don't seem to fly either. Not for me. So much depends on the moment, the person asking, the setting, the distractions, the.... If I can get away with it, I'll change the subject.

How do you answer? Tell me about you.


Telling is Trampling

I've had this thing, see, for as long as I can remember. It really pisses me off to be told to do or not do something. It can be about anything, insignificant or major, and I go immediately into fight mode. If you ask me, then I will bend over backwards to do, but tell me and you get the finger. Oh, I have tempered the visible reactions quite a bit over the years, but what I feel inside is still very much alive and well. I let it be well known what I feel and advise everyone to just ask, not tell.

If I had to boil it down, I'd have to say it's a matter of acceptance. If you accepted me for who and what I am, then you would ask. I'd know you have that basic regard for me and I would have no qualms about doing what you ask. Those that tell me what to do couldn't give a rat's ass about what I think and feel, and those are the ones that I don't accept any more than they do me. It took many years learning and practicing, but diplomacy dictates a poker face and walking through the nearest exit.

I have no idea if how I feel is shared by others. I'm curious. The evidence is inconclusive.

For example, I live in a "dry" county. The only place you can get an alcoholic beverage in this county is at a VFW or Moose Club, and not all of them, only a few. From what I can tell, the people that do indulge once in awhile drive two counties away for beer, wine, mixed drink ingredients or for a night out.

Personally, I don't care. I've had a bottle of gin in my cupboard for well over a year now, and it'll be there for years to come. But, it is there if I get a notion to have a drink.

True, I am smack-dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. There seems to be a church for every 20 people, there are so many. Wouldn't it be relatively safe to assume that, living in said Bible Belt, that people here would be more apt to be good people? At the top of my list of what it means to be "a good person" are things like honesty, respect, acceptance and nonjudgmentalism.

Taken from a different angle, I don't know that there is that much of a difference in DWI's or alcohol related fatalities in this "dry" county. I don't think so. The schools still do their DARE programs, and there are rehab programs in the county. So, what's the point in declaring it "dry"?

If I chose to go out for a night on the town, I'd have to drive an hour down to Little Rock. If I indulged too much, the risk to me and other drivers on the road has increased significantly more than if I just had to drive into my little town. Right? Just who is supposed to be protected here?

Acceptance here means joining up with those that tell others what they can and cannot do. "They" do this from the camaraderie of the congregation, from inside the church they go to every Wednesday and Sunday. As it turns out, the majority of church goers are the wealthy, well-to-do and the politicians - who snub their noses at anyone not meeting their expectations. Trust me, they all drink!

Someone commented, "if they took a vote today on this 100 year old ruling, this county would not be dry." He's probably right. The outrage over the state approving a lottery pretty much proves it. The voters voted.

You see, this hypocrisy is the one thing that I could never relate to or understand. It is never right to trample on another's free will or freedom of choice. Never. God doesn't. Somehow, I doubt that's part of the sermon. That sermon is in the trash can along with the one teaching personal responsibility.


A Crazy Stormy Friday and A Thanks

"The National Weather Service says this is a dangerous storm. If you are in its path, prepare immediately for damaging winds, destructive hail and deadly cloud to ground lightning. People outside should move to a shelter, preferably inside a strong building but away from windows."

This is the weather alert that showed on everyone's computer screens and mobile phones. Traveling from West to East, the majority of us worried about home, frantically calling teenagers to get into storm cellars, mothers to stay home, all the while watching the giant trees right outside the front door of our office building bend over almost sideways, spewing leaves and branches everywhere. Someone's weather bug sent out a tornado warning that sent us scurrying to shut down computers and herd clients into the safest part of the building, which is an eight foot long hallway. I sat at my desk. The hallway was full. My son was texting me breaking news as it came across his TV screen.

We heard everything, all the damage done, the tornado touch-downs and freaked because it was all too close to home. Beebe had three tornadoes, in Conway (photo above) the high winds flipped cars over. In Atkins, the pickle factory, once again, was heavily damaged. Tornadoes were sighted in Higginson and Kensett and one touched down in Bradford. The tornado warning lasted a half hour, and it was a long, long half hour.

45 minutes until closing time, and that was an even longer time to have to wait. Would my home still be standing? Would my horse still be in the pasture? Would my dogs be OK? I couldn't get home fast enough.

Coming up the road to home, I see tree leaves littering the ground. A neighbor's canopy set up over a produce stand was down. But, three houses away, I could see Odin, his head down and grazing, his tail swishing away.

Pulling up to my driveway, I see a much anticipated package - laying on the ground in front of the mailbox, soaked and mud-spattered. The dogs were all running up the driveway to greet me, Odin was just fine, but the relief faded as I bent down to pick up that saturated manilla envelope containing professionally printed photos. Those photos are a gift, and my heart sank as the envelope's retained water drained out in a stream.

Oh so gently I carried that envelope inside to lay on the kitchen counter. The paper was all but translucent and all but dissolved.  A gentle touch split the paper apart to reveal - a plastic liner! No, it wasn't entirely intact. The photos were wet along one edge. But, they were not damaged!

Once I got over the relief of the photos surviving the horrendous storm, I took a good look at them. They are prints of photos I took, two photos I think are some of my best, and they are amazing. The colors are vibrant, true and intense. I've never seen prints of photos this good.

Thank you, Michael. Thank you!

This was one wild and crazy stormy Friday...


Put the Words Together and Everything Fits

If I'm not reading, I'm writing.

There was this book in my elementary school library called "Tawny's Trick," by Ina B Forbus. I kept that book signed out the entire school year, read it over and over, and was very upset when the book wasn't there in the library the next school year.

I would read that book, then write about how I thought it would feel if I were the little girl in the story, paralyzed by polio, endlessly looking up at the ceiling from an iron lung, with a horse outside the bedroom window. No matter how hard I tried, none of the words I came up with truly empathized with that little girl. But, it deepened my love for horses even more. Not only is there an unparalleled sense of freedom with a horse, there is a pull, a draw, a heartstring that goes beyond the physical sensations. I couldn't articulate that when I was young, but I felt it.

Later on, Stephen King's "The Stand" grabbed my imagination. The what if is huge in that book. I still read that book about once a year. It's not difficult at all to experience the experience, so to speak, and the reconstruction of society is as plausible as it can get. The possibilities are endless. That book launched me into thousands of explorations of interpersonal and social interactions. So did the magic of "The Green Mile."

I feel what I read. I get my mind out of the way and feel. Even the cold, dry, hard descriptions in college textbooks touched my heart in one way or another. I had to feel to understand.

Life on the outside of my internal world takes its toll. In order to interpret circumstances and interactions, I write. Putting it in words slows it all down, all those emotions and overwhelming thoughts, and once it's down on paper, I can put it aside just like any other book I've read. Putting it all into words tames the beast and it's all good. I've kept all my journals, but I've never reread them. To read all those words, all those feelings would free the beast again.

Yes, writing, the act and process of writing, results in integration. It's learned, it's cataloged, and it becomes part of the sieve everything thereafter is sifted through to integrate. It's owned, it's real and it's individual.

It is individual.

A classroom of students in a history class will all come away with very different interpretations of the importance, the causes and effects, and the impact of any given lesson. If a preacher says the word "God," every person listening will envision something totally different. It is all individual, and all abstract.

Reading and writing is the bridge, the creator of similarities and empathy. Like everything, it is subjective. It is unique. Realizing this, egoism, discrimination, bigotry and devaluation disappear. Without the sharing, we would be alone.

We are all individual and we are all one. Everything fits.


A Conversation With My Heart

Well, hello! How are you? It's so good to hear from you again!

So, things are going OK for you? That's good. That's good.

I know we haven't exactly talked lately, but I do notice you, you know. I mean, lately, you've been keeping me running, up all night, antsy, close to nasty, and I wonder what's going on. I know you said you're OK, but, hmm, that doesn't fit with how you've kept me hopping lately.

First off, let's talk about this paranoia thing, OK? You're not doing it on purpose? No, I don't suppose you are. But, look; not everything everyone says is meant to be a slam, OK? And as much as we'd both like to go back to being the light in his eye again, that's not really something that can happen, right? Right? So, if we're not the only thing on his mind right now, that's the way it is. Get over it!

Oh, so now we have to tie self-esteem into it, do we? Dang, girl! What? You're not the source of the I'm fat, old, gray and unattractive feelings, my brain is? Nothing like passing the buck! Aren't you going a little overboard here? I mean, come on! Years ago, you were feeling the same. Nothing is different now, other than a few more decades under the bridge.

Why in the world are you letting all those insecure feelings leak out of the small corner of my past where I hid him anyway? You said you were "heartbroken," and I stayed loyal to how your broke pieces feel about him. Those walls should've been solid as a rock by now, and you broke through them like they were paper, you silly thing. Help me pick up the mess you made.

Well, sure, it's good to get out. We've had that conversation a few times, haven't we? I mean, you are the seat of joy that I feel all the time, aren't you? Yeah, I know. He was a source of joy years ago, and it was wonderful beyond words.

No, no, no! Just because he is reaching out to us now doesn't mean what you think it means. It's you that is making the situation muddy and confused! I know you were the one touching him, but I'm not sure that's what the situation calls for now.

So, what do you say? Think you could sweep those broke pieces back into their little corner? I really need to get sleep, get focused and go back to giving all that joy to everyone again. Yes, you're right. All those feelings roaring through are an inspiration, but it's a bit too much and it's all out of proportion! I can't deal with it all at once like that.

What? We're not paranoid, we're schizophrenic? I'm not sure about that. I'll ask common sense the next time I see her, OK?

Now, will you get sweeping, please?