Conversations with Myself

Working and living in an area of non-stop small talk, often times the most intimate conversations I have are with myself. I think constantly. My brain is thinking about multiple things, beginning around the hour I become conscious, to the moments leading up to me quickly shutting down my brain to RELAX.

Anyway, conversations with myself- self talk as the Providers describe it- can do two things:

  1. Cause total chaos, leaving you exhausted and disheveled
  2. Cause total bliss, leaving you weightless and satisfied

Oh, you aren’t exactly like me?

I guess I forgot.

There are days when I feel euphoric- something I would compare to an acid trip. Maybe it’s the season, the weather, or nerve damage? I couldn’t say. What I can say is that some days feel like the polar opposite, and these are the days I would like to focus on right now. Because we always start with bad news. And when I say we, I actually refer to my two vastly polar opposite personalities. One is happy and excited. One is tired and annoyed.

A little, somewhat popular, album was released when I was fifteen years old. It recently turned twenty years of age and I thought, you know what? I really would like to discuss how this particular piece of timeless art shaped me in my most vulnerable and bitterly angry years, when I was attempting to break the rules and figure out who the hell I really am.

Why am I so angry? Please explain this to me in song, Maynard James Keenan.

Lateralus was released May 15, 2001 and it was the spring, then summer of Tool, which then became the following twenty years of more Tool which involved digging into and appreciating and supporting more side projects. Hell, a winery was birthed out of Tool. And a farm. Life.

Come to think of it, even… my child.

Hooked on everything that these people involved with these projects produced, I felt like I had found this secret garden of information that a handful of other local, angry teenagers and I clung to for emotional support and strength on the days when we had ZILCH internally. The local music scene thrived- not because of Tool, but thanks to this similar angst that Tool had seamlessly tapped into, harnessed with leather straps, and made their bitch. It was an inspiring time for angry artists, and holy shit- was I angry.

I met my child’s father the summer a drunk man decided to get behind the wheel of a heavy automobile, which he half ass managed to operate until he ran my friends and I off the highway around a curve just in front of my friend’s house. We hit the embankment, flew in the air, and nose dived into the ditch, while the dumb, intoxicated redneck sped away, leaving three good looking teenage girls in a smoking vehicle to die a horrible, untimely death. My friend’s mom heard the crash and sprinted down her driveway, spraining her ankle. I was stuck in the backseat, unable to get my seatbelt unclicked, while a motorist who had stopped was screaming to get out because the car was on fire.

Oh cool, this is it. I’m gonna die in front of Britney’s house.

Self talk.

I didn’t actually want to die. I enjoy living and being happy. But those are the words I said to myself, in such a sarcastic “gee, this is such a surprise” kind of way. After brushing my hilarious sarcasm aside, I got serious and worked harder to unbuckle, and with a fractured L4, got out of the car that was definitely not on fire, and ran however many yards, crunching glass and gravel, collapsing upon meeting my friend Britney and her mother- who were sobbing and gasping upon realizing it was me. “Yeah, another accident.” (I believe this would have been the sixth.)

My dad and sister pulled up. Just one week prior to this, my sister had major scoliosis surgery. She was recovering with stitches still holding her fragile halves together. I saw her crying and I felt so terrible that she was upset because I knew she was in so much pain herself. The ambulance arrived. I was strapped tightly to a hard board to stabilize my spine (gravel and glass cutting into my back), where I would remain for the next six to eight hours. I drifted in and out of consciousness but remember drinking the absolutely horrid MRI juice, VoLumen (short for Liquid Voldemort), and hurling barf upon meeting my Doctor, who replied with “Oh dear”.

Oh dear, indeed.

I recovered that summer in a back brace, with orders not to drive. The summer all of my friends were graduating without me and I couldn’t even celebrate. So, I spent my time writing. A lot. Whether in notebooks or LiveJournal, I was getting my thoughts out of my head. I was sharing. A lot. I was visiting chat rooms and sharing there, too. And this is how I connected to my child’s father, Ricky. Another Tool fan.

-Something cool I said about my favorite band

-Something he said in agreement

-More words exchanged

He then looks at my profile and sees that I am female.

-Holy shit, I thought you were a dude.

-Ha, no.

Then we continued talking about our favorite band Tool for four hours.

Then we continued talking about the reasons we admire the band Tool.

Then we continued talking about the various things that we have been through that led to the mindset which allowed for appreciation of the band Tool.

Then we moved in together.

Then we made a baby.

Self talk is important. Sometimes self talk can seem like something that produces filth and you suffer for it. Often, those around you suffer as a result, too. But every so often, when you’re lucky, you get a diamond in the rough.

Twenty years later, and he and I still maintain. He is the person who gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. “When you talk shit to yourself, add something nice.” We can communicate. I know the pieces fit. He appreciates that I have been on top of all the responsibilities in raising our child, and I appreciate that he hasn’t laid one finger on her. Be patient.

I talk to myself daily. And yeah- you do, too. Whatever you tell yourself, never forget- add something nice.

The Horrible Bitch that is Dementia

This entry was originally published on my website, Live Onawa, January 12, 2021.

I’ll begin by sharing a paper I wrote back in 2015 exploring the use of non-pharmacological therapies to engage a person with dementia. Beginning here:
The purpose of this statement is to substantiate my view that simulated social stimulus in the form of a life-like baby doll or stuffed animal helps in engaging a patient with dementia in a nursing home setting to generate warm feelings and reduce agitation. Through this research, I wanted to examine non-pharmacological interventions to deal with dementia patients during aggressive behavioral outburst. Is it really useful in creating a distraction from harmful or threatening situation? It seems to me that the dolls keep the dementia patients distracted more than those who do not have one. Some authors consider doll therapy as controversial due to its ethical nature and consider doll therapy as “infantilizing for patients who end up being treated like children” (Hughes et al., 2006). Perhaps dignity is the issue for some, however, certain things are done for the safety of the patient, and I personally see no reason not to use this method if it is effective. Although, in order to achieve the greatest likelihood of success, it is important for the caregivers to understand the patient’s attachment/relationship with the stimuli, cognitive status, and past history. Meaningful stimuli needs to be considered and explored to maximize the desired benefit for persons with dementia. It is pertinent to conduct more trials with less bias and with larger samples to see the efficacy of such non-pharmacological interventions amidst our dementia population. In my experience, there have been instances in which the doll caused more distress. For example, one patient became distraught because she didn’t know the dolls’ names and felt they had been abandoned. Otherwise, I have seen mostly positive results. Interpretations of doll/stuffed animal therapy enable health care providers to maximize the positive outcome of providing stimulus with greatest likelihood of success (Cohen-Mansfield et al., 2010).I interviewed a Nurse Practitioner (NP) who works in the dementia unit of a Nursing Home (NH) my employer services. She has witnessed positive results in the NH when a doll/stuffed animal has been introduced to geriatric clients. According to her, this sort of stimulus seems to fulfill a sense of purpose, and provided a calming effect while keeping the patient engaged. She emphasized the doll/animal should appear as realistic as possible (S. Hasgrove, personal communication, January 20, 2015). This NP’s experience corroborated with the results of Ellingford et al. (2007) post study analysis that “These authors found an increase in doll users’ positive behavior following the introduction of the dolls and a reduction in negative behaviors and aggression”. Amongst geriatric patients suffering from dementia in nursing home settings, how does simulated social stimulus like doll/stuffed animal compared to no stimulus reduced behavioral disturbance and wandering within three months of exposure to stimulus? In conclusion, this finding is consistent with studies showing that increasing resident engagement through individualized activities is associated with decreased agitation. However, we cannot disregard the severity of dementia that is a significant factor, as severely demented became increasingly disengaged from the stimulus overtime. Future research should focus on the development of targeted individualized interventions based on the cognitive and affective profile of dementia patients with behavior disturbance. Reference List:Cohen-Mansfield, J., Marx, M., Dakheel-Ali, M., Regier, N., Thein, K., & Freedman, L. (2010). Can agitated behavior of nursing home residents with dementia be prevented with the use of standardized stimuli? Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 58(8), 1459-1464. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02951.xEllingford L., Mackenzie L., Marsland L. (2007). Using dolls to alter behavior in people with dementia. Retrieved from http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/specialisms/mental-health/using-dolls-to-alter-behaviour-in-patients-with-dementia/201683.articleHughes J. C., Louw S. J., Sabat S. R. (2006). Dementia: Mind, Meaning, and the Person. New York: Oxford University Press


Now, I have worked in mental healthcare facilities from Cullman to Decatur to Madison to Huntsville, and have scribed for geriatric providers who see nursing facility residents who suffer from this God awful disease that affects the brain in the literal sense. Because it physically affects the brain by shrinking some areas, depending on which areas are most impacted, the loss of brain tissue negatively impacts the person’s processes of speech, thought, motor abilities, etc. Whether ripping the person from their fond memories, or the sense of who and where they are, their social or communication skills, or their physical capabilities, there are a number of ways that this disease affects the person. If you have never cared for someone with dementia and have no experience witnessing its effects, you would be amazed at the every day tasks we perform effortlessly without realizing how impossible it might be for anyone else. Most of the notes I scribed were vague and consistent, using very average and uninspiring treatments that basically allowed the provider to be on her way. Week after week, I would see either stability or decline, no real progress- nothing to leave me with a satisfactory feeling. This troubled me, especially years later, after having experienced working with dementia patients first hand.
To elaborate, I have also worked as an activities director in a nursing facility that maintains a hall specifically treating men and women who have been diagnosed with various forms of dementia, including a majority who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and forms of dementia likely brought on by severe trauma and even heartbreak. For example, a prominent community doctor began showing signs of dementia shortly after his daughter was murdered in cold blood by a stalking ex-boyfriend. This incredibly educated, hardworking and caring man just shut down, and I was able to communicate with him during our time together because I could look him in the eyes and give him encouragement to do a task as simple as removing his shoes, whereas other facility workers often had difficulties and would require an additional worker to assist, using (gentle) force. But I somehow tapped into his emotional distress, found him, and was able to communicate in such a way he would willingly follow my soothing tone, in giving him simple step by step instruction. I was also able to communicate with a woman who was once a successful and independent business owner and prominent community leader (especially in her church family) in a way that was so efficient, other colleagues (including nurses and her therapists) often called me the “Betty-Whisperer”. (Her name is changed for privacy issues.) This woman would fight and scream and act like a completely different person unless I was present. I would use a calm, light tone and was incredibly patient and would use distractions sometimes in order for her to follow instructions in order to get her dressed, fed, or participate, etc.
Both of these superb people whom I love have since passed on, which in a way, I look at as a blessing to their own benefit because there is not one shred of doubt where their souls now reside. But that’s another thought for days that have already passed, too. And I moved on to other things now- although I’ll carry those lessons with me always.
I write this ahead of the real message I want to share to give you an idea of how challenging it is for us- people who do not have this disease- to understand and communicate with people who do. If we just take time and effort to listen, you will be astonished at what you might learn. Now, on to my story about my experience in listening to a particular person who would have lengthy and repetitive conversations, someone who helped me understand an issue that it still prevalent today.
Changing her name to protect her identity, I will use Rose.
Rose was a lively, organized, and educated woman. She kept up with the date, marking her calendar daily, took notes (a bit sloppy and unorganized), could mobilize easily with her walker, and was very well groomed and socially active. She loved participating in all group activities, especially activities outside. She is now 89 years old, and has lived with dementia for a number of years. She holds a Masters Degree in English, was a world traveler, a nationally acclaimed competitive dancer, and worked and retired from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. In her time working for the US Government, she wrote pocket manuals, assisted big wigs, watched countless rocket launches, and even laughingly expressed to me that she and other government employees would “take a bus to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry every weekend on taxpayer money.” Amazed, but not surprised in the least, would be my reaction (the first, second, and twenty-third times in hearing her story). What was surprising to me, however, is the fact that she is (and often spoke about being) half Cherokee. It isn’t everyday you encounter a half-Cherokee world travelling woman in Alabama at her age who holds a Masters and is retired from a still prominent government facility. But she would, very precisely, detail these concreted stories about her life because it solidified her identity- one of the few things she was able to hold on to. (Imagine losing a husband of forty years, your career, your opportunities to travel, your home, your independence… imagine how sane you would be.)
In almost every verbal encounter we exchanged, she would never fail to mention that her mother was a full blooded Cherokee. She told me this because she sensed I was of a similar heritage and she asked me if I had any Cherokee blood in my family, to which I said yes. She would then talk about her mother, who was an expert seamstress and taught her how to sew. Her mother had two children- Rose and another son, who had “white cotton hair, fair skin, and blue eyes”. I couldn’t help but think- “I wonder what that must have been like, considering she was physically polar opposite and had been uprooted from her way of life to be acclimated to the white society she was forced into.” Nevertheless, Rose always claimed her mother loved life and was just happy to be a part of the society so that her children could get an education and all the benefits that come along with the acclimation.
Still, my heart continues to break- especially now, after all the recent events involving native peoples and their rights, land and culture, etc. It really is a shame that one has to acclimate to another society just to thrive in this life. It is, without a doubt, very unfair. This is what prompted me to share this particular story. I have heard numerous times from Rose that she “just had the best life- there’s not a day I don’t regret”. That makes me happy to hear, especially considering the unfathomable sacrifices her mother- and no doubt her mother’s own family- had to make in order to gain benefits only offered to those who followed suit. It must have been deeply painful for her, which is likely why she was such a dedicated mother and fervently took part in one thing from her heritage that could be carried over into the American pattern- needlework, a pastime that she taught her own flesh and blood.
Rose was subsequently moved to another facility to be closer to family, and I have not seen her in over a year’s time, but I imagine she is still sharing her very important narrative with any one person who is willing to listen. I hope they can take similar lessons away from her just as I have.

If you know or love anyone with dementia, especially if they are still under facility quarantine, please understand their best treatment is your presence of mind in speaking with and listening to them, and that’s if they even have the ability to speak. Otherwise, look into a lifelike baby doll. You’ll be amazed what a little music can do, too.
For more information on the challenges of being indigenous and to learn how you can better support these suffering communities and the independently owned businesses launched by these hardworking people, I encourage you to visit these websites:
littlecheiis.com

onefastbuffalo.com

linktr.ee/nativewomenswilderness

uihi.org

indianlaw.org

culturalsurvival.org

indigenouspeoplesresources.com

Truth

I have no internet, nor the desire to have it installed in my home. I live in a trailer, and what little television I do watch is available via antenna. I own very little, and most of what I do possess was either handed down to me or gifted in other ways, or I acquired by accident plundering through thrift shops or yard sales. I have my mother’s record player and still use it. I have clothes from my teenage years and still wear them. I enjoy creating art from a variety of things, and most especially from nature. I enjoy exploring and learning, and sharing what I have learned- good and bad. I spend what free time I do have basking in the glorious woods or exploring rivers or just cruising the country sides. In short, one could very easily say I have no life. I am a poor person with no real assets or goals to aspire to. No room for opinion or no knowledge to speak of. I am a commoner. Well, sure. Maybe some of that is true. Maybe some of that matters to you and not to me. Maybe my priorities lie elsewhere. I just want to grow in truth.

So this is where I am… Forever seeking out the truth. The truth tends to be a lot less complicated than most people believe it to be. I suppose, apart from my upbringing, this could be why I have rebelled against the lavish things- or lifestyle. I am not saying I would refuse a ’78 Corvette Stingray in cobalt blue if it were offered to me by some miracle… however, I like being grounded and I am convinced my current conscious experience requires deep roots so that I may always be aware of what should be high priority, and what shouldn’t make a damn. To me, money doesn’t make one single damn. Yes, I understand that it is required to attain certain things, or to pay bills, or to get that sense of security. I could go into great detail about why having more money made me feel more insecure… But that is complicated. And I have learned to simplify. In all the books I have read or texts I have studied, I have learned that one’s level of awareness-especially self awareness, may play a role in the development of anxiety or depression. When we analyze something, we break it down to bits and take it apart to see how each piece works. If something doesn’t make sense to us, we may feel confused or annoyed that we do not grasp this detail, and rather than simply asking for help or going about our business, we dwell on this quantum thing until it turns the whole thing into a puzzle we don’t want to play with. The truth of the matter is, is that there will always be details that do not make perfect sense to us. We all come from different places and circumstances, and were born into different families with different genetic makeups and lived throughout different trials and studied different religions and absorbed different ideas and behaviors. What I do or say may not make any sense to Lucy but may make perfect sense to Lisa. Why? Lisa and I grew up together and she knows my family, my upbringing, my circumstances, and my opinions and personality well. So the truth is, life is only as complicated as you make it out to be. You can get stuck on one puzzle piece and make choices about whether you should ask for help, or discard the piece and fancy the puzzle without it, or move on to the next piece to examine it. The truth is simple. And it is there… We just need to stop attempting to complicate it so much.

The Little Things

Life is full of challenging events, some that might be overwhelming. We get comfortable in situations or settings and then something happens that might make us question things- even to the extent of our very existence, or purpose. People enter and exit our lives- seemingly on a whim- whether we welcome them or not, and whether we like it or not. We don’t always get our way, and sometimes we might focus on the little things when we need to focus on the big picture, while other times we might focus on the big picture when we need to observe and appreciate the little things.

It’s difficult to find the balance between the good and the bad in our lives, our world, or our circumstances at times- especially when a series of unfortunate events cloud our blue skies. Or perhaps we’ve never experienced a truly blue sky and we were dealt a difficult hand from the beginning, being forced to deal with one traumatic event after another. People who have lived this way might deal with circumstances differently than, say, someone who has lived a comfortable, cushioned life and is suddenly faced with a major life crisis. Either way, both of these individuals might be unprepared or unwilling to take on the challenges that arise because they are either exhausted and feel they have reached a breaking point, or because they haven’t had the experience and do not feel they are equipped with the right tools to handle the situation.

Everyone has issues. Everyone faces challenges. Everyone experiences loss, grief, panic, fear, heartbreak, and so on… However, more and more studies are conducted regarding human behaviors and the mind, and with that, more and more research has shown that the individual’s perception– or outlook- on life or the situation or the future, is what determines the extent of how the unfortunate event affects or impacts that person or his or her routine or his or her future. For example, a person cares X amount about another person, the two break up, and depending on the person’s outlook on a variety of things, that person will either grieve for a short time and start making adjustments accordingly, or will wallow in their grief, mourning the loss daily, to the extent of allowing the loss to control his or her life and future, and potentially allow that event to affect relationships with other people, or cause him or her to avoid relationships altogether.

One scenario is healthier than the alternative, and while things are not black and white, or limited to this way or that way, there are options available to help those- everyone– in need to satisfy the individual and help him or her cope and move on with their life.

As the saying goes, life goes on

One method I like to use to help me cope with challenges each and every. single. day. is to express myself in a variety of ways that work for me. I sometimes feel the need to vent to my people verbally and am always encouraged when I do so. That is something I take comfort in, because it helps me focus on the good people I have in my life. Or, when I want to reach out but am unable to for whatever reason at the time, I vent by writing. An example would be- my dog is still sick and I am worried about his health but have the responsibility of going to my job an hour away. I would love to cry on my boyfriend’s shoulder, but am currently unable to, so I’m using my creative outlet instead, and taking pleasure in the little things– being able to vent through writing while I am also at work.

I remind myself that I am thankful for this job and my ability to be of service to those in need. While my contribution is smaller than that of the Psychiatrist’s, I am comforted in knowing that I can and do make a difference. That is another little thing I can reflect on and it helps me to maintain focus and remain in- and appreciate- the present, regardless of what might be happening in the background.

So while the big picture is there in all its mystical glory, it is sometimes the little things we should take comfort in during troubling times. There are calms before and after the storm and we need to remind ourselves that avoiding the situation, avoiding our needs to get us through the situation, or avoiding the feelings, people, or lessons associated with them, is not the healthy choice in handling life.

Appreciate the little things and take comfort in the possibility that the current circumstances are shaping your outlook and future for a more fulfilling and meaningful life. A hard lesson could blossom into a found purpose. 

 

 

 

A Young Mother

At the time, I was eighteen years old, and my hair was emerald green. I had just moved back from Ft. Lauderdale where I attended art school for photography, and I was living in a rural community in Alabama, walking into Wal-Mart, eight months pregnant. People noticed me. They noticed my hair first, and then my round belly.

Then they scowled. Or frowned. Or quietly whispered. Or waved a hand gesture in disapproval.

It was never very difficult for me to be a mom. It still isn’t difficult. My job was easy. Still is. I’m not saying there haven’t been challenges, but I was lucky to be able to stay at home and take care of my daughter the first three years of her life. Due to that and a number of other factors, I have been blessed with a child who simply does what she needs to do and has no alarming trouble in any areas of her life. She excels in a variety of things that interest her and her talents and abilities never cease to amaze me. I could not be a prouder mom, and that is something I have always felt.

Being motherly comes very naturally to me, and I have always enjoyed playing the mom role to children. I love nurturing them and getting on their level to identify with them and help them to find their unique space where they’re comfortable and free to express themselves and do what they love to do and have fun. This has always been a part of my personality, and it comes so naturally that often while I’m in public, if I see a child, they see me, too. And they smile. And I melt

What has always been difficult, however, are the perceptions that people on the outside feel compelled to share with me, whether I like it or not. I realize that the statistics are overwhelmingly stacked against me, but I take great pride in being a young mother. I have wisdom beyond my years, and have always trusted my instincts and heart. No, not every situation goes in my favor, but my daughter and I have an unbreakable bond and it’s honest and loving and there is nothing that stands in the way of that. An open line of communication is important, and that takes trust. And we trust each other with everything we are. Bravery is also important, because again, while the odds aren’t stacked in my favor, my strength, wisdom, and brave spirit keep us safe and happy because we are always making the best of whatever situation is thrown our way.

We rely on each other often, but she knows I’m still mom.

But enough validation, I digress from the point. The point is, none of this is truly any of your business. I only share these things to hopefully bring awareness to the obvious and utter disgust that society holds in regards to young parenthood.

So with that, here are some honest questions for the college graduated, respectable career, one marriage on the books parents:

Do you enjoy people openly judging you for your level of income or your position in our society?
Do you notice others cutting their eyes at your children because they turn their noses up at kids who appear to be less fortunate?
Do you appreciate when some stranger smirks when your child rolls his or her eyes at you because you have zero authority over them?
Do you become uncomfortable when your child openly expresses his or herself in some way that you and/or society would deem inappropriate or unusual?
Do you feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone else connects to your child with ease while you have difficulty doing so?
Do you enjoy other people who could not possibly relate to you constantly giving you advice that you know would not work for your particular situation?

Things to think about next time you judge a hard working single parent who has been dealing with countless obstacles since her teenage years. And here are some pieces of advice I would like to share with those who might be able to relate (or not):

If you do what is right and treat others with dignity and respect, your child will notice.
If you take good care of yourself, your home, and other things around you, your child will notice.
If you express yourself freely without fear of judgement, and stay true to your morals, your child will notice.
If you take care of your responsibilities, but still make time for fun and activities that engage the participants and help strengthen bonds, your child will notice.
If you maintain a positive attitude through troubling, challenging, or difficult times, your child will notice.
If you make an effort to reach out to those in need even when you yourself are in need, your child will notice.
If you smile at strangers, go out of your way to pick up a piece of trash, or stop what you’re doing to actively listen, your child will notice.
If you create art, laugh loud, skateboard, write poetry, and continue learning even as an adult, your child will notice.

I could go on… but I’m leaving this here with you now:

Being a parent is always a learning experience. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve made, how many degrees you’ve earned, or how many years you’ve lived on this earth. What matters is where your heart resides. How much effort, time, care and dedication are you putting into your parental duties? Are you willing to admit to your mistakes and learn from them? Are you being a good example by the choices you make and the way you treat yourself and others? Are you a patient and kind teacher? Are you capable of connecting and communicating effectively with your child? Are you able to stick to your guns and enforce your rules fairly? Are you giving as much respect as what you demand? Are you able to have fun while maintaining a secure environment?

When people meet my daughter, or see her accomplishments, they are amazed, almost to the point of disbelief. I used to question my abilities as a parent because I sometimes felt self-conscious about being so young, “uneducated” and poor while raising a daughter on my own. Now, I get it. But I also get that despite these higher standards of self accomplishment prior to bringing another human into the world, I am a proud mom to a daughter who is also proud to have me as her mother. I couldn’t have asked for a greater accomplishment personally, and our society couldn’t have expected a greater contribution from me. So, in short, you’re welcome.

 

First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:5

 

 

Ocean in a Drop

Rumi said- You are not a single drop in the ocean, but the entire ocean in a single drop.

I am learning to reconnect with myself. I have been distant, absent, far away for seemingly a long time- perhaps for as long as a year. I’m still working in spurts on a Bob Marley painting that I cannot seem to finish. I have ideas often about books I’d like to write, or projects I’d like to start, and they go nowhere, just as quickly as they came. Sometimes my thoughts race, feelings of paranoia or hopelessness overcome my mind, and my body suffers, too. My once daily yoga practice has fallen by the wayside. I’m lucky if I even meditate or practice deep breaths once a week. This in turn depresses me, because I feel weak. I feel jaded. I feel tired.

I feel like a liberal woman living in rural Alabama.

I love Alabama, though. I love the muggy air, the old barns, the magnificent sunsets, the slang. I love the wildlife, the rivers, the caves, the neighbors, the churches, the constant reminders that I do possess something inside me that is somehow beyond me. Something infinite, something majestic, something I forever long for. I always hope for the best, but for whatever reason, I can only seem to regularly focus on the worst.

Maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s current events, maybe it’s pollution in our rivers, or unfair wages, or mute personalities surrounding me, or fear.

Or me

Why do I blame myself?

I used to feel funny, helpful, and like a light. Adults typically liked me because I was genuinely me, and excelled in academics and athletics and art. I would raise my hand when I knew the answer, and I usually did. I volunteered at the library, and church, and school. I was well rounded, but different. Rarely afraid or timid, I typically expressed myself in different ways. Hairstyles, clothing, poetry, piercings- I tried to be who I wanted to be. I tried what I wanted to try. I’ve always known I was different, but I’ve always known that about every single person, too. I just never understood why people cut others down to make themselves feel- what they thought was- better.

Growing up, and even as a child, I gravitated towards the most interesting people, and guarded myself from the popular crowd as I would observe their judgmental or condescending behaviors towards others. Typically, I was just friendly or hyper-active, trying to make those around me laugh or feel good, but I never sacrificed my personality to make anyone happy. No, I exposed my personality to try to make everyone happy.

But with the commercials we see each day of the picture perfect families or seemingly idealistic situations, we begin fooling ourselves that this is what I should want. Maybe social media has created this new need of belonging to the most appealing or trendy group? We as human beings are social creatures, which is no secret. But when did we feel the need to sacrifice our true selves to please normal people who “fit in” to those pearly gates guarding a Utopian society? I’m a risk taker, damnit. I love that about myself. I don’t want to be trendy. I want to be free. And yes, I’ll say a cuss word every other sentence if I want to do so in expressing myself.

I live in rural Alabama and have almost all of my life. I appreciate every aspect of it because along with everything else, this state has shaped the person I truly am. I am a free spirited woman who has convictions, stories, jokes, advice, wisdom, pain, regret, and yes, even depression at times. I saw Dave Chappelle perform stand-up at the Alabama Theater on April 20th, witnessed the Dalai Lama speak to a crowd of people who wanted to listen and people who travelled the same tour just to protest, and with my own ears, heard Bernie Sanders speak in a park in Birmingham on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I love being 31 and having a 12-year-old daughter who I am immensely proud of and who never ceases to amaze me. I love that I have allowed myself to make countless mistakes and overcome my battles. I love that people judge me and in turn, I love them back with a smile and an offer to help.

Love your neighbors- especially the ones who don’t look like you.

Her Canon AE-1

My mother had the choice between a camera and a car for her graduation gift. She chose the camera. A Canon AE-1 model rested in her hands, and subsequently- her closet.

For two decades.

That camera was present at every significant and slightly insignificant event throughout my childhood. I can remember modeling for her in our magnolia tree, and holding my baby brother, strategically placing his face between the waxy green leaves. Those are the moments I can hold in my hand, as long as I like. That’s why I always remember them with ease. That’s what makes me smile.

Digital photography swept the globe and she followed the trend, posting photographs taken with the new wave of Canon model cameras. Slightly less nostalgic are the moments viewed via Facebook albums. Still sweet, nonetheless. But what was so vastly different between the experience of looking at a photograph taken by the same photographer? The answer: everything.

With the AE-1, you could hear the shutter open and close. The sound in my ears brings me joy. I can’t explain why. I suppose it has to do with the fact I was a child, and everything was fascinating to me then. The shutter noise on the digital camera seems boring to me… and there could be a reason for that, too. (Comment below to see if you guess right.)

Loading the film seemed like a magic trick, and winding the film back into the canister was even more magical. Riding with my mother to Wal-Mart to have the film developed was also a treat, because she always bought us an ICEE and let us ride on the “buggy” through the isles as we shopped. Yeah, we broke the rules. And we had a damn good time.

And then there was the unveiling of each printed photograph. Carefully thumbing through each image, she gave particular attention to the moment captured. Flaws, such as light noise or a finger in front of the lens, didn’t matter, as long as the moment was there. That is one thing that never changed.

Placing photographs in books was also a fun occasion, but most of our photos remained in the small paper sleeves they came packaged in from the store. They were everywhere, but we were always careful with them. They were our treasures, and it’s still always a treat to find one and revisit those moments that haven’t been touched in years.

Those moments are special. The camera that captured them was special by association. So, it was a monumental moment when I unwrapped the AE-1, gifted to me by my mother for Christmas when I was the milestone age of thirty. On the tag, she wrote- Yes, it was mine. Full circle.

I used it almost immediately. I took it hiking with my boyfriend and me. I took special photographs of my boyfriend and daughter. I took it to an event and unashamedly snapped photographs like my mother before me, loud as hell. It’s an antique, it’s supposed to be loud.

Unfortunately, I forgot to magically wind the film back into its canister before opening the back door to retrieve that film. I shut that door as quickly as possible when I realized what I had done. My heart sank. I had been so used to the immediate satisfaction of viewing my digital images on the back of my own cameras that I had missed one of the most important steps of film development. I thought, maybe I shut it so quickly that the rest of the pictures are okay. I transported the roll to Wal-Mart Supercenter. (Our small town had grown since then.) I waited a week before I received the phone call.

There were six good photographs. (Good meaning, not totally black.) Four of which had light pollution everywhere, making it nearly impossible to see the moment. A hard lesson to jot down in the books, and a disappointing first experience, but even so, it was a lesson.

I placed the camera carefully back into its bag. One day I’ll retrieve it and take great photographs and remember those moments. But for now, it rests in my closet.

For now, digital albums on Facebook will have to do.