Storms

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The wind picks up, signaling the coming rain.

The thunder rumbles in the distance, flashes of light scatter across darkening skies.

The drops begin to fall. Harder. Until sheets of water pour from the heavens.

Where there was hot, muggy, stifling heat, now there is a cool wind. 

There are broken limbs and puddles in the aftermath. Some lingering clouds.

And the sunset. The vivid pink and purple and orange paints a picture of paradise on the skies.

The kind of sunsets that only come after the storms.

In the midst of the storm there can also be peace. While chaotic winds seem ready to sweep away all they can, there are some things that stand still. Unmoved. Steady. Strong.

They take the rains and soak up the puddles. Nourish themselves from what the storm gave them. 

They are stronger now. The skies are clear again. The world is washed clean. 

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite places to be

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In an effort to try and think outside the box, I asked Reagan to make me a list of topics to choose from for this weekly feature. It should keep me busy for a while. I’m also open to your suggestions, so let me hear from you if you have an idea and I’ll consider incorporating it at some point. 

When I think about places I love to be, it usually involves certain people. But there are just actual places that I enjoy spending time no matter who is around me. I tried to include some of both.

10. My house

I’m becoming more and more of a homebody the older I get. I pull some long days at work. I drive a good distance to my church. So I tend to get pretty selfish with my free time anymore. 

My house is a place of no pretense. It’s not a castle. It’s not magazine worthy. But it is a place that I’m proud of and do my best to help maintain. I love my patio, views of pasture and some killer sunsets. 

I love my cozy den, the kitchen where I’ve prepared hundreds of meals, dozens of cakes, helped Reagan with more projects than I can count, and the dining room table where I turn from Collections Officer or mom or wife to writer.

I love my home. It’s where I rest after a weary day. Where I greet each new morning. Where I’ve recovered from sickness and grief, celebrated joy, cared for my family. It’s a home because the 3 of us made it so. 

9. My other home

They say you can’t go home again. That’s a lie. I do it all the time. When I’m at my breaking point, sometimes it’s the only place I can find my feet again. 

My mama’s kitchen, or in front of one of my dad’s crackling fires, or curled up on my mawmaw’s comfy sofa – I can find solace there. 

If not indoors…..

8. The woods

I spent the majority of my childhood out of doors. On the prairies of Oklahoma or in the woods of Mississippi, I did my growing up as an outside kid. And as much as I loved Oklahoma, I have to say that my personal preference is pine trees and creeks and “hollers”.  I picked berries, waded through cold, rushing falls, rode my bike more miles than I can even remember.

Especially in the woods near my childhood home, it’s a world away from how most people live. There are few places as peaceful, as restorative to my soul as nature itself. And my woods are near the top of the list.

8. The beach

One day, one day I will have a condo or house on the beach. I could listen to the waves for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it. 

The ocean itself absolutely terrifies me. There seems to be no end to it. No control. It can turn on you. But it’s breathtaking and awe-inspiring and I love how small it makes me feel. I find comfort in the thought that the world does not, in fact, rest on my shoulders.

7. My church

I can recite our services now almost verbatim. I know many of the prayers and creeds with increasing familiarity and memorization. But it’s new every week. There is a comfort in the repetition but also inspiration in how it takes on something different and unlearned for me every time I participate in a service. 

The people are so special. All as different as you can imagine, but all unified with a common love.

The music heals me. The sermons challenge me. The prayers calm me. The Eucharist nourishes me. And the people….the people fill my heart with their love and compassion and acceptance. 

6. Bookstores

New or old. Chain or independent. I don’t care as long as there are books and lots of them. 

5. With my friends

I don’t mind groups of people, but I’m better in a small circle of close friends. I look forward to my one-on-one time with my friends and with my book club. This is where my introvert spirit actually branches out some. These people don’t exhaust me. They recharge me. 

4. In a book

If you don’t think you can travel via the written word, I don’t think we can be friends. Books have taken me to times and places I’d never be able to see otherwise. Escaping life through a book is one of my favorite things to do. One of my favorite ways to unwind. And if I can’t read…

3. In my writing

I generally write from my kitchen table or my bed. Sometimes, my patio. But where I actually am, physically, doesn’t matter.

Writing is a supernatural experience for me. It does the same thing for me as reading, but in a different way: it takes me out of my own head and into my imagination. I’m not paying an overt amount of attention to my sentence structure or my punctuation or my “theme” most of the time. I’m just creating. And make no mistake, it’s an actual place as much as it is a process.

2. Snuggled

With my daughter. With my husband. Holding them close to me.

1. In the moment

I struggle with always looking ahead. Or back. I always have. 

I’ve been through enough, watched people I love go through enough, that I should know better. I should realize just how much the only moments we’re promised are the ones we’re experiencing right now. But I still try to get ahead of myself. And I still look back and wonder about the “what ifs” sometimes. 

I’ve noticed though, that if I can make myself really soak up the present, it calms my anxieties. It cures me of having to have any answers except for whatever momentary questions might be. 

I try to make mental notes of how Reagan looks right now. The things she says. I try to appreciate the way my husband’s eyes crinkle up when he smiles and the way his hand feels in mine. I try to appreciate every bloom on my plants. Every perfect sunrise. Every sip of wine. Every laugh. 

Life is a gift. Our world is a gift. And right now, I’m in my favorite place of all. 

Here. 

Now. 

Maybe it was the Music

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Maybe it was the lyrics.

Maybe it was the melody.

Maybe it was the feeling that pulsated within me when I realized the song gave you thoughts of me.

Maybe I’m too easily bought.

Maybe my soul is cheap for ballads and honey soaked words spread across a seductive rhythm. 

Maybe it made me fall.

Maybe it silenced my logic and let my instinct lead me.

Into your arms.

Maybe it was the lyrics.

Maybe it was the melody.

Maybe it was the sting of pain so hot I thought I might have a physical scar when the song was over.

Maybe the only way to release some things is through the music.

Maybe there is healing there. 

Maybe it was the lyrics.

Maybe it was the melody. 

Maybe it was the way you looked in my eyes. 

The way you tilted your head.

The way you squeezed my hand. 

The way you pulled me closer.

Maybe it was the dance. A meeting of the minds. Of the bodies.

Maybe it made me fall all over again.

Maybe it was the lyrics.

Maybe it was the melody.

Maybe it was love.

Maybe it was the music.

“Those people”

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When I embarked on a months-long, county wide campaign for public office in 2014, I only thought I knew what I was getting myself into.

The experience left me with a mixed cocktail of emotions that ranged from cynicism to outright incredulousness. 

I learned a lot about my county. Many things I would have rather stayed blissfully ignorant of, but those facts are now etched onto my memory like an epitaph on a tombstone. 

One of the things I learned is that approximately 99% of our residents own a dog. Schnausers, Pit Bulls, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Labs, and any type of mutt your imagination can conjure: someone in this county owns one. 

And, it would seem, the majority of these canines are kept indoors. Though I was chased from yards by more than one vicious creature throughout that fateful summer.

There was the beautiful, fluffy white angel of death dog, the German Shepherds that apparently studied under ISIS, and the one that was a direct descendent of Old Yellar: the rabid version.

I was terrified of dogs when I was a child. Strange dogs incited a fear within me that obviously did not go away with age and maturity. Because every time I heard barking when pulling up to an unfamiliar house along the campaign trail, my throat would go dry, my knees would tremble, and I would often feel the need to vomit. 

But I kept my anxieties in check and pushed through. And though I can’t remember many of the people I met on the campaign trail, I can tell you what kind of dogs live at just about any residence I visited.

I’m not a pet hater. Or a dog hater. I’m just more of a…..cat person. Even though I’m allergic. Even though I saw Strays as a child. Even though my sister had no less than a total of 9,324 cats throughout our childhood.

But back to the dogs.

Dog people are altogether different. And I think you’re either a “dog person” or you’re not. 

For 35 years, I have not identified as such.

It’s not that I don’t like dogs, it’s simply a combination of childhood fear mixed with the trauma of having more than one meet an untimely demise in my early youth.

We had a dog for many years. He moved with us from Oklahoma to Mississippi when I was 11 years old. 

Jack, when fully shaved for the summer heat, exhibited some characteristics of being part Spaniel. But when his blonde fur was all grown out, he looked like the sheep dog from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. 

He was the perfect watchdog, and went everywhere with me and my sister. He came to us as a stray. My Dad, looking at his daughters and their pleadings of “Can we keep him? Puuullleeezzzz?”, had a heart. Jack would be part of our family for a decade. 

In rural areas like the ones I’ve always called home, people who don’t know what to do with pets, or can’t or WON’T care for them, dump them in areas like the places we lived. 

It’s cruel, heartless, irresponsible, and I believe, fitting of intense punishment. These creatures have but a few possible fates: find a home, starve, or go wild.

Jack found a home. The dogs that ended his life had been dumped out by some pathetic jerk. They weren’t looking for a home. They simply reverted to their wild instincts, and took out what they deemed to be a threat.

Since Jack died, I have pretty much refused to love another dog. I don’t have anywhere to keep one and am not of the mindset to take on the responsibility of one, since keeping a pet indoors would cause a divorce and is also akin to raising another child. “Ain’t nobody got time fo dat.”

But now, now there’s Roxie. A dog that is now referred to as my “fur sister”.

February a year ago, on Valentine’s Day, my mother brought home a little ball of brown and white fur. Part Dauchsund and part Border Collie, Roxie is, apparently, the daughter my parents always wanted. Though they already have two. Yeah, Mom and Dad. Remember us? Your human children? Oh never mind.

I have sat by for the last year and a half and watched my parents turn into “those people“. The ones who give their fur baby preferential treatment over that of their own flesh and blood. The ones who share their furniture. The ones who tell stories about the dog like it’s just another grandkid. Strike that – like it’s their FAVORITE child. 

But I digress. And, I jest. I love Roxie. 

My parents, finally having learned that outdoor pets don’t make it long, keep Roxie inside most of the time. She is allowed on the furniture. Is given ice cream. And is generally treated like a furry little human. 

It’s sweet. And weird. My parents, my dad especially, have never exhibited signs of being “those people” before Roxie came along. But the metamorphosis has been nothing short of amusing to witness. 

I think it’s a testament to how love, in any form, changes people. And changes them for the better. Makes us softer, kinder, less selfish. 

Love for a pet is something that I always understood, but never really allowed for myself. There is already so much heartbreak in human love, why would you willingly love something as fragile as an animal. Surely that can only lead to heartache.

But I know why and how it happens. Why the most crusty of curmudgeons can become attached to a pet, especially a dog. 

The love is pure.

Their eyes convey emotions. Their behavior exudes the things all of us so desire to feel from others: admiration, desire for our companionship, and unconditional love and devotion. 

There’s a reason they’re called “man’s best friend”. They aren’t capable of disappointing us because even if they appear to do just that, we can always say, “She’s just a pup. She doesn’t know any better.”

We realize that their behavior is a direct result of how we have treated them, conditioned them, and raised them.

A lot of poignant lessons in that, I believe. Because humans are partly animal as well. And our shortcomings also have a lot to do with the very same factors.

Jack had been heavily mistreated by his former humans. It was evident in how he behaved, even up until the day he died. Those scars ran deep. But his life ended with him knowing he was deeply loved. Our hearts have never been quite the same. 

Roxie knows she is loved. I now look forward to seeing her when I visit, playing our routine games that must be played whenever I show up. 

I find myself talking to her. Talking about her. Thinking of things I could buy for her!

She doesn’t belong to me. But she is part of the family now. Despite my best efforts to remain unattached, she’s stolen a piece of my heart. 

I guess I’m one of “those people” now.

Top 10 Tuesday: Some of my favorite things about my Dad

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Welcome back to Top 10 Tuesdays!

After a much-needed “regrouping” I am now going to attempt to get back into some kind of rhythm with my posts. Since Father’s Day is coming up, I couldn’t think of a better way to re-launch this weekly feature than to talk about one of my favorite people: my Dad.

This list is by no means comprehensive or in any particular order. Just some things that came to mind while I was forming this post in my mind earlier this week.

10. His voice

Years of working in the deafening oil fields have probably contributed to the loud nature with which he speaks at times, but it’s so much a part of who he is, I couldn’t imagine him any other way. 

He has, what I consider, a southern gentleman’s accent. It’s not exaggerated, he simply speaks with intelligence and humor and that unmistakable twang of someone from the south. 

He speaks well, especially publicly. His voice commands attention. And he sings! Oh the man can sing! From Gospel to Bobbie Gentry, my dad can move you to tears with his beautiful pitch. I haven’t heard him sing in a while. I think I’m going to make him do that next time I see him. 

9. His sense of humor

We don’t take ourselves more seriously than necessary in our family. Life is just too damn short for that nonsense. 

Dad loves to laugh and it’s that sense of humor that has helped sustain him over the last 62 years.

We have so many inside jokes in our family, and life just wouldn’t be the same without them. 

I would definitely call my father a joyful person. And it can be contagious when in his presence. 

8. His physical presence

There’s an old country song called, “Daddy’s Hands” and it’s always made me think of my own father.

“I remember Daddy’s hands, workin’ til they bled, sacrificed unselfishly just to keep us all fed…..

I remember Daddy’s hands, how they held my mama tight. Patted my back for somethin’ done right.”

This describes his physical nature better than I could even try. He’s worked hard all of his life and that much is evident in the callouses on his hands and the scars he carries on his body. 

But for all the roughness, the tenderness he has always displayed with his affection has been my saving grace.

I don’t know how people grow up without a father that didn’t love them and show them that they loved them with hugs like my dad gives me. In this, I know that I am beyond fortunate. No matter what life has thrown at me, I have found comfort in his embrace so many times. 

Whenever I think of how my Heavenly Father loves me, I think of those tender, enveloping hugs of my Dad. Where all that is wrong is made insignigificant. Because I am loved.

7. His cooking

I’m not entirely sure, but I think he might have made a deal with the devil because nobody, nobody, grills like my Dad. Period. End of story.

6. His tenderness

More than the physical affection, my dad just has a tender heart. I think he’s where I get my emotional side. Which is ironic because he’s always pushed me to be a logical thinker. But he feels just as deeply, and gets just as passionate about things as I do. 

There are some men that you’ll never see shed actual tears. I’ve seen my father cry. 

That might not seem like a big deal, but I’m here to tell you: it’s made all the difference in my life. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I think it’s because it shows his depth. His ability to be moved. His security in himself. 

5. His flaws

When I was a girl, I thought my Daddy was perfect. And then I grew up and realized he wasn’t. 

Dad always expected a lot out of me and my sister in terms of our behavior. Nothing unreasonable, but we were held to high standards. I held him to high standards too. 

Too high.

I do that with a lot of people, not just him. It isn’t fair. Nobody is perfect.

When it really hit me that my father was every bit as flawed as myself, it was kind of a jarring experience.

And then I became a parent. 

And I was oh so thankful for his flaws. Because it was then that I realized that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t destined to fail at parenting because of imperfection. And I understood why he always set the bar so high for me: because we want the best for our children. 

4. His zest for life 

Whether it’s a newborn calf, or petting his dog, or a perfectly grilled burger, or a bowl of banana pudding, or the hug of a grandchild, or a kiss from my mama: Dad appreciates the little things like nobody else I know.

I could say that this came from a serious illness he contracted several years ago and the possibilities that it put before him. But Dad has always appreciated the little things. I think they’re just that much sweeter now.

3. His ability to stay young at heart

I love that my Dad would play games with us when we were kids. Board games, basketball, badminton. He would race us, chase us, and just have fun with us. 

Since his retirement, he’s done things I never thought he’d do. Like go to the State Fair. On purpose. And ride the rides with his grandkids. On purpose. I’m so glad there is a part of him that refuses to grow up.

2. His love for the land

My dad was an environmentalist before it was “cool”. He’s taught me all my life about the importance of nature conservation. Wildlife, timber, soil. And don’t ever let him catch you littering. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

1. His huge heart

My dad isn’t just a father to me, he’s a father figure to a lot of people. Not because he was ever trying to be. It’s just who and how he is and people respond to it. People with crappy dads of their own as well as those who have good fathers. 

His willingness to help other people and his thoughtfulness have always been examples of selflessness that I try to emulate. He is a fierce friend and the kind of person you want on your side. 

I’m so thankful he’s always been on mine. And remains there. Always.

The artist within

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Past the sharp, prickly edges, beyond the intensity, behind the often unappreciated humor, and underneath the melancholy, the artist is a quiet, yet fierce being.

They must often be discovered, sometimes by another, before they see themselves for who they are.

There are places where artists are accepted and celebrated. And there are others where they are delegated to the shadows. They often remain there, bridled, closeted, sometimes even buried, because the world cannot handle their expression.

The artist sees what others cannot, or will not believe. It is disconcerting for many to believe that they are not capable of shielding everything from the outside world. When they realize that the artists among them can and do see beyond what is obvious, it incites fear, perhaps even jealousy, and, often, judgment. Their vulnerabilities are exposed. Black and white are no longer black and white but every hue in between. And knowing that, realizing that, they cling to their absolutes and punish those who would question them with ridicule, scoffing, indifference, or dismissal.

Those with a binary mindset cannot fully appreciate art with any type of depth. The artist knows that there is no right or wrong, good or bad, when it comes to creating. There is just the creating. The realizing. The exploration. The discovery. And it is all beautiful, even when it’s labeled as “ugly” or misunderstood by others.

But it matters not. It can takes years to rise above it, but still, it is an illusion of captivity for the artist. And one that each one must awaken from in their own time and in their own way. 

The outside world cannot forever hold sway over the artist and their need to create and express. It builds within them until they must release it. They don’t need outside critics, for they are their own. Perfectionism, their inner demon. A mindset that can only be broken by being imperfect, and embracing it. Celebrating it. Sharing it. 

When artists meet one another, there is joy. There is connection. There is blessed acceptance and the sweet release of chains formed by insecurity and doubt and wondering if we are destined to always be an outcast. 

No longer are we tied to just what makes sense. We are freed to possibility of what could be. What might be. What is. Even if we’re the only one who can see it. 

The artist paints, writes, films, acts, plays music, sings……

They create. We create. 

Past the sharp, prickly edges, beyond the intensity, behind the often unappreciated humor, and underneath the melancholy, the artist is a quiet, yet fierce being. 

And she is rising.

Guest post by Reagan

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My daughter just returned from a week at Mississippi School of the Arts. One of her discipline focuses was literary art. At the end of the week, the students chose a piece they had written and it was all compiled into a journal for them to take home. 

Here is the piece that Reagan wrote:

A Dream to Remember

Reagan Ishee

    The forest is filled with rich shades of green and brown, as I start my journey through the woods. The path that curves in front of me is damp and the air smells clean after the light rain from the night before. As I walk forward onto the path, I step on a twig, which makes a muffled snap as the birds fly out of the trees. I watch them as they leave then go on my way down the path that continues to twist before me.

  The path seems well worn, with pine needles and plants pressed flat against the forest floor. I see an area of the ground that looks slightly different than the rest and as I approach, I see that there is something buried underneath the packed down earth. I uncover a broken teacup, with blue and pink flowers painted on it. I put the pieces in my small bag and move on.

    I hear running water farther up the path. I started to move quicker in hope that it is safe to drink. The small stream looks safe as I approach, but as I lean over to take a sip, the water changes color. I stumble back and watch in awe as the color continues to change from blue to brown to pink and then to gold. As I peer closer, I see hundreds of tiny fish swimming. All of them changing colors to the same rhythm as they swim. I look for a way the cross the stream after deeming the water unsafe. I look to my right and see an old, rickety, wooden bridge. After glancing back at the water, I decide to take my chances and cross it.

    Farther up the trail, I see something that makes me freeze in my tracks. On the path before me I see two, huge black bears. I slowly lay onto the ground and close my eyes. They growl and I can feel it in my bones. My heart pounds as the grounds shakes when they start lumber towards me. They sniff my face and the rancid smell of their breath makes my eyes water. I stay still and finally they move on.

    When they finally leave, I continue my journey and stumble upon a house. On the outside, it looks like a simple log cabin. I approach the door and as I do, it slowly creaks open. I peer inside and gasp. There are multiple floors high above me and lavish furniture is everywhere upon the marble floors. As I move closer, I start to see shadows moving along the halls. After having enough terrifying encounter for the day, I leave immediately.

    Later along the path, I run across a small white picket fence, no taller than my waist. It looks stable, but as the wind blows, it falls over. I continue on my way until I reach the field I was searching for. Bright green grass and red poppies cover it for miles and miles as far as the eye can see. All of a sudden, I notice a stranger standing in the middle of the field. I approach the pale-skinned and dark- haired figure. I reach for their shoulder and it turns around.

    Before I can make out any features, the world becomes foggy and when it clears, I awaken from my dream.

Not to brag, but my kid is awesome. 

Literary genius

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Last week, I picked up a book that I’d never read by an author that died shortly after I was born. Although he was a well-known writer, I had never read any of his books. When I finished my selection, I couldn’t believe that it took me so long to discover him.

It’s very rare for me to be so mesmerized by an author after reading only one of their works, but it does happen. 

The book was “In Cold Blood”. The author: Truman Capote.

This piece of non-fiction reads like a novel, but it is a true story and a chilling one from start to finish.

The murder of an entire family is not pleasant subject matter, but that is what this book is about. Capote, though he wasn’t from Holcomb, KS, and didn’t know the people involved until after the crime occurred, wrote this book and made it seem like he had been an eye witness to every perspective held within it. 

I know that he undertook a tremendous amount of research to complete this story, and it shows. Though the crime itself was horrendous, the focus is not on the gruesome factors of it, which seems to often be the temptation of many writers. Capote, instead, made this book about people. The family that died. Their friends. The law enforcement officers who didn’t give up until the killers were captured. And, of course, the criminals themselves.

While the crime itself was definitely what made this story an unthinkable tragedy, so also did the lives of the criminals. Perry Smith, in particular, had a terrible upbringing. Of course, not everyone who experiences abuse as a child grows up to be a killer. That is a rare occurrence. But there is enough detail given about his life to make one wonder if his earlier days had been different, would he have grown up to be the same way. 

Knowing what I know at the basic levels of nature vs. nurture, I saw that Smith most definitely had mental problems. Paranoid Schizophrenia, as he was believed to have, does not automatically make a person violent. But couple that with the abuse and neglect he endured as a child, and it becomes evident that multiple factors contributed to him becoming capable of murder. His accomplice also had suffered a traumatic brain injury, which, when brought into account along with other abnormalities, could explain a lot about the person he became. 

The takeaway, psychologically, is what continues to fascinate me about human beings. We seem to be born with our own unique set of DNA, and then environmental factors, often those beyond our control, have a tremendous amount of impact on what type of person we become. This doesn’t excuse criminal behavior, but I think it’s worth trying to understand. 

People who seemingly have no conscience are not “typical”. Understanding how and why it occurs is something that will always intrigue me. 

Blood is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I don’t know what that says about my tastes, but subject-matter aside, the writing was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I’ve never read anything like it and came to understand why Capote was such a braggart about his skills: it’s not bragging, though, if you can do it, right?

Only a truly great writer can transport their reader to another time and place and make that reader feel like they were there. 

Only a truly great writer can give the reader goosebumps without completely engulfing them in fear. Give just enough of the details without drowning the reader in unnecessary commentary.

Only a truly great writer can make you feel compassion for every character, even if their personalities and problems and behavior run the gamut from extreme to extreme. 

I only picked up the book after watching the film about Capote a few weeks ago. I really don’t know if I’d have ever read it unless I had seen the movie about his life. 

But I’m glad I did. My feelings about the book, but mostly the writing itself, has sat with me over this last week. 

And that, to me, is the most important defining factor of a great author: if their work and skill with language leave me breathless, if they make me want to read more, if I just want to know more about them, if it inspires me to write more and write better – that is what separates good writers from great ones

And Capote was, in this writer’s opinion, a literary genius. 

The Value of Darkness

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One of my favorite features of Facebook is “On This Day”.

I don’t think we can fully appreciate where we are unless we appreciate where we’ve been.

I love seeing the photos of days gone by, seeing what was going on in my life. In looking back, I see my growth. I see my daughter growing up before my eyes. I see where I’ve overcome certain struggles, and still battle others. I see patterns. I see the highest highs and lowest lows, and everything between.

Before I started A Penseive View, I went through a period of time where I published “Notes”. Remember those? 

Back then, I started a “Weekly Wrap-Up” on Fridays. I’m thinking about resurrecting it here on the blog because, 

  1. I don’t publish a lot of day-to-day stuff and I know other writers who do. I like reading their stuff. Their personal updates. You might like that too, I don’t know. But I’m just brainstorming a bit.
  2. It keeps me accountable and gives me a place to come back and see progress in certain areas of my life.
  3. I’ll be resurrecting Top 10 Tuesdays next week and regular features seem to be a winning idea.

When I was publishing notes on Facebook, I mainly did so because my dad was very sick at the time. Dad was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia in 2009, and “Notes” were how I updated friends and family and prayer warriors of his condition. 

We eventually started him a CaringBridge site and the weekly wrap ups faded out.

But I go back and read them every time they pop up. 

We often get so busy moving forward that we forget what is behind us. Sometimes that’s good. And necessary. But sometimes we need the reminders of those events and circumstances. It’s all part of counting our blessings, something I don’t do nearly often enough. 

Memories, both painful and pleasant, serve their purposes. Both, I think, put us in a more grateful state of mind. And gratitude is an area where I admittedly need more work. It’s not that it’s hard to be thankful, it’s just that I don’t often make the time to reflect on my blessings. 

I’ve continued in my writing slump for a while. Not writing every day – I needed that break. My 9-5 exhausts me mentally. My fellow introverts will understand what I mean when I say that my day job requires me to be “on” all day, every day. Often past business hours. I see the toll it takes on my mind and instead of using my writing as a way to handle that (which has always been beneficial), I end up not writing at all. Not a good thing. Not a good way to “be” a writer, or a storyteller. 

Writers don’t stop writing. They might stop publishing, but they’re always writing. 

And at the end of the day, this blog is me. It’s not just book reviews or top 10 lists or inspirational thoughts. It’s a reflection of me, “one woman’s perspective”. 

My writing has slacked because of how busy I’ve been and how much I needed a break from “extras”, but also due to depression. I’ve written about it some, but not to the extent that I could. And maybe should. 

I don’t try and pretend to be something I’m not here, but I do sometimes go into hiding so you won’t see the most difficult sides of who I am. 

I’ve always been more of an anxious person than a depressed one. Depression doesn’t make sense or pick on certain people. It strikes without warning, sometimes, oftentimes, in those we think have their sh*t together. There is no rhyme or reason to it. Medication is great. Meditation, prayer, these are helpful as well. 

But depression, for me, has never lingered like it has the last several weeks. And it’s frustrating because it robs me of my “want to”. I know what would help me feel better, but it’s physically making myself do those things that feel like an overwhelming, uphill climb.

I am better than I was a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago, I didn’t want to do anything but sleep. Didn’t want to get up. Just taking a shower and getting to the office felt like an accomplishment. 

I’ve slowly progressed to the point where I can get up and get moving without wanting to crawl back into bed and ignoring the world for days.

Part of that has come from making myself. Forcing myself to talk to friends, put on some makeup, fix my hair, write a book review, read a book. It’s in the pushing through that I am slowly coming out of my darkness. 

I know it probably sounds crazy to those who have never experienced it. But I can tell when my mind is headed in the direction of that darkness. Like a parent redirecting a child, sometimes I can redirect my thoughts and avoid it completely before it swallows me. But it requires effort. And, I’m learning, that it’s one of the reasons for my workaholic tendencies and my propensity to stay busier than is probably physically healthy. Because it keeps me from going to the darkness. As long as I’m distracted, I don’t have time to be depressed.

Maybe it’s the aging process, but those habits don’t seem to help me much anymore. That darkness will swallow me up now whether I’m busy or not. So the battleground has shifted. My defense systems have to change too. 

I liken depression to a cave of sorts. That darkness I speak of, it’s everywhere. The only way to get out of it is to find some light. But there are times when there is no match to be found. So you have to stay there, let your eyes adjust, and just feel your way out  

That’s part of what I’m doing here on the blog. Feeling my way back to the light. Learning the curves and angles and rocky sides of this cave makes it less difficult to maneuver the next time it pulls me in. And it reminds me that the light I need is within. 

And I have decided that I have to, I must, write through it. 

It might not be pretty. In fact, I’m pretty sure it won’t be. It might get pretty disjointed and abstract and weird and not so popular. But y’all, this is part of who I am. I don’t like it, but I can’t ignore it anymore. I can’t wait for it to pass before I write again. Getting back to a place where I WANT to write takes too long and I’d rather my pencil stay sharpened, so to speak, than for me to just look at it, day after day, and dread sharpening it. Allowing my insecurities to keep me from posting here, even if it’s crap. 

Because being a writer means writing more crap than we care to admit. But the drivel has value, if only to us writers. Because it allows us to remember where we’ve been. And in writing, just like in life, the painful and the pleasant and the good and the bad have their purposes. 

I want to look back at my writing and see the whole picture. That means writing the really dark stuff too. In order to do that, I’ll have to delve out of my comfort zone sometimes. But it will reveal it’s value, even if it’s a long time from now.

A Man Called Ove: Synopsis, overview, and book club discussion 

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Synopsis

Ove has not had an easy life. 

He probably wouldn’t say that. Ove would probably say that his life had been fairly ordinary, and if people would just do the right thing more often, his life could have been easier. But people seem to have a way of disappointing him. Frustrating him. And he, alone, seems to have the singular gift of common sense in a mad world.

This book follows this curmudgeonly character through a very difficult period of his life. It weaves back and forth from his present to his past, giving the reader a clear picture of an often misunderstood man.

There is humor, and tragedy, and a range of strong emotions in between. 

Ove has new neighbors, and much of the book is centered around his interactions with those neighbors, and the ones who have been around for a lifetime. And a cat. Because what better companion for a bitter soul than a cat? 

Throughout the story we learn what makes Ove…..Ove. We learn about his simple, yet profound upbringing. Why he’s obsessed with Saabs. Why he has a love/hate relationship with so many people. His love for his wife, Sonja. His deepest wounds and his most glorious shining moments. 

All of these paint a picture of a man that, though gruff on the exterior, has a heart that might surprise you.

Opinion

In case it wasn’t obvious, I tried to be purposefully vague in my synopsis. I could tell you a lot more, but I hope that the brief description of the plot and the main character intrigue you enough to pick up this book for yourself. Because you should. I think, so far, it’s our best book club selection to date. 

I’ll be honest though, I didn’t finish it before our book club meeting. I had a lot going on personally that made it very NOT conducive to reading, and especially not a book like this. While I hated I missed out on really diving into our discussion, I’m glad I waited until I was in a better frame of mind to finish it and fully appreciate the profoundness of some of the subject matter.

That’s the thing about this book: it’s really an easy read, but it has so many strong messages. 

It also made me laugh out loud, a rare occurrence when I’m reading. I laugh when I read, but it’s always more of an internal chuckle. But there are places in this story that I couldn’t help but at least proclaim, “Ha!” when reading a statement or two.

I love the way the book was written. Each chapter a story unto itself. In that way, it was easy to lay down and pick back up. 

The characters are just rich enough to not take away from the title character and give an overall picture of Ove’s life that is both complex and relatable. 

I appreciate writing that can do difficult things. The transitions from past to present without feeling choppy and disjointed, the overlay of characters without becoming saturated and lost. The underlying plot that is ever-present, yet remains far enough away for the reader to appreciate what is happening in the story in that particular moment. These are not elements that are easy to achieve, and while I would say this is an “easy” read, the writing is anything but simple.

A Man Called Ove is, at its heart, a love story. And the kind of love story that is both beautiful and realistic. Ove and his wife experienced many ups and downs. But despite how different they were, their level of devotion to one another was inspirational and a testament to the fact that love, even when, and maybe especially when, we love those who appear difficult to love, the impact can be both lifelong and far-reaching.

There was a lot about marriage that resonated with me in this book as well. Perhaps nothing more than this quote by Ove’ s wife, Sonja:

Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.

I judge a good read by a lot of things, but one of my highest forms of praise would be whether or not I’d read it again. And for this one, I would. Just to soak up more of the profoundness of the story that I feel like I missed by reading it when I was so personally troubled by some things and also my disjointed consumption of the book, reading half and then coming back to it much later to finish it. It can be read that way, but it wasn’t meant to be read that way. 

If you choose to read it, learn from my mistake and set other things aside and commit to finish this one over a shorter period of time. I think it will leave you quite moved. 

Book Club Discussion 

Y’all. I’ve slept since we last met. In fact, I’ve slept a lot. And I didn’t take notes at our meeting. 

Honestly, our discussion was good, but everyone really seemed to like the book and there wasn’t a whole lot of debate about any one thing. I think the story definitely touched all of us in one way or another, and I wasn’t the only one who felt as though it was quite possibly our best selection thus far.

I promise to be a little more on top of things when we resume our meetings in August. I really won’t have a choice as our summer selection is an epic historical fiction novel that will require me to be much more organized when it comes time to write about it. In fact, I might post about it in segments. 

In any case, I hope you have enjoyed my reviews of our selections so far, and wish you a delightful summer of good reading.